Severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) *that’ll take me some time to memorize* a.k.a COVID-19, has brought us to the face of unprecedented uncertainty posing as a tremendous threat to public health, food systems, the world of work, and the global community.
A multitude of enterprises is battling an existential danger. Almost 50% of the world’s 3.3 billion labor force are at risk of losing their livelihoods. While global leaders are concerned about the physical effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s another worldwide challenge arising – psychological wellness.
The pandemic and the subsequent economic adversity have influenced numerous individuals’ emotional well-being and become a burden for individuals already experiencing psychological sickness and substance use problems.
According to recent research, 42% of worldwide workers have encountered a decrease in psychological wellness since the pandemic started. Social isolation, business vulnerability, and the virus have combined to hamper the well-being and prosperity of workers throughout the planet.
With new developments in this scenario and the second wave’s rise in big economies like the US and India, leaders are likely to see employees struggle with anxiety, depression, burnout, trauma, and PTSD.
Employee Mental Health
World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and can contribute to his or her community.”
Psychological well-being is crucial to our combined and individual capacity as humans to think, act, collaborate, earn a living, and appreciate life. On this premise, the advancement, assurance, and rebuilding of emotional wellness can be regarded as an indispensable concern of individuals, communities, and societies worldwide.
Mental health issues and their repercussions in the workplace have always been a tough nut to crack.
Since 2017, there have been positive changes influencing workplace mental health. As a result, organizations have taken various measures to curb employee mental health issues. These involve a shift among large employers towards talking more transparently about mental health at work and offering more noteworthy help to staff. But unfortunately, some employers still choose to ignore their employees’ mental well-being conveniently assuming that it is simply an excuse not to turn up for Work.
What is the cost of poor mental health at Work? How is it taking a toll on workplace productivity?
“The estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity. As stated by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), depression causes an estimated 200 million lost workdays each year at the cost of $17 billion to $44 billion to employers. To understand the costs incurred, let us first define the following three factors: Absenteeism, Presenteeism, and Turnover costs.
– Presenteeism: It is the act of showing up for work generally due to ill-health and not performing at full ability.
– Absenteeism: It refers to an employee’s habitual absence from Work—usually intentional and without any good reason.
– Employee turnover cost: This term refers to expenses both tangible and intangible associated with replacing an employee.
Presenteeism and Absenteeism are firmly connected. While numerous people with repeating or prolonged mental health conditions can work at an all-out limit, presenteeism happens when people come into work when they are unwell (with poor psychological well-being) and work at a decreased degree of productivity or viability. This can, in turn, have a deleterious effect on social connections with coworkers.
Why is there a surge in mental health problems during the pandemic?
A pandemic is more than just a medical emergency; it affects people and society, causing chaos, fear, tension, stigma, and xenophobia. With the covid wave hitting the globe during the early months of 2020 and the rapid transmission of the virus, nations have enforced multiple new laws to curb the spread of the virus by breaking the chain. These included regional lockdowns, isolation, social distancing, temporary cessation of educational institutes, workplaces, and entertainment hubs.
Quarantine and self‐isolation can most likely harm one’s mental health. An individual’s activity has a significant impact on the nature of a pandemic, including the magnitude, flow, and after-effects. According to a review published in The Lancet, separation from loved ones, loss of freedom, boredom, and uncertainty can cause a deterioration in an individual’s psychological state.
Data collected from the KFF Health Tracking poll from July 2020 shows that many adults are also experiencing specific adverse effects on their mental well-being. For example, issues like troubled sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increased alcohol intake or drug use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%) owing to worry and tension due to the pandemic, are on the rise.
With the second wave of the virus hitting countries like India at the beginning of 2021, these above numbers are sure to shoot up.
What is the stigma around mental health in the workplace?
While mental health issues are becoming more widely recognized, we still live in a world where people with mental illnesses face prejudice and have difficulty accessing the care they need. Many distressed individuals tend to hide their feelings and do not talk about their mental health issues because of fear of prejudice and embarrassment. They are afraid of how others will respond.
Building workplace environments where employees feel free to be themselves makes it easier for people to talk about mental health issues without fear in the workplace, and it is more open to reaching out for support when they need it. Nonetheless, the decision to report work-related discomfort is a personal one. Hence, workplaces must evolve, and not rush the process.
Is there something we can do as leaders? What do we owe our employees?
Even in times of uncertain adversities the role of a leader remains the same: support and motivate your team members. That includes supporting them psychologically as well. Employers can play an essential role in empowering the early discovery of depression and other psychological wellness conditions by improving admittance to the mind. Leaders can start by showing empathy, recognizing the stressors that lead to dysfunctional behavior in the work environment, and edifying their employees that accepting assistance is not an indication of weakness.
Strategy for leaders:
Let your guard down – The bright side of the pandemic is that it is normalizing mental health issues.
Humans all around the world have experienced some level of discomfort during this pandemic. Suppose leaders come out in the open and share their stories of discomfort. In that case, it will translate into a decrease in the stigma and pave the way for employees to feel comfortable talking about their challenges.
1. Have a Framework:
Charity begins at home. Leaders can create, follow and share their model healthy behaviors of prioritizing self-care with the employees; that keeps them from burnout!
2. Ask, listen and make space:
Deliberately checking in on your colleague, sending a “How are you?”, having a conversation regularly is most critical now than ever. People have lost their dear ones; the lifestyle has taken a hit with job losses – a little act of ‘checking in’ goes a long way.
3. Encourage flexibility:
The pandemic has resulted in most employees working from home today. This change brought with it obvious difficulties in getting work done for those who live with others – whether roommates, partners, spouses, or children; while some do not have family members at home and now have no commute.
With research showing that remote workers are more productive, one might assume that these individuals would be just as productive, if not more so. But there are working professionals who believe they are less productive and emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted.
Managers should practice adjusting their expectations without dropping the standard.
In a tweet, Basecamp CEO Jason Fried stated that employees with caretaking responsibilities would have the liberty to set their schedules even if that meant fewer working hours. He quotes, “Work should give. Work will give. Family first.” Showing workers that leaders care about their prosperity and consider them essential for the organization is pivotal.
How can technology help?
In terms of mental health support and gathering intelligence, technology has ushered in a new era.
Mobile devices such as cell phones, laptops, and tablets provide new ways for the general public, physicians, and researchers to seek support, track improvement, and understand mental health better.
Here’s a list of applications that are helping people fight the wellness war:
1. Intellect: According to this application’s creators, it would enable people to embark on an entirely new way of working on their traits, attitudes, and behaviors.
2. WYSA: It aspires to be your emotional well-being companion and well-being tracker by allowing you to communicate with an AI-enabled mental health ‘chatbot therapist,’ created in collaboration with clinicians, coaches, users, and AI experts.
3. Talklife: This application allows you to share personal experiences with people who have gone through similar experiences.
4. Youper: It’s always nice to have somebody to talk to! Youper allows you to chat with an assistant, who will ask you questions and get you thinking about your thought patterns and habits.
It’s May 2021, and the pandemic hasn’t subsided yet. It looks like we might not return to the current system, even when we want to. So, let us take advantage of this opportunity to establish the mentally healthy workplace cultures that should have existed all along.
With that said, following the below-mentioned mantra from WHO (world health organization), let us take steps to heal, and may we find the Silver Lining.
– Be kind to your mind and others.
– Connect with others.
– Keep to a healthy routine.
– Reach out for help if you need it.
– And finally! Pause. Breathe. Reflect.