The COVID-19 crisis is causing organizations to re-evaluate and reimagine their systems and processes for supporting employee mental health and wellness needs. A recent survey found that since February 2020, employees have seen a 67% increase in feelings of depression and a 47% increase in anxiety levels. HR leaders have a significant opportunity to refocus their organizations for mental health support and help their companies become more human-centric, emotionally intelligent, and mentally healthy organizations.
With so many employees working from home because of COVID-19, there are unique opportunities for HR leaders to embrace new tools, methods, and strategies for mental health and wellness programs.
Health plans, life and disability carriers, and Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) offer numerous programs to help employees and family members cope during these uncertain times. Encouraging awareness among employees is key to helping everyone access the programs and resources available. With the right approach, organizations are changing the way they deliver services and wellness programs to support their employees.
Here are a few key strategies that HR leaders can implement today to support mental health and wellness needs:
Offer Specialized Resources
Many HR professionals are concerned about how to help employees right now. Most health plans and insurance carriers have added significant content to their respective platforms that highlight mental and physical wellness benefits, behavioral health telemedicine, and community resources that are available to help employees know where to turn.
There has never been a better time to take full advantage of the services an EAP can offer your entire organization. If you don’t currently offer an EAP, it may be time to reconsider.
EAPs refer employees and their family members to mental health and substance abuse counselors, financial advisers, attorneys, child-care providers, family and child counselors, and more. They also provide educational and informational resources as well as referrals to community services. And, of significant importance in today’s environment, most of the services offered through the EAP can be used virtually.
The benefits consultants at Aldrich Benefits can help you find an EAP that can be a great lifeline during these times.
Stop the Stigma and Acknowledge the Issues
Set a compassionate, inclusive tone from the top down. Make it clear that you are all in this together; that everyone is feeling stress and sadness, and that your company sympathizes with wellness concerns and is supportive of people therapy, mental health care, and openly discussing the emotional struggles of this unprecedented time.
Start by acknowledging the issues related to mental health and wellness. Some employees may feel reluctant to speak openly about mental health challenges. Acknowledge that many people might be feeling anxious, stressed, depressed, or otherwise affected with mental health challenges.
Of course, you don’t want to compromise anyone’s privacy or expect employees to volunteer that they have been diagnosed with a particular mental illness or mental health problem. But you might want to communicate with your employees more broadly around certain signs to watch for, or certain behaviors that can be a sign of anxiety, depression, or other mental health and mental wellness challenges. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), some of the signs of mental health challenges to watch for include:
- Erratic work hours/lack of availability
- Complaints of physical symptoms
- Anger or irritability
- Persistent sadness
- Excessive worrying
- Poor sleep patterns
- Suicidal thoughts
- Increase in substance use
- Impulsivity or reckless behavior
If people on your team or at your company are showing these signs, HR leaders can take an active role in connecting individuals with support and resources.
Add Virtual Wellness Activities
Along with virtual meetings, videoconferencing tools and wellness apps can make it easier for people to interact together while working from home. The SHRM compiled examples of remote tools for virtual fitness and companies providing their employees with access to mindfulness apps like Headspace, LyraHealth, MeQuilibrium, and Sleepio.
By offering employees easy-to-use tools for tracking their sleep and improving their mental wellness, you can help them be more engaged, productive, and healthier.
Re-Create the Watercooler
Working from home has been widely popular with employees, but it can also create feelings of loneliness and isolation due to lack of everyday social contact. A survey cited in Harvard Business Review found that 75 percent of people are feeling more socially isolated since the pandemic started; 40 percent of employees said their company had not yet asked how they were doing, and people in this group are 38 percent more likely to say that their mental health has declined. It’s not happening only for rank-and-file employees; the same survey found that mental health declines have been observed by people at every level of seniority and tenure.
Try to facilitate simple, everyday watercooler conversations in a remote work environment. Ask people about their day, what they’re excited about or looking forward to outside of work. Share your challenges or moments of vulnerability. Now more than ever, people need each other and need to be able to connect.
Encourage people to be offline and tend to families, talk with friends, exercise, and practice personal wellness. HR leaders can be proactive in encouraging people to disconnect and stay healthy in all aspects of life. Being offline can include regular breaks and scheduling Paid Time Off (PTO). Empower employees to take vacation days to help them recharge and spend extra time with loved ones.
Getting Started with Aldrich
The COVID-19 crisis will pass. HR leaders are at the forefront of keeping people connected and keeping people well. Using technology and the unique tools and resources available to employees, HR professionals can support the human element of the company culture.
If you have questions about what your company currently offers employees, or adding new resources, please contact your Aldrich Benefits Specialist.
As always, your Aldrich Benefits team is here to provide support for you however we can during these rapidly changing times. For further information, please contact your advisor. For more employer resources to help you navigate the developing impact of coronavirus on your business, visit our COVID-19 Resource Center.
Meet the Author
Employee Benefits Consultant
Aldrich Benefits LP
Mike Berry began his Employee Benefits career in 1999 and joined Aldrich Benefits in October 2019. Prior to joining Aldrich, Mike spent 20 years working as an employee benefits consultant at Mercer Health & Benefits. More recently, he was working as an employee benefits practice leader for a Las Vegas based firm where he focused…
- Focus on large, multi-location employers, mid-market and small employers
- Strategic implementation of fully-insured, partially self-insured and self-insured plans
- Small and large (ALE) employee benefits consulting