Mental Health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic and what employers can do
Mental health was a concern in workplaces long before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic has heightened the risk factors generally associated with mental health in the workplace. Employees are faced with additional threats to their mental health, including job loss, reduced wages, uncertain employment, juggling work demands and blended learning for their children, isolation because of working from home, fear of contracting the virus and physical disconnect from family and friends.
The primary source of stress for many employees during the pandemic varies depending on their socio-economic status. It is believed that top stressors include uncertainty of employment because of slow business or being unvaccinated, the possibility of a pay cut as businesses struggle to stay afloat, frontline workers fear of contracting the virus, and having to find home care for children because of the blended learning approach or sick-out by teachers.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) article of September 15, 2021 titled “Protect and manage mental health at workplace in time of Covid-19”, shares insight from their Technical Officer Grace Monica Halim. Halim reiterated that employers must play a key role in ensuring workers’ welfare by addressing mental health issues through occupational safety and health (OSH) management. Halim underscored the responsibility of employers to break the stigma of mental health and support employees in understanding and speaking up about their mental health. Halim said, “The pandemic has pushed us to acknowledge mental health issues as part of the workplace issues. When we think OSH, mental health should also be at the forefront of our minds.”.
Furthermore, in a Harvard Business Review article by Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol titled “8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health.” Greenwood and Krol said, “as we navigate various transitions over the coming months and years leaders are likely to see employees struggle with anxiety, depression, burnout, trauma, and PTSD.” While those experiences will differ depending people’s socio-economic status, two of their suggestions on how employers could support employees are:
- Build a culture of connection through check-ins. They stressed the need to intentionally check in with each direct report regularly, especially if employees are working from home. They recommend that you go beyond asking how you are and ask specific questions to ascertain the kind of support employees need.
- Communicate more than you think you need to. According to the duo, a study with Qualtrics and SAP showed that employees who felt that their managers weren’t good communicators were 23% more likely than others to experience mental health declines since the outbreak.
It is unlikely that the pandemic will last forever so put in the effort today so that after the pandemic you are left with a strong business and healthy and engaged employees.