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Employers Stepping Up as Stress Levels Rise Amid COVID-19

November 18, 2020

It was only the latest in a growing list of examples. Noodles and Co., based in Broomfield, Colo., announced last month it was expanding its benefits program next year to include free in-person and virtual mental health counseling.

Employers increasingly have recognized that COVID-19 has added a lot of stress (tons of it, in fact) to their employees’ lives and are doing what they can to help. Obviously, not every company can afford to expand its menu of benefits offerings. But COVID-19 has left more than half of American adults feeling the toll, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, and so the mounting mental health crisis has caught everyone’s attention.

Indeed, the number of adults experiencing depression has tripled in the U.S. since the coronavirus outbreak began, according to a JAMA Network study, with more than one in four adults reporting symptoms of depression.

A quarter of U.S. workers say they have even considered quitting their jobs as worries related to the pandemic weigh on them, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. A fifth say they have taken leave.

The good news, again, is that employers are responding. The AP-NORC poll found 57% of workers saying their employer is doing “about the right amount” in responding to the pandemic; 24% said they are “going above and beyond.” Just 18% said their employer is “falling short.”

There’s less satisfaction, however, when it comes to supporting mental health.

Larger companies like Noodles & Co., we know, are better able to afford to give their employees the latest and greatest benefits packages. But there’s still plenty that smaller employers can do to help without taxing their budgets.

Here are four ways to accomplishing that:

  1. Recognize and, just as importantly, acknowledge the physical and mental toll that the pandemic is taking on your employees. Attention spans get shorter, irritability rises, and illness becomes more frequent when people are stressed. Your employees also are less likely to be engaged when they’re feeling maxed out. They’ll participate less in team activities and their work will suffer. If you’re seeing these changes among your employees, you know you have a problem. Recognizing and acknowledging it will only help reduce the stigma around mental health. The more we talk about it, the more these issues can be normalized. And bosses can start the conversation by being open.
  2. Encourage your team to connect. We all want and, in fact, need a sense of belonging. The pandemic has isolated us, left us feeling fearful and uncertain. Finding ways to ensure connections at the workplace stay alive will only help boost morale and performance. Also, making sure everyone’s got clearly outlined goals and expectations will help workers feel more secure.
  3. Encourage workers to reduce some stress on their own by making some routine changes. Developing boundaries between office work hours and home life is a good way to avoid burnout and reduce the stress. Let your employees know it’s OK to turn off email notifications after certain hours. Saying good morning and good night to your colleagues, even virtually, let’s them know when you are available and when you are away from work. It signals an important boundary.
  4. Scheduling meeting-free times. When we chat with a colleague, run into the office kitchen for a coffee or walk into a conference room, we’re taking what amounts to a mini-break. At home, there’s less of that. Most of us just stay at our keyboards or go from one Zoom meeting to the next. To force workers to take a break, some companies have changed their meeting policies. At some companies, for example, Friday afternoons are meeting-free to give workers more uninterrupted time to get work done ahead of the weekend.

CCIG is a Denver-area insurance, employee benefits and surety brokerage with clients nationwide. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We help you manage your long-term cost of insurance with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.

Also readC-Suite’s Role in Tackling Mental Health in the Workplace

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