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How to Counteract the Pandemic’s Effect on Employees’ Emotional Wellbeing

August 24, 2020

By Elise Thorpe, Vice President

It’s no secret that wellbeing initiatives are becoming increasingly popular. Marsh & McLennan Agency’s (MMA) 2020 Pulse survey of more than 660 employers shows that 41% of fully insured and 42% of self-funded employers indicated that offering or expanding wellbeing programs is their top strategic priority for 2021.

In light of the ongoing pandemic, however, the key question is: What does that look like now?

Before COVID-19 we saw that emotional wellbeing (depression, stress and anxiety) was a top-5 condition in terms of medical costs for most of our clients. Since the beginning of the pandemic, mental health in the U.S. has suffered greatly as employees settled into a state of heightened stress and tension. Isolation from social support networks, health concerns, financial stresses, childcare responsibilities and teaching roles all negatively affect mental health. Because of these added stressors, mental wellbeing will have an even greater impact on our clients’ healthcare costs and profitability — making it the center of attention for employer wellbeing initiatives.

Enhancing Wellbeing Options

Fortunately, businesses have a number of options to enhance emotional wellbeing offerings beyond those embedded in medical plans. Many employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides an array of support services, including financial counseling, legal advice, marriage counseling, and child/adult care.

Many employers are also adding mental and behavioral health components to telemedicine or virtual programs, including ones that incorporate text and phone conversations. Additionally, employers can provide solutions like mobile apps that not only provide the ability to talk with a counselor when needed, but also offer short, timed mindfulness and meditation exercises to help employees who may be experiencing heightened anxiety or stress.

These solutions offer employees multiple ways to access the type of care they need through the method they prefer based on their individual comfort levels.

Creating a Culture of Caring

However, it’s not just about providing more resources for those in need to access care. What’s most important is creating a culture of caring and acceptance so employees don’t feel afraid and isolated. A recent Paychex study revealed that employees struggle with discussing mental health issues at work. Of the 1,017 study participants:

• 54% said they felt uncomfortable talking to their managers and supervisors about mental health

• 30% feared that discussing their mental health could lead to being fired or furloughed

• 29% thought discussing their issues could cost them a promotion.

To help employees with mental health concerns, employers must develop a culture of overall wellbeing with a focus on and acceptance of mental health within the workplace. Below are a few ideas to get started:

• Surveys or focus groups with employees providing feedback on the culture of the organization in supporting mental and behavioral health and how the company should address mental health in the workplace.

• Develop mental health policies that clearly outline the acceptance of a variety of emotional concerns that include work-related contributors such as job insecurity, work-life imbalance, lack of appreciation, excessive workload, etc.

• Share the company’s vision on addressing and supporting mental health and ensure company communications include a trusting tone with proper messaging.

• Offer onsite mental health first aid training for managers and supervisors as well as employees and their spouses. This will help provide insight on ways to recognize the signs and symptoms someone exhibits during a mental health crisis and how to approach them to offer help.  

• Educate employees on different types of behavioral health providers, what they do and when each is helpful, so they know how to access the care they need.

• Communicate other resources such as Empower Work (www.empowerwork.org) text messaging for those with anxiety and the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline (1-800-273-TALK (2755)) for those in critical need.

As the pandemic environment continues, so will the strains and stressors on employees. When supporting employees, it’s not just about the basics of providing access to a number of resources — it’s also critical for the organization to be more accepting of mental and emotional health, making it part of the holistic employee wellbeing approach.