The collective events of 2020 – enduring the uncertainty and isolation of a global pandemic, an economic downturn, job market challenges, political unrest, an election year, and natural disasters – have highlighted the importance of mental healthcare.
The risk of mental illness is doubled for those that experience long-term unemployment, compared to employed individuals. But even those with steady employment have faced new stressors like layoff survivor's guilt, job burnout, and anxiety about putting their family's health at risk. Nearly 7 in 10 employees indicated in a recent survey that the COVID-19 pandemic is the most stressful time of their entire professional career.
As an employer, you may feel a moral obligation to offer your employees mental health support, and such programs may also improve your bottom line by reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity.
Take a look at the top ways employers can help their employees take care of their mental health.
1. Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, are voluntary work-based wellness programs designed to help employees resolve issues impacting their emotional and mental wellbeing. The goal of an EAP is to assist and resolve issues that may be affecting the employee's work performance. Enduring stress from employee burnout, health concerns, caring for children or an elderly family member, or reduced work hours are some of the issues an EAP could address.
Added pressures make it difficult for some individuals to process and express their emotions. By offering an EAP, you make it easier for individuals to access the support they need. Such assistance is also likely to help them stay on track and motivated to work.
Unlike traditional mental health services offered through health insurance, EAPs often provide a more comprehensive range of services such as marriage and family therapists, attorneys, financial advisors, elder and childcare specialists, and more.
2. Check Health Insurance Coverage
Historically, mental and physical healthcare were covered differently by health insurance companies. In recent years, with a push for mental health parity – equal coverage for mental and physical healthcare – many health insurance companies are now offering psychological support services. These programs may provide the support your employees need to help cope during difficult times.
Check the range of services provided to your employees by your health insurance provider. If mental or behavioral health services are offered, be sure to communicate this to your employees and let them know how to access care.
3. Encourage Breaks
Job burnout is defined as "a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity." Most people experience job burnout when they fail to strike a balance between professional and personal responsibilities. It's important to encourage your employees to use their Paid Time Off (PTO) hours throughout the year and get some relief from the workplace grind. Equally important is encouraging short breaks during the week. Employees should step away from their work periodically, stretch their limbs, and get fresh air if weather permits. Being consistent with short breaks is an excellent way to avoid long-term job burnout.
4. Set Clear Goals
Another common cause of job burnout is unclear job expectations. If employees don't have defined goals or a clear understanding of their responsibilities, it's likely to cause them stress. This year has been particularly challenging as workplace rules, protocols, and expectations have changed quickly and often due to COVID-19.
If employees go for too long feeling uncertain about their organization's direction and how they can contribute to success, they're likely to become dissatisfied with work. To avoid this type of burnout, make sure to set clear expectations, communicate changes, and provide constructive feedback.
5. Offer Flexibility for Appointments
Employees typically save Paid Time Off (PTO) hours for travel and spending time with loved ones. Odds are, they don't want to use that time towards doctors' appointments or other personal needs. As an employer, consider offering flexibility for personal health appointments without requiring the use of PTO time. By doing so, you make it clear that the wellbeing of employees is a top priority. In addition to demonstrating care for your employees, it also alleviates the stress associated with missing work and expending one's PTO reserves.
The benefits of encouraging healthy behavior are two-fold. Your employees will be able to make their wellbeing a priority, so their work is less likely to suffer long-term. Additionally, extending grace and flexibility can help establish trust, keeping them happy, motivated, and dedicated to your company.
As the importance of mental healthcare comes to light, more companies are jumping on board to provide helpful resources to their employees. That's not to say employees won't suffer in silence. The stigma surrounding mental healthcare makes it difficult for individuals to speak up and take action. Proactively communicating with your employees about mental health topics can go a long way to help those who are struggling.