We are back with more industry food for thought. We hope you caught #s 1 and 2, telework and workplace safety here. We are continuing on with more unique challenges HR, benefits and absence management professionals are still facing in light of the pandemic.
Mental and Behavioral Health
Mental and behavioral health has long been a concern for employers, but COVID-19 complicated this area in a myriad of ways. Research shows that by the end of the year, it’s projected that someone will die by suicide every 20 seconds. This could be the next pandemic, in that COVID-19 will lead to PTSD and increased rates of depression. In conjunction with suicide, overdose rates are rising and alcohol sales have skyrocketed. Domestic violence is also of particular concern as many have been stuck at home in unsafe environments, and with children largely out of schools and programs, there are less opportunities to report issues.
One DMEC presentation shared that 45% of employees surveyed reported their mental health being negatively impacted in some capacity by COVID-19, and that it is often more difficult for older adults, those working in healthcare, and those with pre-existing conditions. The rapidly changing news on public health and the crisis is further contributing to anxiety. However, the number one stressor for employees across the board pertains to finances.
Non-job related factors affecting mental health right now include:
- Health of family members and self
- Social disconnectedness
- Postponing or canceling of events and celebrations
Then, of course, there are job stressors that may come into play, such as career development and relationships at work.
Now that I’ve painted a very grim picture, let’s talk about what employers can do to mitigate these mental and behavioral health complexities. Here are some ideas:
- Conduct manager sensitivity training
- Understand what signs of depression might look like, especially in this virtual world. An example might be morning fatigue from lack of sleep
- Offer flexibility when possible – this could mean scheduled breaks or a switch from full-time to part-time
- Treat mental health as you would physical health problems
- Ensure employees understand what resources are available, such as EAPs
- Offer benefits like 401(k) and retirement planning, HSAs and/or flexible spending accounts, emergency hardship assistance, etc.
- Offer thoughtful perks like noise-canceling headphones, as those dealing with depression will have a harder time focusing
- Leverage your disability carrier for help
Confronting and assisting with mental and behavioral health problems is not only a compassionate move, but a sound business decision as well. An employee with a mental health or addiction issue will be about half as productive; a DMEC presenter stated that this level of lost productivity can cost a company with 1,000 employees a minimum of $2.4 million a year.
Essentially, those who were experiencing anxiety, addiction, or depression before are facing magnified conditions now, and we have a larger subset of people who were not struggling in these areas prior to COVID-19 but now are. Your employees could be worried their spouse is going to lose his/her job so they are putting in overtime to secure their own job. Others are dealing with pre-existing conditions, aging parents who need extra care, children at home, a lack of social life, and so on.
As mental and behavioral health problems continue to soar, everyone can benefit from an employer proactively addressing them.
The vast majority of employers have banned non-essential business travel. For personal travel, quarantine policies may come into play. The future of business travel, that is, in a post-COVID world, remains unclear. One DMEC presentation cited a poll that showed 28% of employers planning on reducing business travel after the pandemic, and 51% of companies are unsure what they will do. On the other hand, 62% of employees surveyed stated they would prefer to travel less when the pandemic is over than they did before it started.
Be sure to check back in for #5 and beyond!
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