The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be slowly abating, millions of people are vaccinated each day, fully vaccinated people can ditch their masks, and herd immunity is (maybe) closer to being in our sights. It sounds like the start to some Hollywood blockbuster about a post-apocalyptic life. While it has certainly been life-changing and impactful in all corners of society, it does not appear to be an actual apocalypse. As we begin to emerge from our homes, hug our loved ones, and go to events, life will start to feel a little “normal” again. This process will mean that many of us will be leaving our make-shift home offices and heading back to work. On the other hand, some will continue to make the kitchen table a workspace. Regardless, as this stifling blanket of COVID-19 is pulled back, what will be revealed? What will humanity look like as we all crawl out from under the rock we have been hiding under?
I’m expecting it to get much worse, and I think it will be in the realm of nothing that we’ve seen before. Because, for the first time, we’re having an event that’s affecting everyone.
Tamar Rodney, PhD, MSN, RN, PMHNP-BC, CNE, Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing
The resounding answer from mental health experts is a decisive, “Not good!” A recent Gallup poll shows that the mental health of Americans is the lowest it has been in decades. It will likely get worse before it gets better. Awesome, right? Mental health is at an all-time low and we “ain’t seen nothing yet”!
Whether you like it or not, employers will be facing the brunt of this. For instance, the education system often serves as the de facto front line for kids. Similarly, the workplace will serve that same function for many adults. It appears that the shock of the pandemic is wearing off at about the same time the economy wakes up. As a result, America will be hiring and calling back countless employees. Also known as overwhelmed, over-this-bleepin’-pandemic, traumatized and wounded employees.
Proactive employers will be aware of this dynamic. They will understand the importance of creating a workplace that will not only tolerate the need for mental health support but create an atmosphere where everyone can succeed. How might an employer create such an environment? Here are some things to consider:
One of the more significant barriers to people getting the support and help they need is stigma. Although this has certainly improved, it is still very real. Employers can help to address this by sharing information about the prevalence of mental health issues. In addition, they can provide insight into the impacts of Covid-19 on our mental health. By offering resources, holding workshops, and utilizing professional resources, employees can learn to cope with the impacts. When we reduce the stigma, our employees are much more likely to seek the help they need.
As we head back to the office it will be important that we enter a positive, safe, and trusting environment. One way to create this is to talk openly and directly about mental health issues. Treat mental health just like you would any other issue. If you notice that an employee has been sad for the past week then talk to them about it. Just like you would a broken arm. If you can say, “Hey, Mike, I noticed that your arm is broken, how are you doing?” Then you can also say, “Hey, Mike, I noticed that you’ve seemed sad this week, how are you doing?” Society has done a great job of making mental health a taboo, off-limits subject. However, that does not help, especially with the impacts of COVID-19!
This one cannot be emphasized enough! Every manager in your organization should have training on how to identify the signs of mental health concerns. Additionally, how to approach an employee they are concerned about and how to engage in a way that provides support and help. We know that mental health can be a scary thing for managers to talk about, so make it easier by providing training and education. This a general rule of thumb, not a COVID-19 specific rule. Ideally, everyone with a supervisory role of any type will be comfortable and confident in these abilities:
- Identifying signs of mental illness
- Active listening
- Assessing for danger
- Promoting informal and formal supports
This is a big component of creating that safe and trusting environment we will need for our employees to achieve to their full potential. Promoting wellness means that we talk to our employees about resources. This includes our Employee Assistance Program and other applicable benefits. It is important that they know how to access these things. Similarly, putting up flyers to promote this benefit and other resources may be helpful. Managers should be supporting employees in finding a healthy work-life balance, something that will likely be a struggle for many people, as these lines have been very much blurred throughout COVID-19.
When companies can implement these four recommendations, they are much more likely to have a stable, healthy, and productive workforce. We know that mental health has a significant impact on productivity, attendance, and the bottom line! There is more than enough research for us all to understand that addressing mental health at a workplace level is a sound investment. Indeed, every dollar spent on scaled up mental health support for employees brings a ROI of $4.
This can all be overwhelming for any company. The good news is that Covenant Family Solutions has a whole line of services created by mental health experts to address these concerns. Reach out and let us provide some solutions!