The COVID-19 pandemic flipped the world on its head without warning. Due to isolation, uncertainty, and stress, employers were forced to face the ongoing workplace mental health crisis.
In a recent virtual employer roundtable hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber, in partnership with the University of Michigan Eisenberg Family Depression Center, attendees engaged in a conversation around supporting employee mental health.
- Mental Health in the Workplace: The Shadow Pandemic and Evidence Based Solutions
- Supporting Employee Mental Health
Danielle Taubman, program evaluation specialist at the University of Michigan Eisenberg Family Depression Center, started the discussion with an alarming statistic: 75% of employees have experienced at least one symptom of a mental health challenge within the past year.
“Those who feel supported by their employer around the pandemic, around racial injustices, return to work, and their mental health overall tended to be less likely to underperform and miss work, more satisfied with their job, and more likely to have positive views of their company and its leaders,” said Taubman.
Why don’t employees seek mental health care?
Sixty percent of people who met diagnostic criteria for a mental health condition did not receive care. This is due to:
- Logistical barriers including time, schedules, and cost.
- Stigma around mental illness.
- Believing they should be able to handle personal struggles on their own.
- Lack of awareness of mental health symptoms and treatment options.
In addition, “the pandemic has disproportionately affected the health of communities of color,” said Juliette McClendon, director of medical affairs at Big Health. “These communities of color face unique challenges in accessing mental health care.”
Notes for Employers
While employers shouldn’t be recommending treatment options for an individual, they should be aware of treatment options available for supporting employees experiencing mental health conditions. Traditional medication-based treatments work for many patients, but non-drug treatments, such as digital therapeutics, also exist.
How are employers supporting employee mental health through the pandemic?
Jenifer Zbiegien, vice president of human resources, marketing and safety, health, and environment (SHE) at Aludyne, an automotive manufacturing company, shared how the company’s leadership has embraced the challenge of prioritizing workplace mental health.
Aludyne first identified four focus areas that play a critical role in its employees’ well-being:
- Job security
Throughout the pandemic, leadership at Aludyne communicated constantly with employees through newsletters, virtual calls, and anonymous chat features to help ease stress and answer questions.
“We wanted to be open and honest with our employees because the more they knew they could trust us, and that we were sharing information, the more we could ease their mental anguish with the pandemic as much as we could,” said Zbiegien.
Being stressed about finances doesn’t help an individual’s mental health. To address this, Aludyne offered complimentary financial education webinars to help employees better manage their money and increased wages across most locations.
Emotional and Physical Health
“Stay interviews” are proving to be an important way for managers to gauge employee pain-points.
Aludyne shared educational information across its channels about health topics including mental health, meditation, and mindfulness.
They coached managers on the importance of asking employees, especially those in the HR department, how they are really doing during these tough times and offering an ear if needed.
Aludyne also stressed the importance of staying physically active to help with mental health challenges.
“I believe when someone feels they belong at work, they can be their true self at work, it helps reduce their stress levels,” noted Zbiegien.
Aludyne’s corporate belonging initiative aims to create a diverse environment where employees feel valued, appreciated, and included. The initiative is sponsored by Aludyne’s chief financial officer because “belonging needs to not be an HR initiative, it needs to be a company initiative driven from the top down,” explained Zbiegien.
The Future of Work
Millennials and Gen-Zs expect mental health support from their employers.
- Two in three consider mental health support and programs when choosing an employer.
- Sixty percent want their employer to prioritize mental health.
- Seventy-seven percent would leave a job if it was negatively impacting their mental health.
It is the responsibility of today’s employers to cultivate environments that support employees on their mental health journeys.