How to Support Employee Mental Health During COVID-19

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There is a significant surge in symptoms of anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic among Americans. The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy have negatively affected the mental health of Americans. A recent poll conducted shows that over 40% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to the worry over the virus.

Steps to reduce the spread of the virus such as social distancing and business closures though necessary have resulted in increased isolation and job losses. These measures cause many people to go through circumstances that are connected to poor mental health outcomes. As organizations take steps to reopen, it is important to safeguard employees with social distancing and also take steps to protect the mental health of the employees.

Mental health at the workplace is the degree of psychological, emotional, and social well-being or an absence of mental ailment. It is the psychological state of a person who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment.

Mental health at the workplace may include an individual’s ability to enjoy work-life, form productive relationships, work well within a team, achieve performance targets, and ensure work-life balance. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health includes subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence, and fulfillment of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others. The WHO further states that the well-being of an individual is encompassed in the realization of their abilities, coping with normal stresses of life, productive work, and contribution to their community.

Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma, failure or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability, with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. Unemployment is a well-recognized risk factor for mental health problems while returning to, or getting work is helpful. A negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, the harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism, and lost productivity. Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, and benefit from associated economic gains.

28 percent, or about one in four Americans, face anxiety issues at their workplace. Over 25 percent of American adults meet the criteria for having a mental illness. It is also the leading cause of absenteeism in the workplace. In England alone, the campaign, launched by Mental Health First Aid England, estimates failing to address mental issues costs the UK economy more than £35bn a year from 15.4 million days lost to anxiety, stress, and depression. However, an independent review commissioned by Theresa May, suggests the cost could be three times higher, up to £99bn, when accounting for the 300,000 people with long-term mental health conditions who are laid off every year.

Here are some common signs of mental issues among employees:

  • Unable to stay focused on work responsibilities or concentrate on work
  • Isolating yourself from team and group meetings. Unable to connect with other team members
  • Having no motivation or enthusiasm towards work
  • Unable to cope with work pressure and easily breaking down due to performance targets
  • Feeling inadequate or incompetent to carry out work
  • Having unexplained problems, stress, aches and pains
  • Feeling dejected, helpless or hopeless
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Constantly in a negative frame of mind
  • Displaying extreme emotions, feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with colleagues, managers at the workplace
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems at the workplace
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily tasks such as performing daily work responsibilities

Here are a few methods on how to build a workplace that supports mental health and ensure optimum mental productivity:

  • Implementing health and safety policies and practices, including early identification of distress, substance abuse and illness and providing resources to manage them
  • Fast access to professional help for employees who need it
  • Promoting a work environment of acceptance and tolerance. Not being judgmental on others who have a problem
  • Connecting with others, spending productive time as a team
  • Learning to staying positive under work pressure and developing coping skills
  • Encouraging physical activity at the workplace such as going to the gym, jogging, walking, games
  • Helping others, sharing excessive workload
  • Getting adequate rest
  • Involving employees in decision-making
  • Organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance
  • Programmes for career development of employees
  • Treating employees fairly. Recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees
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