By: Jeff Greshak, MSW, LMSW, ACSW
This year’s holiday season is shaping up to be more stressful than usual with rising COVID-19 cases forcing remote work, virtual learning, business shutdowns, financial insecurity and canceled family gatherings.
Given all Michiganders are up against this year, mental health is a growing concern. Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA), found that 78% of adults say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, which attests to the current mental health crisis in America.
Whether you’re working from home or you’re an essential worker fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health is a growing workplace concern. Specifically, employee burnout, a national issue that is not new to the American workforce. Add a global pandemic to the already overworked American population and burnout becomes even more evident.
Since stress can negatively impact work performance, productivity, employee engagement and retention, employers should look for ways to help their employees manage their stress.
Here are a few ways employers can help:
1. Encourage use of time off.
Many companies are seeing 25%+ fewer paid time off (PTO) days taken in 2020. Although PTO days likely won’t be used for long-distance travel or vacations right now, encourage employees to use their days off, even if it’s just for a staycation. While time off might look a little different, there’s still tremendous value in taking time for yourself.
2. Allow a flexible schedule.
If your business allows, offer your employees the ability to take a long lunch, go for a walk, or work hours that are best for them.
3. Provide timely information.
Whether your company’s health insurance enrollment period is now or down the road, stay ahead of deadlines to help your employees be proactive when it comes to their physical and mental health.
4. Offer resources.
Provide employees with resources for mental health like employee assistance programs (EAPs), monthly webinars or other materials from your company’s health insurer. Internal resources could look like self-care, listening sessions and office hours with human resources departments.
5. Offer financial incentives.
Allow employees to get reimbursed a certain amount each month for things like virtual workout classes, virtual extracurricular activities that contribute to wellbeing, like pottery classes, cooking classes, book clubs, etc. and even consider donations to organizations that are doing good in the community.
6. Listen to your employees’ issues and take action.
A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that the workday during the coronavirus pandemic lasted 48.5 minutes longer and the number of meetings increased about 13%. Your employees may be experiencing meeting burnout or struggle with confirming an “end time” to the workday due to lack of separation between work and personal life. Consider carving out time for employees by piloting a “No Meeting Day” once a week for better productivity or setting a curfew for email and messaging platforms to allow for employees to be able to truly log off for the day. Be willing to be flexible, try new things and take suggestions to work with your employees to find solutions.
7. Recognize the good work of your employees.
Sometimes a simple “thank you” is overlooked because “it’s not enough” or “employees won’t care,” but the truth is, it feels good to be recognized. If your business allows, a gift card or other monetary gift is a great touch as well for bigger accomplishments.
Emotionally healthy employees are more resilient, able to cope with stress, can manage conflicts with less difficulty and have greater problem-solving abilities. Taking advantage of any mental health services offered by your health care or health plan provider is a great way to ensure that you are happy and healthy. For business owners, it all boils down to one simple concept: those who feel good about themselves perform better.
About the Author: Jeff Greshak (MSW, LMSW, ACSW) is director of the behavioral health department at Priority Health with 30 years’ experience in clinical and administrative behavioral health services.