Scaling The Pandemic Wall

The Mental Health Challenge

Article submitted by Allison Ebner

A little over a year into the pandemic, we are starting to see the sunshine on the horizon. With cases dropping and vaccine availability gaining strength, we are seeing the light at the end of this very long road. But despite our optimism, there could be some really dark days ahead for many people, including our employees. A recent American Psychiatric Association poll reported that 62% of Americans feel more anxious than they did in 2019. (Not at all surprising) Another survey found that 65% of employees feel mental health issues have affected their ability to work effectively at peak performance. And ‘next day anxiety’ – a sleep disorder where people feel a sense of dread about what might happen the next day – is impacting over 40% of the population in the U.S. (Full disclosure, I’ve seen my clock at 2 a.m. on many occasions.)

In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, the dramatic increase in alcohol and drug use over the past year (30% or more) can be directly linked to disproportionally high levels of uncertainty and fear, an overload of news and information, changes to workplace processes and demands, changes in household dynamics, financial and job security concerns, potential worsening of existing health conditions, and difficulties linked to caregiving. Toss in an increase in workplace micro-aggressions over things like race relations, political views and masks and vaccines and YES – That is a LOT to handle.

Acknowledging the existence of these problems isn’t enough. As employers, we’ve spent the last year diving deep into the personal lives of our employees: How they feel, who their kids are, what their family situation is, seeing their pets on zoom… And now we have to take some ownership of their mental health too, by offering new benefits and resources that will provide a foundation for overall balance and wellness. So what can we do to combat some of these serious concerns about our employees’ well-being? Here are a few suggestions that might work for your organization:

Maintain a solid ‘check-in’ system

Whether your employees are remote, on-site or you’re operating with a hybrid model, create a process for REGULAR manager check-ins. Be sure that your managers are trained and looking for signs of trouble with their teams, both physical and mental.

Provide mental health resources

EAPs, Employee Assistance Programs, offer a wide variety of services that can assist your employees with mental health challenges, including access to licensed clinicians. These models are very affordable and maintain the privacy of your staff.

Communicate with your staff…Often

Life is very hectic these days. For the most part, we are back in ‘work mode’, with many businesses thriving and looking to rebound from the past year. As we drive forward, we have to keep in mind that transparent and frequent communication, especially with a hybrid workforce, is the glue that binds your team together. Be honest, be open and encourage feedback.

The team at EANE, along with our partners, are here to help you provide resources as well. We have two upcoming programs that address the specific areas of concern mentioned above:

Friday FIT Facts Lunch & Learn Webinar Series (FREE for members!)

In this 3-part series, our partners from Cambridge Credit Counseling, Coastline EAP and The CHARGE Group will offer guidance and support around financial wellness for your employees, the importance of mindfulness and meditation and the impacts of a fit and healthy lifestyle on reducing stress.

Workplace Violence Prevention Series ($100 per session or $280 for the series/Member price)

With the rise in mass shootings and conflict escalations, we have to take the initiative and create a process to prevent an incident of violence at our workplaces. Our partners from PASS – Protective Advanced Safety Services – are offering a series of programs onsite at our Agawam Training Center on May 26th (Who’s Coming to Work), June 16th (CALM | De-escalation Techniques To Create a SAFE Workplace) and June 30th (Hire Right, Fire Smart). Attendees will learn how to recognize the signs of drug, alcohol and physical abuse in their employees, how to control combative situations between employees or customers and effective techniques for hiring and firing staff safely.

As we welcome May, we feel a deep appreciation for the nicer weather, the opportunity to see friends and resume some of our favorite activities. Let’s work together to provide supportive, productive work environments where employees feel safe, valued and can do their best work and thrive!