The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the nature of work. Not only has remote work become incredibly common, but a significant number of people have quit their jobs in what has been dubbed “The Great Resignation.”
One of the underlying causes of these changes? Mental health.
Because of the pandemic, people from all walks of life are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety. Social isolation, grief, and the uncertain economic climate have worsened mental health.
According to the Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report, the pandemic has seen increased levels of attrition, with 68 percent of millennials and 81 percent of Gen Zers having left roles for mental health reasons.
And the effects of mental health don’t stop there. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Psychological Association (APA), poor mental health can affect company culture, productivity, absenteeism, and more. And the reverse is true: negative work environments can worsen mental health.
It’s clear that executives and human resources officers need to take a proactive approach and prioritize mental wellness in the workplace.
How mental health stigma in the workplace has shifted since the COVID-19 pandemic
Mental health was once a highly stigmatized topic that was considered inappropriate to discuss in one’s place of employment.
In recent years, though, this stigma has arguably started to lessen. The above-mentioned report found that, when comparing statistics from 2019 to statistics from 2021, more people are talking about mental health with their coworkers and employers.
This might be because mental health issues have become more prominent, forcing people to ask for help. It could also be because many people feel that they’re in the same boat as their coworkers — after all, the pandemic has affected all of us in some way or another.
Although it’s good that people are talking about mental wellness, only 49 percent of respondents who discussed mental health at work received positive responses, suggesting that many workplaces fall short when it comes to creating a supportive environment.
Mental health initiatives in the workplace
Mental health affects work, and vice versa.
There are many reasons, both ethical and profit-focused, for companies to invest in their workers’ mental health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are many effective actions that companies can take in order to improve workers’ mental health.
These actions include:
- Creating a safe work environment, free from health risks and bullying
- Promoting quality communication and management practices
- Allowing for flexible working hours when possible
- Encouraging positive communication habits between workers and management staff
- Normalizing discussions of mental health in the workplace
- Ensuring that employees have the resources and time to do their work effectively
Beyond that, there are many strategies that companies can employ to support workers’ mental health, such as:
- Senior executives leading by example and opening up about mental health
- Offering lunchtime learning sessions on topics like mindfulness, stress reduction
- Sharing informative and empathetic printed, electronic, or video resources on the topic
- Offering a few paid mental health days to employees
- Subsidizing counseling sessions
- Providing conflict-resolution training for leadership and team members
- Creating space for relaxation, conversation, and fun at work
Stress management vs stress reduction
Free stress balls and lunchtime yoga sessions are great, but they won’t be effective if there are deeper issues that make employees dread coming to work every day.
In other words, while stress management is important, it’s more effective to reduce unnecessary stress and conflict where possible.
It’s inevitable that employees will face stressful situations from time to time, in which case stress management techniques can be helpful. But in the case of issues like inefficient and painful systems, a bullying coworker, or an unreasonably large workload, the company can and should step in to curb the stressor in the first place.
Creating an effective workplace wellness strategy
An effective wellness strategy should adhere to the company’s budget and aim to address employee’s pain points while equipping them with the skills they need to address stress, both inside and outside the workplace.
Executives and human resource officers can take the first step by enlisting the expertise of a professional corporate mental health consultant, surveying workers, or creating polls. This can be a great way to generate ideas and open up a positive conversation.
Lisa Balderman at Balderman Wellness offers Corporate Mental Health Consulting to advise and assist companies in creating and implementing mental health initiatives that truly work. Contact her today to book a consultation.
Mental Health in the Workplace. (n.d.).
Mental Health in the Workplace. (2019).
Rajgopal, T. (2010). Mental well-being at the workplace.
Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report (2021).