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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the working lives of millions of Americans, increasing stress and emphasizing the need to improve the mental health challenges brought by work. Here’s how supporting the mental health of employees can have positive benefits for your business. 

With around 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full time, and most production employees in the manufacturing industry encouraged to work staggered shifts, it’s safe to say COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our working lives.

For those working from home, a return to the office likely won’t come for some time. Public health orders, rising infection rates and employers’ demands to cut overhead (and workers’ demands for greater flexibility) will mean working from home will likely become a permanent feature of the working world. 

Workers in industries such as manufacturing, who don’t have the luxury of performing their duties from home, face other challenges: worrying about possible exposure to the virus while relying on workplace safety measures designed to keep employees safe, such as frequent cleaning and sanitizing of work areas, splitting work shifts and using social distancing rules.
 

“With more organizations becoming aware of the link between well-being and productivity, now is a good time for employers to take steps to create a sense of community among employees online and look to tackle the well-being challenges posed by the shift to remote work.”


Whatever the industry, the COVID-19 crisis has brought workplace well-being to the fore, making mental health support a top concern for employers as more employees struggle with increased anxiety, isolation and depression due to remote work and other anxieties related to the pandemic, including fear of the virus itself and prolonged physical distancing. There are even reports of a spike in musculoskeletal injuries for workers as they make do with kitchen tables, sofas and other less-than-ideal workspaces.

Read more: How to Manage Employee Anxiety in the Workplace During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mental Well-Being and the Pandemic

A recent Harvard University study sheds some light on the widespread mental health impact of the pandemic. 

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s SHINE program looked at the workplace well-being of 1,271 participants in 17 industries including agriculture, manufacturing, construction, finance, arts and healthcare. It found widespread impacts from COVID-19, including 32 percent saying their job security had decreased, 44 percent saying household income had declined, and 40 percent reporting an increased workload.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental well-being was already a challenge for employers. A workplace health survey conducted by Mental Health America in 2017, for example, found that 63 percent of respondents reported that workplace stress had resulted in a significant impact on their mental and behavioral health.

Richard Pierson, CEO of Headspace, an app that offers daily guided meditation sessions for workplaces, noted in a recent interview that corporations are taking greater interest in the mental well-being of their employees. Mental health used to be a conversation in 10 percent of boardrooms, he told the business news channel CNBC, adding that it’s likely “happening in every single boardroom now.”

The pandemic has significantly impacted workers and their ability to handle stress this year, according to research and advisory company Gartner. The company’s research noted causes such as worries about the economy, job security and health.

“The amount of change employees can absorb without fatigue—negative reactions to change such as burnout, frustration or apathy—has plummeted at a time when more change is precisely what organizations need in order to reset,” noted Jessica Knight, vice president in Gartner’s human resources practice.

Innovative Ways to Find Help

Employers appear to be noticing that the well-being of their workforce is a productivity issue as well as a health concern. Gartner’s research notes that employers should consider an “open source” approach to change management that actively engages employees. Doing so can increase the probability of change success by as much as 24 percentage points, the company found.

Many employers have responded by increasing employee access to mental health benefits, assistance programs and flexible schedules, or by improving communication between management and employees about policies and planning. 

 

Watch this webinar by the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation (NIHCM Foundation) on COVID-19 and mental health in the workplace:


More than two-thirds of employers currently provide access to online mental health support resources such as apps, videos and articles, and that number is expected to rise to 88 percent in 2021, according to the 2021 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey, which was conducted between May and June 2020.

Investing in the well-being of your workforce can pay dividends. A recent study by Oxford’s Saïd Business School offers evidence that happier workers are better at their jobs, and therefore contribute to the company’s bottom line. 

Read more: COVID-19 Social Distancing: Technologies and Tactics to Keep Your Workers Safe

The research followed telesales workers at British Telecom and found a clear causal relationship between happiness and productivity. Workers reported their happiness levels each week, and the researchers noted such outside influences as a worker’s access to windows while at work and the presence of gloomy or bright weather outside each call center. These factors were used to “derive quasi-experimental estimates for the causal effect of happiness on productivity.”

“We show that being in a positive mood has a significant impact on the number of sales made by employees,” the researchers wrote. “We find that when workers are happier, they work faster by making more calls per hour worked and, more importantly for sales, manage to convert more of these calls to sales (while maintaining customer satisfaction).”

With the pandemic likely to be with us for the foreseeable future, the newly remote and hybrid workplace is sure to be a feature of our lives for some time to come. 

With more organizations becoming aware of the link between well-being and productivity, now is a good time for employers to take steps to create a sense of community among employees online and look to tackle the well-being challenges posed by the shift to remote work.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO SUPPORT MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE?

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the working lives of millions of Americans, increasing stress and emphasizing the need to improve the mental health challenges brought by work.

Many employers have now made worker well-being a top priority.

What strategies or technologies are you using to support your employees? Share your insights in our poll below.

What are you doing to support your workers?

What strategies or technologies are you using to try to improve employee well-being? What have you found most successful? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Talk to Us!

I love this article and greatly apreciate that this issue is finally being talked about taken seriously. However, personally, here in the manufacturing area of the workforce (machine shops spefically), I feel this issue will never be brought up, and if it is by an employee, will not be taken seriously. Kuddos if your shop does. Most of these machine shops are run and owned by guys who are "old school" and will not talk about mental health durring a pandemic or quite frankly, at all. Is there an article on this particular problem to the larger issue, or does anyone have insight on how to tackle this?

41  

Nice article, nice info for who is suffering from anxiety and depression.
https://www.hupcfl.com

33  

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