How HR leaders Can Contain the Impact of COVID-19 on Employees’ Mental Health

Figuring out ways to survive and thrive in an unprecedented crisis, businesses across the globe are grappling with new norms of operationalizing their remote teams. As the increasing COVID-19 cases and economic fallout has taken a toll on employees’ mental health, many of them are experiencing challenges like anxiety and depression, which may have a detrimental effect on the business.

To transform this crisis into incredible employee engagement opportunities, companies need to understand why it’s imperative to focus on the mental health of their workforce. Let’s dive deeper into the significance of employees’ mental health and how HR leaders can support them in these trying times:

Why employees’ mental health matters?

An employee’s mental health plays a pivotal role in the seamless functioning of a business. As Coronavirus has come up with severe obstacles to mental wellness, 1 out of 4 Americans have been dealing with mental disorders caused by the pandemic (according to the World Economic Forum). By affecting the employees’ ability to work, factors like job insecurity and market volatility have pressurized them even more. While mental health is highly entwined with employee productivity, it becomes essential for organizations to foster a culture that destigmatizes the emotional needs of employees.

Uncovering the adverse effects of ignoring employees’ mental health

Many employers hesitate to peek into their employees’ lives whereas employees find it difficult to share their struggles related to emotional wellness. As a result of which, mental health often gets ignored in the workplace. Eliminating this communication gap becomes more crucial as it can create problems for both employers and employees. If not paid proper care & attention, mental health issues can result in:

Low productivity

If the employees’ mental health is in shambles, they are more prone to substance abuse causing errors at work, poor decision-making, workplace accidents (while using heavy machinery), faulty timekeeping, etc. This contributes to an overall decline in productivity. As per the World Health Organization, the productivity loss due to depression & anxiety has a massive impact on the global economy, costing around US$ 1 trillion per year.

Less motivation

As the employees suffer from challenges like stress, depression, panic attacks, anxiety, and burnout, they stay unhappy and feel less motivated/committed to work. Also, it leads to an increased overall sickness absence which disrupts the business workflow.

Poor work culture

Employees dealing with mental health disorders often have disciplinary issues that result in friction among colleagues as well as poor client relationships. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), 50% of employees accepted that anxiety has affected their professional relationships, leading to less participation at work. This negatively impacts the company’s culture and makes it potentially toxic.

Supporting employees’ mental health amidst the pandemic

Prioritizing the mental health of its workforce, Starbucks has offered free 20 mental therapy sessions to all of its US employees in April. They’ve also rolled out Headspace (an app for meditation and mindfulness) which empowers the employees to cleanse and settle their minds during the turbulent times. Here’s what HR leaders can do to support their employees’ mental health:

Flexibility plays a critical role

Offering flexibility to your employees can help them thrive amidst the pandemic while keeping mental disorders at bay. Reiterating existing practices to support employees’ mental health goes a long way. As the needs of every individual differ at different times, let your workforce set the boundaries they want. Offering flexibility doesn’t mean degrading your standards, rather it empowers your workforce to perform well even during the uncertain times.

Communication is key

Since the mental health of your employees is deeply impacted by the COVID outbreak, open & honest communication can help you gain insights into their emotional wellbeing. By keeping your workforce informed about the organizational updates, you can relieve them from stress caused due to workload. Also, you can share mental health resources with your employees to minimize the shame and stigma associated with it.

Policies make a huge difference

Modifying your company’s policies with respect to the pandemic and civil unrest can help in minimizing stress among the employees. According to WHO, every US$ 1 spent into the treatment of employee mental disorders yields an ROI of US$ 4 in terms of improved health. By reconsidering the existing norms related to working hours, paid & unpaid leaves, and performance reviews, you can effortlessly mitigate the mental issues that your employees are facing. Moreover, implementing an employee wellness program will efficiently support their mental health.

The mental health issues are as serious as the pandemic itself. While the world is battling with COVID-19, let’s focus on creating a positive workplace culture that is away from all sorts of mental disorders.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog and reprinted with permission.

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Author: Sumit Aneja

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