Surviving the COVID “Hangover”: Fostering Mental Health in the Workplace – and Outside

    Before 2020, creating a robust benefits strategy to encourage mental health was in some cases, a luxury for employers. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been an imperative for employee health – and retention. The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new stressors that negatively impacted Americans’ mental health. Nearly a year after the start of the pandemic began, adults surveyed still felt symptoms of anxiety, depression, and have reported increased substance use and suicidal thoughts. Those 18-24 have been more severely impacted.

    Unaddressed, these conditions can negatively impact productivity and health of workers in the United States. According to PWC’s Behind the Numbers 2022 report, the COVID-19 “hangover” will lead to increased utilization in many areas of medicine, including substance use, poor nutrition, and feelings of depression or anxiety. However, the overall healthcare spend in 2022 is projected to be at 6.5%, down from 7% in 2021 (up from 6% in 2020).

    Making Mental Health a Priority

    Many employers have made changes to their benefits since the pandemic began that can make a lasting difference in the health and lives of employees.

    According to Kaiser Health News’ 2021 annual benefits survey, nearly 40% of employers with at least 50 employees have expanded mental health offerings such as telemedicine, that have been highly utilized in more vulnerable populations.

    Address Root Causes of What’s Stressing Your Employees

    • Is it work/life balance? Flexible schedules or “mental health days” can free up time for busy families with scheduling needs and provide added time to focus on a hobby or exercise routine, or simply sleep in.

    • Is it the need to talk to a counselor? Telehealth and online counseling, either through an EAP or other programs, can reduce costs while increasing access to therapy. Many employees are more likely to talk about distressing events in the comfort and safety of their home.

    • Is it minimizing stress? There are a plethora of mindfulness and meditation apps aimed at reducing stress, bringing added calm and clarity. Providing a discount for subscribing to these apps can go a long way at making mental wellness an everyday priority.

    • Is it decreasing isolation? Create opportunities for holding online “social” hours or socially-distanced luncheons.

    Don’t Get Burned

    “…At the end of the day, we’re human, too.” That was famed American gymnast – and gold medal winner – Simone Biles, who shockingly withdrew herself from the team’s final competition during the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Biles stated she needed to focus on her mental health, because she felt she was “carrying the weight of the world” on her shoulders for herself – and her team – to continue winning big.

    Burnout is real; and if caught too late, it can have a major impact on an employee – and your business.

    Employee burnout is not a mental health illness per se but is certainly an issue. The key is to address the needs of employees where they are. If employees are remote, they may be walking less per day, not eating right, and working outside of normal hours. Workers still commuting may be facing fears of getting ill or juggling work and life balance.

    • Wellness: If employees are remote, managers may want to check in on employees with a simple, 15-minute meeting to ask about workloads, challenges, and successes. Routine wellness tips on Check out our recent post on wellness for remote employees.

    • Boundaries: Employees will follow the culture of their organization. Discouraging accessibility 24/7 and endorsing structured work hours can give employees (especially remote) a stronger sense of “work time,” vs. “me time.”
    • Collaboration: Create new projects or opportunities for employees to collaborate with those outside their department. This strategy can help forge new relationships and increased interaction and engagement.

    Culture: Add the Starter…and Nurture

    The pandemic flipped the script on mental health. Now, more and more employees are willing to talk about their struggles. Creating an environment where employees are encouraged to reach out to others will not only improve wellness. Happier employees could just be the key to improving your bottom line.

    While healthcare spending related to COVID may decrease, delayed treatments or added pharmacy costs may put a strain on your upcoming plan. Our team of benefits specialists can help you analyze your current plan to determine alternative solutions that can help contain costs.

    May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, substance use, or suicidal thoughts, contact SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Line at 800.273.8255.