Flattening the mental health curve: How employers can help combat pandemic stress

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has erupted our world with economic uncertainty, isolation and health scares. And, while we continue the fight to flatten the curve of the virus, one factor must not be forgotten: mental health. 


According to the Census Bureau, this pandemic has led to an increase in mental health issues for many across the nation and the world. In fact, the CDC released a study, concluding that 50% of Americans experienced depressed moods in May 2020, which was a significant increase from 25% in 2014. With COVID-19 showing no signs of stopping, it is crucial that employers alleviate the mounting stress and support the wellbeing of their employees. Not only do mental health issues hinder an employee’s ability to complete physical job tasks around 20% of the time and decrease cognitive performance about 35% of the time, but it is also essential that workers feel safe and motivated to continue in spite of these adverse times.


Ensure mental health coverage is included

One step that employers can take to safeguard the epidemic of stress and mental is to ensure their benefits include mental health coverage, whichencourages struggling employees to seek and receive help. There’s also a potential return on investment for companies that invest in mental well being of their employees. As the stigma surrounding mental health slowly lifts and we learn more, the correlation to employee performance cannot be ignored. Mental health is perhaps as important of a factor on workplace productivity as physical health. For example, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Center for Workplace Mental Health, it is estimated that depression alone costs American businesses over $44 billion USD annually in lost productivity. And this statistic was cultivated prior to COVID-19. So, similar to physical health, it’s beneficial to the bottom line for companies and employees alike to track and promote mental wellness – especially during the time of this pandemic when it appears employees are more vulnerable.  


Look into Employee Assistance Programs

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) services connect employees with confidential, professional help and counseling regarding a variety of issues, including but not limited to family, personal and work struggles. It’s critical that the EAP is administered through a third-party vendor to ensure privacy and confidentiality. 


EAPs can assist employees with pandemic stress without the fear of surrendering anonymity and safety. In fact, quality EAP services can be available with just one phone call. Furthermore, EAPs also cover services to alleviate the balance between the workplace and home. These services may include childcare for those attempting to juggle their work with supervising their children attending online classes. Another benefit is financial assistance. During this pandemic, where adults fear unemployment and wage cuts, EAPs are particularly useful in alleviating such stress, especially inside a business. Ultimately, EAPs offer unmatched, quality services and programs that promote mental health.


Create a positive environment

During this time, where social distancing is encouraged, it may be difficult to interact and connect with employees. Thus, mental health issues are tough to spot and combat. 


When holding meetings over video and online, encourage those to utilize their cameras and microphones if they are willing to do so in order to create face-to-face interactions. This will simulate a physical environment, which fosters not only positive mindsets, but also professionalism and work flow. 


Additionally, realize the value of communication. While mental health is a taboo subject, it is important to check up on employees. Speak to them about their home life, ask about their pandemic activities and share your own stories to build relationships past the mere surface. And, while face masks and guards ensure safety, they, unfortunately, hinder the ability to show and see a majority of physical emotion. Therefore, utilizing words and initiating conversations are essential in building stronger connections and promoting positive behavior. 


Consider virtual support networks

If possible, look into forming support networks, both internally and externally with other businesses. Virtual support networks permit employers to connect, work with and relate to other employers, which can build friendships and teams based on accountability toward improving mental health.


Employ digital applications and online resources

Currently, there is a myriad of online resources fighting against both the COVID-19 and mental health pandemic. Take, for instance, Happify, a research-backed application with a variety of courses, tools and information to improve users’ wellbeings. Essentially, Happify provides trainings that include guided meditation, journaling and progress guides created to relieve stress. This app even allows users to connect with others and form communities, which is particularly useful to foster teamwork and collaboration within a business. Other similar apps include Calm and Headspace, both of which provide programs and resources designed to improve mental health by promoting mindfulness and relaxation. These apps also utilize exciting designs and tools that are distinctive to merely talking with another person. 


Perhaps, technological anonymity and modern features will persuade more employees to take care of their wellbeing. Although these apps require subscriptions for some of the programs, investing in them may be valuable, as they provide informative guides with a lighthearted, enjoyable twist.


The Takeaway

COVID-19 has certainly disrupted the daily routine of many employees. With such unpredictability, it is inevitable that stress, anxiety and depression are on the rise. Nevertheless, employers must consider the resources available to them in order to limit as much mental health issues as possible.

My name is Ohnyu Che, and I am a Journalism Intern for Meadowlands Media and the Meadowlands Chamber. I am currently a senior attending Bergen County Technical High School in Teterboro, New Jersey as an Automotive Engineering and Design student, and I hope to pursue journalism in my future college endeavors. The below portfolio represents the full body of my work taken from Meadowlands Media as well as my voting advocacy blog, Raising the Sixty (raisingthesixty.com). I can be contacted at ohnyuche@gmail.com.