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As we enter fall 2020, employers are confronting a number of complex factors that threaten to cause or exacerbate mental health challenges in the workplace. Employees continue to struggle with the direct threat of COVID-19; a recent MetLife survey found that 74% of workers are concerned about “at least one aspect of their well-being as a result of the virus.” Frontline workers face the daily trauma of putting their health at risk, teachers and parents are navigating distance learning, and office workers struggle to either adapt to long-term remote work or anxiously debate whether they are comfortable with a return to the office. The economic outlook remains uncertain while recent wildfires, hurricanes, and urban flashpoints compound stress.
With this background it should be no surprise that this fall looks to be one of the most uncertain periods in recent memory. We believe we need an employer-led mental health response to match.
In this era of anxiety, leading organizations are stepping up, focused on a central question: how can they strategically invest, provide mental health resources, train managers, and mold their culture to help employees navigate this difficult period—and sustain the benefits for the long-term?
Based on our observations of the workplace mental health landscape in 2020, the following priorities will emerge:
Building a Trauma-Informed Workplace
Organizations are building trauma-informed workplaces that are better equipped to address the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and other sources of trauma. The pandemic represents a workplace trauma for many employees, especially workers on the frontlines at hospitals, grocery stores, and other essential positions. Trauma can impact how a person responds to stress, how they think and feel, and of course, their productivity. In response, organizations are developing novel solutions and partnerships to ensure their workplaces are trauma informed.
Fostering Connection and Relational Wellbeing
Emotional intelligence and relational wellbeing are increasingly being discussed in the workplace and both refer to the way individuals relate to their challenges, successes, and the people around them. Factors such as reliance on technology and the rise of remote work—both accelerated by COVID-19—have created barriers to personal connection in the workplace, while loneliness is also gaining attention as a serious issue, especially in the U.S. Executive leaders and managers must understand how to communicate empathy and understanding of the fact that this pandemic will cause inevitable interruptions to workflow as employees deal with personal challenges.
Caring for a Neurodiverse Employee Population
Employers are beginning to focus on neurodiversity as part of their diversity and inclusion initiatives. Understanding the needs of neurodiverse individuals – including those with autism, dyslexia, and ADHD – can unlock significant talent advantages. Leaders at many organizations have recognized the benefits of this approach for both the company and employees, continually identifying new sources of talent and hiring neurodiverse professionals, as well as accommodating their needs.
Meeting the Needs of a Multi-Generational Workforce
Employers today must consider the mental health needs of five generations. Generation Z is new to the workforce while Millennials are maturing in their careers and Gen X are assuming leadership roles. Meanwhile, many Boomers are delaying retirement. Each of these phases brings different common stressors, needs, and preferences for workplace resources—though no generation is a monolith. Leading organizations are shifting benefits and wellness programs to build a culture that accommodates this diversity of ideas and needs that accompanies a multi-generational workforce.
Applying Evidence and Interventions
Evidence-based interventions are crucial to improving outcomes for individuals with mental health conditions and challenges. At the same time, identifying interventions that are effective and targeted is a crucial business decision for many employers. Many executives are focusing on current research around the many forms that a successful workplace mental health intervention can take. Mental health conditions are the single most expensive category of health costs for many employers, across all industries and sizes. Applying evidence and interventions not only improves outcomes for individuals, but also can help reduce costs to the overall organization.
Some employers will reflect on 2020 as the year that they augmented existing mental health programs or presented innovative solutions to new problems such as those outlined above. Other employers might remember it as the year that they began their workplace mental health journey by championing the issue for the first time. Either way it is critical that all organizations rise to the challenges of 2020 – and inspiration can certainly be found at the One Mind at Work Global Forum.