Posted July 12, 2021 by Mark Perna
The pandemic has left Millennial and Gen-Z workers struggling with mental health. Now, new research reveals the critical link between employer-provided mental health resources and employee loyalty. Mark’s article, “4 Common-Sense Ways To Champion Mental Health At Work,” published at Forbes.com on July 1, 2021.
After 16 months on the emotional roller coaster of a worldwide pandemic, the time has come to step off the ride—and assess the damage to our mental health.
Unsurprisingly, the stress has taken a toll on workers of all ages. The recent Travelers Mental Wellness Checkup, a national survey of 2,000 employed adults across more than ten industries, found that most respondents reported a negative effect on their mental health since the pandemic began in 2020: 59% have worried about losing a loved one, 50% have suffered from loneliness and 37% said their level of personal stress has worsened. Millennials, in particular, continue to suffer from feelings of loneliness and depression.
Another study by Alight found that 46% of Gen-Z employees reported a decline in their mental health due to the pandemic. Financial stress also has inordinately impacted this generation, with nearly half (47%) being furloughed at some point in 2020, compared to just under 1 in 3 of all employees. They’re taking on side hustles to increase income—as of January, 43% of Gen Z employees had worked an additional job, and 71% did so due to the fallout of the pandemic. Gen-Z is also the generation most likely to seek counseling.
“Health is a biopsychosocial concept encompassing physical, mental and social well-being, and supporting employees’ mental health can be as critical as creating a safe physical environment,” says Dr. Marcos Iglesias, Vice President and Chief Medical Director at Travelers. “Taking a broader view of employee health to include emotional and social wellness can help employees manage uncertainty, engage in the workplace and adjust to a ‘new normal.’”
The good news, says Iglesias, is that employers can develop a strategy of prevention, identification and intervention to mitigate the negative health effects of the new normal and to enhance the wellbeing of the working population. Here are four common-sense strategies to go about it.
When little or no information is forthcoming, wondering and worrying are most people’s default response. Employers must do their best to keep employees in the loop regarding both reopening plans and the financial health of the business—while also getting them engaged in coming up with the solutions to their shared challenges.
“It is important for employees to know what to expect as they return to the workplace,” says Iglesias. “That can help remove some of the uncertainty and reassure employees that you have their best interest in mind. Frequent, honest communication is going to win the game.”
While many employees are eager to return to work, others may have a harder time reentering the workplace. “It’s important for supervisors to identify employees who may be dealing with mental health issues, connecting them to resources and handling accommodation requests,” says Iglesias.
Companies can also look into the action steps suggested by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to help promote mental health and stress management. Offering mental health self-assessment tools, providing free or subsidized clinical screening for depression from a qualified mental health provider and hosting workshops that address depression and stress management techniques are all ways that employers can make a difference in this vital area.
Flexible work, remote work and autonomy to own their day are all aspects of the pandemic that many people will be loath to lose. Now, as they return to the office, many are looking for separate work areas, physical barriers, face masks, PPE and cleaning equipment. All of these accommodations are especially important for employees with chronic medical conditions, those over age 60 and anyone dealing with family issues, such as school closures or caring for loved ones. Additionally, companies should reconsider their policies for paid time off, sick leave, leaves of absence, disability and bereavement, based on unique situations that their employees face.
Supporting employees’ mental health means being flexible, making accommodations and, above all, listening. “Continuing the open communication once employees return can help address challenges and identify solutions,” says Iglesias.
Once things return to some semblance of normalcy, it could be easy to lose sight of employee wellness as a company priority. But there are ways to encourage self-care and mindfulness that integrate with and make sense for the business, says Iglesias. For instance, employers can provide resources such as access to digital counseling services or arrange a virtual yoga class for employees. They can promote the importance of eating well, getting enough sleep and remaining active, along with following CDC guidelines to stay healthy.
There’s also the emotional component of wellness to maintain. “Be intentional about building patience, understanding, frequent touch points and opportunities for emotional openness into employee interactions,” says Iglesias.
Employees who feel cared for are more likely to reciprocate those sentiments and increase their emotional attachment to their employer than those who do not. The Travelers survey found that 30% of respondents whose employers provided ample mental health resources also reported that their ability to manage stress improved during the pandemic, and one-third (33%) noted that loyalty to their employer increased.
Meanwhile, 42% of workers who feel their employer did not provide enough mental health support said their ability to manage stress worsened during the pandemic, and 29% said loyalty to their employer decreased. Similarly, 85% of respondents in the Alight survey agreed that “wellbeing programs offered by my employer make me feel better about my employer,” up 4 points from 2020.
While the pandemic roller coaster may be slowing to an end, many still feel shaken. As we all navigate post COVID-19 health challenges, employers who prioritize the wellbeing of their workforce will come out on top—especially as the competition to retain and attract talent continues to heat up. “Truly caring about your employees and your employees’ health is going to be paramount,” says Iglesias.
As the pandemic grinds to a halt, championing robust mental health resources at work can enhance employee wellness, build loyalty and fuel hope for better times ahead.