COVID-19 impacted us all in so many ways and upended life as we knew it.
Our sense of safety, our liberty of traveling, and physically surrounding ourselves with others changed. The public health crisis forced many of us employed outside of the home to move to the novel setting of working remotely inside of the home. While the pandemic forced us to focus on our physical health, it also shined a light on workplace culture, with a trending topic warranting of considerable attention: mental health.
Prior to the pandemic, workplace settings focused largely on issues of productivity, non-violence, discrimination, and intolerance of sexual harassment. However, the impact of mental health in the workplace was a leading issue for years before. Since the start of the pandemic I’ve received the most requests from individuals seeking mental health for the first time in their lives compared to any other time in my career as a clinical psychologist.
The main reasons for seeking mental health treatment since the pandemic started are anxiety, depression, stress and difficulty performing work duties as a result. Employees are dealing with pandemic stress, illness, illness and deaths of loved ones, competing childcare responsibilities, not to mention the social, political and racial unrest. I’ve had sessions with many employees who feel their emotional well-being is affecting their work performance.
Employees express feeling distracted at work (whether working remotely or in office), feeling overwhelmed with competing responsibilities, heightened anxiety, and inability to complete work-related tasks in a timely manner. They also fear the stigma of seeking out mental health treatment and report lack of support from their employer if they express their feelings.
The negative impacts of employees struggling with unaddressed mental health concerns are felt by employers in the form of decreased work productivity, absenteeism, attrition, and poor workplace morale.
It is clear - the cost of disregarding employees’ untreated mental health concerns is steep. Given the prevalence of mental health issues in every workforce and the negative impact, employers must change their way of addressing employees’ mental health needs. Mental health can no longer be viewed as a private matter that employees are responsible for dealing with on their own. Instead, employers are being challenged to move toward a position of addressing their employees’ mental health needs and on a whole this can benefit the employee, the business and the working environment.
In the midst of us dealing with this pandemic, 2020 has seen a significant amount of political, social and racial unrest following the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Division among political, social and racial lines has not been this severe in decades. People are impacted by societal events, and, for many, such events worsen depression and anxiety. These concerns don’t disappear, or shut off when people enter the workplace, whether in person or virtual. And how employers address and acknowledge how these issues impact people’s working relationships is key. Not acknowledging how social, political, and racial tensions can influence our mood and emotional well-being can be demoralizing and discounting.
In the last year, we have seen and experienced collective trauma. But out of it comes an opportunity for employers to create a different culture in their working environments. Employers support for employees’ mental health needs without prejudice, and sensitivity to how political and societal occurrences can influence one’s mental well-being is needed now more than ever. To learn more about what employers can do to address mental health in the workplace, check out our recent webinar below.