Stress about the pandemic and other timely issues are impacting the workplace.
By Alexandra Walsh
As the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States reaches the two-year mark, companies need to continue taking a proactive approach to support and advocate for their employees’ mental health in the wake of COVID-19 fatigue.
According to the Future of the Industry Report 2021 based on a survey conducted by Forrester Consulting:
- 87% of employees want their employer to care about their mental health.
- 80% of workers would stay at a company that provides high-quality mental health resources.
- 34% are considering changing companies for the sake of their mental health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes the ongoing fear and anxiety about COVID-19 can be overwhelming, and that workplace stress can lead to mental health challenges.
How employees cope with these emotions and stress can affect their well-being, that of the people they care about, their workplace, and their community. The CDC cautions that during the pandemic it is critical employees recognize what stress looks like, take steps to build their resilience, and manage job stress.
Symptoms of Employee Stress
Companies can help their employees distinguish the symptoms of stress:
- Feeling irritation, anger, or in denial
- Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
- Lacking motivation
- Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
- Feeling sad or depressed
- Having trouble sleeping
- Having trouble concentrating.
Building Employee Resilience
The CDC recommends employees follow these tips to build resilience and manage job stress.
- Everyone—managers, supervisors, and workers—should communicate with each other about job stress:
– Talk openly about how the pandemic is affecting work. Expectations should be communicated clearly by everyone.
– Identify things that cause stress and work together to identify solutions.
– Ask about how to access mental health resources in their workplace.
- Managers should identify things which employees have no control over and encourage them to do the best they can with the resources available.
- Everyone should increase a sense of control by developing a consistent daily routine when possible—ideally one like a schedule before the pandemic.
-Keep a regular sleep schedule.
– Take breaks from work to stretch, exercise, or check in with supportive colleagues, coworkers, family, and friends.
– Spend time outdoors, either being physically active or relaxing.
– Do things you enjoy during non-work hours.
- Know the facts about COVID-19. Be informed about how to protect yourself and others. Understanding the risk and sharing accurate information with people you care about can reduce stress and help you make a connection with others.
- Remind yourself that many people are in unusual situations with limited resources.
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about their concerns, how they are feeling, or how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting them.
- If you feel you may be misusing alcohol or other drugs (including prescription drugs) as a means of coping, reach out for help.
- If you are being treated for a mental health condition, continue with the treatment and be aware of any new or worsening symptoms.
Mental Health Awareness
It is important that a company creates a culture that supports employees’ mental health. The first step to creating a supportive workplace is promoting awareness and destigmatizing mental health or illness.
Resources provided should help employees learn more about mental health or mental illnesses, and how employees who may be struggling can seek help. When management can talk openly about mental health, employees are more likely to feel comfortable about the issue and reach out to managers or coworkers if they are struggling.
Companies can also establish a workplace environment that is supportive of mental health by:
- Conducting well-being check-ins
- Encouraging social support among employees, such as an organized support group that meets regularly
- Upgrading employee benefits to include mental health
- Promoting an employee assistance program (EAP)
- Offering wellness days and programs
- Setting up an anonymous portal whereby employees can reach out to let HR or managers know they are struggling
- Providing training on solving problems, communicating effectively, and resolving conflict.
Work-life balance, or a lack of, can affect an employee’s mental health. To help employees better balance their work and personal lives, employers across the country are embracing workplace flexibility.
While this looks different at every company—and is simply not possible at some businesses for some workers—workplace flexibility can include flextime, telecommuting, and unlimited paid time off (PTO). Such policies increase work-life balance and lessen stress.
Managers should be trained to handle potentially difficult conversations with employees surrounding their mental health.
Nearly 80% of Americans consider their jobs stressful. Chronic workplace stress can contribute to increased employee fatigue, irritability, and health problems. When added up, workplace stress costs U.S. employers almost $300 billion in lost productivity annually.
It can be helpful for workers to recognize common work-related factors that can add to stress during a pandemic:
- Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
- Taking care of personal and family needs while working
- Managing a different workload
- Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform their job
- Feeling they are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the frontline
- Uncertainty about the future of their workplace and employment
- Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
- Adapting to a different workspace and work schedule.
While it may not be possible to eliminate job stress altogether, companies can help employees learn how to manage it effectively. Common job stressors include a heavy workload, intense pressure to perform at high levels, job insecurity, long work hours, excessive travel, and office politics and conflicts with co-workers.
Companies can promote various activities to help reduce employee stress, which can improve health and morale—and productivity.
- Make sure that workloads are appropriate.
- Have managers meet regularly with employees to facilitate communication.
- Address negative and illegal actions in the workplace immediately—do not tolerate bullying, discrimination, or any other similar behaviors.
- Recognize and celebrate employees’ successes—this builds morale and decreases stress.
Even when the pandemic begins to ease, employees will continue to experience long-term mental health issues.
One of the most significant problems hindering mental health support at work is the stigma that surrounds mental health. Despite recent moves in society toward destigmatizing it, the issue persists.
To ensure no stigma surrounding mental health exists at a company, it is important that management is properly trained to recognize the signs of mental illness, excessive workplace stress, workplace bullying, and worker fatigue. In addition, managers should be trained to handle potentially difficult conversations with employees surrounding their mental health.
Ultimately, companies should be prepared to speak openly about mental health rather than avoid the topic.