Over the past few years, conversations regarding employee well-being have reached an all-time high....
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a large number of employees have reported that they are dealing with depression, a lack of energy, unprecedented levels of stress, trouble concentrating, and difficulty maintaining a health work-life balance. Financial concerns have grown due to widespread job losses and income reductions; anxiety over physical health, and the health of others, has increased. Added caregiving responsibilities have put enormous strain on working parents since COVID-19 shut down schools and facilities. Things do not seem to be improving based on data samples from Total Brain, an app that provides self-monitoring assessments for mental health to employers and health professionals. They report that American workers remain at an increased risk of mental health conditions since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Insights from June 2020 showed employees had an increased risk of 54% for depression, 49% for PTSD, 41% for general anxiety disorder, and 11% for addiction. These numbers are “alarmingly elevated” compared to Total Brain’s pre-COVID data, though somewhat improved from data during the beginning of the pandemic. Encouragingly, between May and June there was a 27% decrease in the number of women at risk for depressive disorder and a 20% decrease in women with general anxiety disorder risks. Unfortunately, these gains may not be very sustained. In July, infection rates saw a resurgence and many restrictions were put back into place after a period of reopenings that may have contributed to the early summer’s more positive trends. This time period also coincided with the end of the school year, so working parents may find themselves struggling more when the new academic year begins. Thus, it is unlikely that the following months of data will see continued improvement.
If mental health during this pandemic is left unaddressed, employee well-being and productivity will only continue to suffer. Workers have struggled to cope effectively with these increased mental and emotional burdens, with reportedly few reaching out to health professionals—possibly because they have not experienced these mental health issues prior to COVID-19 or because many places remain closed. Physical activity has also decreased as gyms and fitness centers have closed or restricted access, leaving less options for those seeking stress relief through movement and exercise.
Wellness Programs Need To Address Feelings Of Uncertainty
COVID-19 has created an enormous amount of uncertainty in many different areas of employees’ lives. People are feeling out of control in managing many aspects of their life. Working parents continue to face confusion over how schooling and childcare will be handled in the fall. Caregivers to elderly or ill family members continue to have anxiety over their loved ones’ physical health. Financial problems worsen as many people spend more and more time on a reduced income, businesses close for a second time, and local economies suffer. Emotional support can also be harder to receive when social distancing from friends and family.
Wellness programs can step in and enable workers to improve their mental well-being during this unusual time. In addition to making sure that employees have access to mental health support, including telehealth services and relevant content, programs need to directly address this issue of overwhelming uncertainty. Offering increased flexibility with work scheduling, including remote work options, is one way employers can alleviate pressure when other important personal needs arise. Tools and resources that specifically address meditation or relaxation techniques can also help workers remain calm when plans change. Managers should also remain open for communication; regularly checking in can reassure employees that may be concerned about their work performance or needs while trying to adjust to a new work situation, like working from home or spending less time with coworkers on a team.
If people can better manage their expectations and cope with the many unknowns created by COVID-19, they may be able to reduce their risk for depression and anxiety—even if other aspects of their lives remain complicated. This will be an invaluable tool for employers to maintain their workforce’s well-being, since there is no guarantee how long pandemic-related challenges will continue.