As the pandemic continues to drag on, Americans are not coping well, and burnout and addiction have only gotten worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between August 2020 and February 2021, the number of people who experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 36% to 42%. It’s impacting the workforce as a study by Robert Half found that 44% of workers say they feel fatigued on the job, up 34% from last year.
And addiction is also on the rise. A New York University School of Global Public Health survey of 5,850 people who drink alcohol found that 29% have increased their drinking during the pandemic and drug overdose deaths spiked 30% in 2020, the bulk being opioid overdoses, according to CDC data.
All of these issues are impacting employers at a time when they are scrambling to hire enough workers. To overcome these challenges, progressive employers are addressing these concerns head on with a sincere focus on improving the mental and physical health of their employees and family members.
Some of the strategies being implemented include:
Reduce stigma with workplace conversations
Create an environment in which employees can share openly with each other and their managers about how they are feeling mentally and what kind of emotions they are going through. An example of how this is implemented at Vitality is regular check-ins with Vitality USA CEO Tal Gilbert and staff. Normalizing the conversation makes it more likely that employees may recognize problems.
Enhance mental health and substance use services
Ensure screening, testing and access to care for mental health and substance abuse provided with the same urgency and parity as physical health. Many employers have been working to address these issues through their benefit offerings with the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) latest Workplace Wellness Trends survey finding that 68% planned to increase their emphasis on mental health services into this year.
Remove barriers to accessing care, with services such as tele-behavioral health having a dramatic impact on the delivery of telehealth and tele-behavioral health services.
Once these enhanced services are in place, it’s also important to ensure that employees are aware of and encouraged to use these programs. This can be accomplished through wellness luncheons (virtual if need be), targeted communications and educational webinars.
Encourage workers to take time off
With so many workers continuing to work from home, the barrier between work and home life continues to be blurred. Many have forgone their vacations as travel was limited and time with family has been impacted by the pandemic.
Nike and LinkedIn are among a growing number of employers giving employees at its corporate offices a free week off to destress and focus on their mental health. Vitality has done something similar, closing the offices during a national holiday week (except for critical customer advocate staff) to ensure that everyone can not only take time off, but truly disconnect without the fear of missing critical meetings or returning to an overloaded inbox. Further emphasizing the importance of taking time off, we also offer points in our Vitality program for employees that take at least a week of vacation at a time and use all their allotted time off throughout the year.
Embrace technology-based apps and solutions
As the sophistication of digital mental health solutions evolves, employers are increasingly offering these applications as part of their benefit solutions. Especially embraced by millennials, many of these mental health resources are fun and engaging and as a result more frequently used. Specifically for Vitality clients, members can take advantage of the many best-in-class applications available on the Vitality platform such as HEADSPACE, Calm, and the Apple Breathe app.
Addressing mental health and substance use in the workplace must be a strategic priority. Employer efforts can have a significant impact on not only employee health and wellness, but can increase engagement, retention and productivity.