New Emphasis on Worker Mental and Physical Health

In the lengthening shadow of the pandemic, studies show increasing workplace concerns.

Awareness of corporate leadership’s responsibility for safeguarding and even bettering mental health has led to improvements in recent years. For decades, consultants had advised executives of the need to provide wellness programs for both employees and management personnel. 

In the lengthening shadow of a subsiding pandemic, businesses are gaining a sharper awareness of the very real vulnerability of the individuals they employ, whether in the office or remotely. 

It wasn’t so long ago, as Forbes recently described it, that employees “were required to mold their lives around demands of the company and to profess loyalty to the business above their mental or physical health or family time.” 

As that arcane approach recedes in the rearview, the office-clearing fear of COVID and its variants has given business leaders new challenges and greater motivation.

Separate surveys conducted by The Conference Board in March and October of 2021 combined to show the impact of the first eighteen months of the pandemic on U.S. workers. 

In March 2021 nearly 60 percent of 1,100 U.S. respondents from a cross-section of industries and from CEOs on down “reported concerns about stress and burnout … [with] more than one-third of respondents also expressing concerns about their physical wellbeing, including fear of getting sick.”

Then, to coincide with World Mental Health Day in October 2021, a second survey of 1,800 workers and management revealed that “nearly 80 percent of workers [now] worried about their mental health.” It warned managers to take note that over half of those surveyed “said their mental health had degraded since the start of the pandemic.”

Post-pandemic emphasis on programs  

Clearly, regardless of industry, today every company should prioritize cultivating a mental health focused work environment.  Workers have had to deal with new workplace challenges even as their entire lives were impacted. Now the added threats of inflation and a war in Eastern Europe are compounding the stress. 

The changing attitude that mental health support is not an employee perk but a corporate responsibility is ushering in a new era for mental health in the workplace. It’s clear that employees are no longer willing to sacrifice their own mental health and well-being for the sake of a company’s financial goals. 

As YPO posted in recognition of last year’s World Mental Health Day, “there are manageable ways to keep a focus on mental health.”

Beyond responding to worker unease over pandemic issues, leaders with existing programs focusing on mental health must strengthen them as part of the new normal. Those without these programs need to quickly establish and then maintain them. 

It is simply not enough to offer minimal healthcare benefits. While it’s important that employees have access to healthcare insurance networks, employers should also look into the emerging options of telehealth and healthcare apps. 

Considering many health care providers have been under-staffed since the beginning of the pandemic, telehealth offers people a valuable tool in taking control of their own health. This includes doctor visits via webcam, online therapy sessions, and streamlined medical results. 

Employers should not only offer traditional benefits, but provide their teams with new, consumer driven technology, such as mobile apps. There are a number of apps that allow users to connect with mental health professionals, utilize self-care practices, and receive medical results from anywhere. 

Fostering a safe and supportive workplace

The most common complaints of unhappy employees are the lack of work-life balance and excessive stress. 

In order to create a truly productive and safe work environment where mental health is a focus, workloads must be manageable, hours should be flexible, and everyone needs to feel safe in bringing up personal concerns. Leaders are encouraged to create safety by not only uplifting and acknowledging the struggles of others, but by being transparent about their own stressors and challenges.

Remember, when people experience burn-out and feel unacknowledged, the quality of their work and levels of satisfaction decline. However, when they feel supported and empowered, great things happen.

While there is always room for improvement, every business should focus on how to increase engagement in mental health services and ensure that everyone has access to the necessary resources.

This article was originally posted on Tim Noonan’s blog.

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