It is no secret the ongoing pandemic put a strain on everyone for the past 22 months. Living with the threat of COVID-19 led to new physical and mental health problems even as it shed light on existing ones. Many people used this period as an opportunity to reevaluate their priorities and take stock of what is most important in their lives. These health trends and personal choices combined to have far-reaching effects for workers and their employers.
One of the biggest problems has been burnout among employees of all ages in all sectors and across state lines. For example, survey results published by Indeed on March 11, 2021, one year into the pandemic, revealed more than half of the 1,500 U.S. workers polled were feeling burned out. Of those respondents, more than 67 percent believed their feelings of burnout had worsened over the course of the pandemic.
Indeed’s 2021 Employee Burnout Report was published two months before the American Psychiatric Association issued its own survey findings showing “more than four in ten employees are concerned about retaliation if they seek mental health care or take time off for their mental health.” This reticence to engage in self-care negatively affects organizations because, as shared in a Sept. 1, 2020, article on the McLean Hospital website, “data supplied by the American Psychiatric Association [shows] employees with unresolved depression experience a 35 percent reduction in productivity, contributing to a loss to the U.S. economy of $210.5 billion a year in absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical costs.”
The role human resources professionals play in ensuring safe and supportive workplaces in order to attract and retain talented, productive employees has become more important than ever. To assist you with meeting the challenges, here are four ways HR can better support employees’ mental health.
Reexamine and adjust the mental health benefits and resources your organization offers for employees, as well as the ways those benefits and resources are presented. From employee assistance plans and counseling services to meditation apps and online classes, HR departments should prioritize expanding the availability of such resources and making sure employees know what is available to them.
Many eLearning systems offer a variety of courses on mental fitness and physical well-being to help educate and support employees. Online trainings can help employers enhance their mindset, emotions and bodies—inside and out. Optional wellness and development courses can also aid employees with building connections with coworkers, eliminating unproductive conflict and improving self-esteem.
Allow Mental Health Days
Work to end the stigma on seeking help with mental health and prioritize mental well-being to the same extent as physical health as a means of boosting productivity. Support and care for employees with mental health struggles the same way you would if someone had the flu.
Encourage managers to be flexible in granting time off and sick leave. Better, lead efforts to restructure policies so employees do not have to fight for days off when they feel they simply need a break. In all events, discourage reprimands for workers who take days off to care for their mental health. Make sure managers and supervisors understand how presenteeism can be just as harmful to a workplace as absenteeism.
Rethink Work Environments
It is time to give serious thought to what the future of work looks like. In particular, while remote work used to be the exception, the focus should shift to allowing employees to take advantage of work arrangements that are best for them and the organization.
Many employees have worked from home for much of the past two years. Offices reopened and travel resumed as COVID-19 vaccination rates increased, but smart employers are determining which work environment best suits each individual employee. Moving forward, the most effective and most highly productive organizations will be the ones that establish the ideal mix of remote and on-site working arrangements. Showing employees that mental health and job performance are equally prioritized must factor into this decision making.
Reduce Busy Work
This is one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to diminish employee burnout. Take time to evaluate tasks and measure them against core goals, then eliminate all nonessential tasks. Doing that will allow employees to focus on completing their most important assignments. Additionally, provide leadership with guidance on how to help employees stay on task as circumstances change and challenges arise.
COVID-19 affected everyone in your organization, from leadership down to line workers. An employer cannot fully resolve the resulting mental health crisis. Still, ensuring managers and supervisors are open and honest with employees while encouraging employees to be as forthcoming about their mental health issues can help. HR professionals’ role in this process involves inspiring the creation and maintenance of an organizational culture that reinforces the idea that we are all in this together.
Prioritizing mental well-being enables an organization to foster employee loyalty and support. HR can lead the charge for a healthier workplace by providing mental health education and resources, encouraging time off and adjusting work expectations.