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The Pandemic Is Taking a Toll on Your Employees’ Mental Health

February 18, 2021
By Heather Pierce

While much of the pandemic response has understandably focused on physical health and safety measures such as handwashing, social distancing, mask-wearing and, more recently, vaccine distribution (kudos for science!), we would do well to ensure we are paying equal attention to supporting mental health.

The toll the pandemic has taken on our individual and collective well-being is well-documented. Compounding the ongoing fear of contracting the virus are the dramatic changes to our daily lives. Many of us are feeling isolated even as we continue to adjust to new ways of living as the pandemic remains with us almost 12 months in: working from home (or going to the workplace with new ways of doing things), home-schooling our children, finding ways to safely engage in social interactions with colleagues, friends and family members, and so on.

We are not only feeling isolated and stressed; we are grieving our loss of normalcy. Further, individuals who were already managing underlying health concerns or mental illness prior to the pandemic may be coping with additional stressors in this new environment.

Even as we begin to think about a future in which some of these constraints are lifted, we will likely continue to experience the toll these adjustments have taken on our mental health for quite some time — potentially even years to come. Recognizing this fact creates the opportunity to respond. Organizational leaders should invest as much energy into supporting their workforce’s mental well-being as they do to protect their physical health.

FleishmanHillard TRUE Global Intelligence’s 2021 Health Checkup: Survey of Patients’ Perspectives of Issues, Inequities and Reputation* found that nearly 1 in 4 (23%) respondents reported not being able to receive help for a mental health condition even though they felt that they needed support. This percentage was even higher among respondents who identified as Black or African American (30%) or Hispanic/Latinx (32%).

Of note, the primary barrier for access to mental health services cited by respondents was that it is too expensive (31%), followed by factors such as lack of medical insurance (25%), the inability to find a professional that could meet online or via video (24%), worry about what others would think (24%), and lack of time (23%).

These insights are useful to help inform an organizational response to support mental health. Below are a few potential considerations:

  • Ensure your employees are aware of the mental health benefits already available to them — and how to access them. Research has typically shown that employees are not aware of the mental health benefits available to them so it may be time to re-evaluate how these benefits are being communicated in your organization.
  • Consider revisiting your offered benefits package to ensure it continues to meet employee needs in the current environment.
  • Explore whether flexibility can be enhanced through sick leave options, revised vacation policies or flexible work hours.
  • Create a culture of support in the workplace. Identify opportunities to help employees feel appreciated, acknowledged and heard. Leaders are key to demonstrating this culture of appreciation and support in town halls, communications and their day-to-day interactions.
  • Managers have an important role to play in ensuring employees do not feel like they’re alone: listening with empathy and encouraging them to take breaks, take care of their health — and seek help when needed. Equip your managers with information and resources to help them support employees with these efforts.

*TRUE Global Intelligence’s 2021 Health Checkup: Survey of Patients’ Perspectives of Issues, Inequities and Reputation was developed and fielded by TRUE Global Intelligence, the in-house research practice of FleishmanHillard, surveying 1,002 adults 18 years and older in the United States from December 15-28, 2020.