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The COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on several aspects of our normal way of life. Now, as America begins phase I of reopening, many people are set to return to work for the first time in months. However, while your employees may be physically ready, chances are high you may have some still dealing with the mental effects of the pandemic.

As media outlets have consistently reported, many Americans are worried about the impact of coronavirus in terms of both their health and the economy – and that was before the country crossed the 1 million cases mark. Fears about family members and/or personally becoming infected coupled with worries about finances30 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims since mid-March – can lead to elevated levels of anxiety, stress, depression or worse. Thus, in addition to preparing your physical workspace for your employees’ pending return, employers will be wise to anticipate their mental health needs as well.

Prepare to help your employees cope with potential problems and promote a positive, healthy work environment with these proactive strategies.

INCREASE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH OFFERINGS

A survey of 256 employers nationwide conducted by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions found that 53 percent of employers are providing special programs for their workforce related to COVID-19 induced mental health concerns – and for good reason. As noted in a Psychology Today, ambiguity adds to employee stress and anxiety. Likewise, the article cites research that says employees exhibit greater stress levels when working in contexts with high demands and low control. Thus, companies should consider adding (if not already offered) increased mental health benefits such as onsite stress management programs, and free/affordable access to therapy services.

In a recent Business Insider article, PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC) Chief People Officer, Mike Fenlon, said his company has increased its mental health offerings for employees following the COVID-19 pandemic. These include well-being coaching sessions where employees can talk about what is causing them stress and an online community for workers to chat with one another. Likewise, Starbucks is now actively tackling the issue head-on by expanding their benefits, including the offer of therapy to all its U.S.-based workers. Like these companies, if you are able to expand your employees’ mental health offerings, the time to do so is now.

EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY 

With hospitals and other medical facilities reserving most in-person care for COVID-19-related matters, telehealth has become a booming industry for health care professionals and those seeking their services while social distancing. Allowing as many employees as possible to work remotely can help reduce their concerns about being in the workplace during this time without harming their productivity.

If implementing a full-scale mental health program like PwC’s is not an option, plenty of others remain. Apps such as Headspace (meditation), Wysa (a mental health chat app with therapy-based practices), and BoosterBuddy (created with input from young adults with mental illness) can provide valuable counsel/assistance at a fraction of the cost. The National Alliance of Mental Illness recommends checking with your insurance provider prior to seeking service to see what is and is not covered. 

For as many inspiring stories of recovery from COVID-19 that exist, there are unfortunately many people that will not recover. The American Psychological Association notes that while most people are resilient in recovering from the natural occurrence that is grief following a loss, others may need additional support to start their recovery. This is why OSHA has provided guidelines for employers on how establishing flexible employee leave policies can produce positive results for the worker and company alike. 

Social support is also critical to helping people move beyond grief. This is why the CDC has issued advice on how utilizing things such as a phone calls, video chats, and text message can be helpful tools to help workers stay connected; employers, however, must be mindful of HIPPA regulations in their efforts.

REMEMBERING HUMANS IN HUMAN RESOURCES

Despite these resources, some employees may remain hesitant to come forward with their concerns as stigmas still remain in regards to mental health, mental illness, and seeking care. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with some form of mental illness with depression costing the economy an estimated $210 billion annually – and those numbers were before a global pandemic. This is why it is important to reduce these stigmas and let employees know they are not just a number or cog in a much larger machine. Promote accessibility; foster a supportive culture by raising awareness of the need to address mental health and the need for wellness and regularly communicating throughout the organization to reduce fear, stigma, and prejudice. Employees will be appreciative and business will be better for it.

For advice on what you can do to assist your employees with mental health concerns and your legal responsibilities, contact the human resource experts at Erigo Employer Solutions today.