What if the next global crisis is a mental health pandemic? It’s here now. Nearly half of U.S. workers have experienced mental health issues since Covid-19 began. A FlexJobs survey reported 56% of employees experienced burnout during the pandemic. And according to Gallup, one-third of Americans have shown signs of clinical anxiety or depression with roughly seven in 10 globally struggling or suffering. Mental Health America (MHA), declared May as Mental Health Awareness Month, an observance in the United States since 1949. This month marks an important time for companies and the American work force to consider how work habits and mental health go hand-in-hand and what can be done beyond simply weathering another pandemic—this time a mental health pandemic.
As more organizations eschew the collective delusion of self-sacrifice and jump on the wellness bandwagon and more workers do their part to bring a healthy mind, body and spirit to the workplace, the potential for a sustainable career trajectory and the company’s bottom line are guaranteed. “As people, when we are unable to move through issues in a healthy manner, we are unable to perform well,” said Scott Kirksey, CEO of BenefitMall. “Mental and physical health go hand-in-hand, and one is equally as important as the other. In the workplace, an employer needs employees who are not only present, but highly productive. Presence and productivity are often tied to a person’s mental health and, when conditions are left untreated, work performance suffers.”
What Employees Can Do
No matter what, there comes a point when each of us is responsible for our own mental health and self-care. Healthy nutrition, ample sleep and regular exercise compose the foundation of self-care. In terms of mental wellness, a recent SWNS research study, conducted by Onepoll on behalf of Vida Health found that mindfulness practices have a positive impact on mental health for most Americans: 59% are more interested in mindfulness now than they were before the pandemic, and 60% feel more aware of and in touch with their emotions than ever before. And Scientists have discovered that the most effective way to build mental well-being is practicing mindfulness using techniques such as meditation and conscious breathing.
During these uncertain times when you get overwhelmed, anxious or frustrated or things don’t turn out the way you hoped, try bringing your awareness to the present moment. One of the simplest and easiest ways to accomplish this is to use your breath as a focal point to link your mind and body together. Deep breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth and focusing on each inhalation and exhalation—following your breath through to a full cycle from the beginning when the lungs are full back down to when they’re empty—keeps you in the here and now as you move through daily work routines. A micro self-care plan with a multi-pronged approach—learn how to create one here—boosts your work health, helps you navigate the daily work grind and returns you to work refreshed and restored. You can find further tips on ways to manage work stress here.
What Organizations Can Do
A new Limeade study reported that 100% of employees are anxious about returning to the workplace, citing top concerns over exposure to Covid-19, less flexibility and commuting to work. And a disturbing finding from a Paychex survey of 1,000 American employees revealed low team morale more than doubled during the pandemic, and more than half said team leaders do not acknowledge stress or work burnout. On the upside, 52% of employees said their team leaders allow them to talk about current events in meetings, and they rated this to be the most effective way of bringing the team closer together. While just 44% of managers encouraged or allowed “venting” or talking about work frustrations during meetings, nearly one in three employees said this tactic was successful in bringing teams together. Checking in with how employees have been doing (32%), starting meetings with non-work questions (28%), and acknowledging stress and burnout (26%) were other successful methods of helping teams feel increased unity. Overall results of the study suggest that simple strategies such as asking about employees’ lives outside of work and creating a space to vent can make a significant impact on employee well-being.
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“While employers cannot change an employee’s personal situation, they can ensure a productive and overall healthy workplace by listening to and meeting the needs of their team,” Scott Kirksey said. “Companies should consider evaluating the current mental health benefit offerings and consider a multi-prong approach that includes traditional medical insurance, employee assistance programs, voluntary benefits, plus new emerging wellness and telehealth solutions. By supporting the workforce’s mental well-being, employers are driving down the overall cost of healthcare and likely improving company performance.”
As employees and employers continue to navigate work from home life and the fine line of being always available, more companies are prioritizing mental health to avoid burnout and fatigue. To further support its employees’ health and well-being and combat burnout, MikMak in partnership with its internal mental health coalition, has instituted company-wide office closure from July 5—July 9, to encourage employees to take care of themselves without the pressure of work in the background. The Knot Worldwide, a leading global family of brands, also has given their employees a “Mental Health Honeymoon” where their offices will be closed from May 28th through June 1st. In addition, the company has incorporated various other initiatives and programs to encourage employees to focus on mental health including year round bi-weekly virtual meditations, a EAP Wellness series with Health Advocate with counseling, weekly resources around mental health, balance, and well-being, and the launch of Ginger, an on-demand emotional and mental health support app for your life challenges through coaching via text-based chats, self-guided activities and video-based therapy and psychiatry.
“One thing I truly believe we have to do as leaders is open up to our employees,” said MikMak founder and CEO Rachel Tipograph. “Be human. Tell them about things you’ve gone through, tell them what you’re going through now. It’s not a sign of weakness, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. This is how we connect as people.” And Cynthia Kantor, chief product officer of corporate solutions at JLL, spoke about how employers can ensure a future hybrid workplace with wellness in mind. According to her, 72% of employees favor work/life balance over securing a comfortable salary in terms of importance post-pandemic. “As vaccination rates continue to climb across the country, it feels like we’re finally starting to turn a corner on better times,” Kantor said, “however, the mental health toll of the past year can’t be underestimated and employee health and well-being needs to continue to be front of mind as companies plan their return to the office.”