Employee Mental Health is Down, Demand for Care is Up
In 2020, the pandemic forced employers (especially large businesses) to start thinking about employee mental health benefits as a must-have not a nice-to-have. In a survey we conducted in December of 2021, 78% of respondents said that their mental health had been affected by the pandemic. That is in line with several other studies that have shown a drastic increase in the rates of reported symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders.
There is a silver lining to the increase in mental health concerns. Since 2020, conversations about mental health are increasing,1 and more people are seeking help for their mental health concerns.2 According to a poll taken by the American Psychological Association, nine out of ten therapists say the number of people seeking mental health care is on the rise, and that higher demand is coming from new clients seeking therapy and former patients.2 The increasing demand for therapy continues even as the pandemic rates and responses change.
The lowering of mental health stigma and growing openness to seeking help for mental health is positive progress in the United States. However, we do not currently have the provider infrastructure nor widespread employment support to keep up with the increasing demand. We face a very large provider shortage crisis and still lack a rich culture of support in the workplace. Many people still feel uncomfortable talking about mental health at work, and according to an HBR survey, only 49% of people who did talk about mental health in the workplace had a positive or supportive experience.1
Offering Support During the Current Return-to-Work Phase
Currently, we are facing another phase of return to work, which one-third of employees have said causes stress and negatively impacts their mental health.3 Workforce reentry is difficult on several levels: logistical and operational planning, physical health related to COVID, financial and time management changes, and wellbeing and emotional health. Here at Uprise Health, we have seen a large rise in the request for resources to help reduce the stress and anxiety related to returning to work after two years of work-from-home.
How an organization responds to employees’ emotional and psychological health is critical—for the employee and employer. With record-breaking rates of employee turnover, employees are looking for dedicated support from leadership and a comfortable, positive workforce culture. Some employees have made it clear that they are willing to quit over return-to-work plans. A survey from Bloomberg showed that 39% of employees surveyed would consider quitting if their company is not flexible about remote work.4
So, how do you offer support during a return-to-work phase? We have a few things for you to consider, which can help you be proactive and supportive.
Create clear return-to-work policies and/or communication related to COVID: The more your employees feel like your return-to-work plan is well-thought out and comprehensive, the better they will feel about the organization’s readiness to support them in person. Policies and communication can cover topics around workplace safety measurements, recall procedures, any benefit or compensation changes, remote work options, and business continuity plans.
Share your own experience, and train leaders and managers to lead by example too: If leadership leads by example, your organization can create a culture of transparency and openness. Lowering fear and shame around anxiety, depression, and stress will help your employees feel like it really is okay to share and seek help when they need it. If employees get help, chances are high that they will be more productive and rates of absenteeism and presenteeism will lower.
Do not be afraid to ask: With so much stigma surrounding mental health issues in the workplace, managers and colleagues are often afraid of asking how someone is doing. Yet, noticing small warning signs and checking in with the employee shows care and concern. It may open the door for the employee to share stressors they are experiencing at home or with workplace transitioning during COVID.
Ask your employees what they need: Companies should acknowledge that their employees have unprecedented demands during this time. Leadership can directly ask employees what they need as they return-to-work. Employees responses might be surprising, and leadership can adjust their responses and support as needed.
Ask more from your EAP and mental health partners: Traditional EAP benefits usually include some level of mental health support, but frequently it is related to poor utilization and dependent on mental health care providers that are currently struggling under the weight of the aforementioned high demand. New models of mental health support are available that offer smart technology functionality—real-time booking, on-demand resources, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) courses, care concierge help. According to Fortune, 73% of employees consider mental health coverage an importance incentive for staying at their job. It was the third most popular employee benefit after flexible schedule options and retirement contributions.5 Ensure you have a robust and modern EAP and mental health solution and that your employees know how to access those resources.
Last of all (and not least), be empathetic and compassionate. This is hard on a lot of people. We have lost loved ones, been isolated, been sick ourselves, and parenting has become even more of a complicated juggle and balancing act. If you want your employees to prioritize their time with their work and your company, then you must prioritize your employees, their needs, and workplace mental health.
If you are looking for more actionable steps you can take to create a healthier workplace, download our new playbook: Rising Up to the Challenge: A Post-Pandemic Playbook for Addressing Employees’ Mental Health Needs.