Monitoring employee mental health makes sense for businesses

As vaccinations roll out and cautious optimism begins to take hold, the health care industry is acutely aware that employees in industries across the nation continue to experience a heightened sense of anxiety and a range of emotions affecting their mental health. People are still dealing with concerns about job stability and family finances, as well as disrupted childcare schedules. Isolation remains an issue as many employees remain either completely or partially remote, as employers navigate the next phase of the pandemic. 

As Baltimore businesses re-emerge from stay-at-home orders and move through reopening phases, employees may be worried about returning to a changed and unknown work environment. All of this uncertainty can lead to or exacerbate existing mental health challenges. 

Adding to the general anxiety is the recent wave of anti-Asian hate and violence, coming on the heels of a racially charged and divisive presidential election, and an awakening across the country to systemic racism and the many injustices faced by Black and brown Americans. Many of us are struggling to cope with the realities of our country, which can take a significant toll on our mental health. 

It is imperative for business leaders to bolster efforts to support employee mental health during these uncertain times. Employee well-being, which includes mental health, affects critical business outcomes such as productivity, workplace safety, customer experience and morale. For example, Kaiser Permanente is collaborating with employers to encourage a proactive approach to managing employee mental health, including providing a suite of resources that HR departments can easily incorporate into their existing communications to make a difference for their employees. More information, including wellness tips, stress management apps, and vaccination education can be found in our online resource center. 

Here are a few ways you can support your employees’ mental health as we move toward full- and part-time return to the office

Communicate reopening updates and adjustments. Employees likely feel nervous and unsure about returning to their workplace. Regularly communicate updates on the status and plans. Keep employees apprised of changes being made to address social distancing and protect the health of employees. Share information about flexible or staggered schedules, telework, cleaning protocols, and anything else your company is doing to ease the transition and ensure safety. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge what is happening in our society. Leaders should commit to listening and learning more about the issue of racial injustice and use this moment to clearly state company values and take action against racism. 

Know the warning signs. Each individual experiences mental health challenges differently, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for certain tell-tale signs that a team member isn’t coping well: 

  • Uncharacteristic behavior, such as mood swings or aggressiveness.
  • A dip in performance or missed deadlines.
  • Lack of interest in assignments and colleagues.
  • Increased isolation from the team.
  • Absenteeism, or change in appearance (appearing disheveled or fatigued).
  • Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness.

Watch for significant changes in your team members’ personalities or work product; these may be signs that a person is struggling. 

Break down the stigma. Discuss mental health openly. Encourage your leaders to discuss mental health to increase awareness and reduce stigma. Using leadership testimonials to encourage employees to take care of their mental health can be effective and demonstrate that well-being is a business priority. The testimonials can be as simple as sharing what each person has been doing outside of work hours to decompress. 

Kaiser Permanente has designed a free depression self-assessment tool that can help you and your staff figure out whether they might need professional help. This is a straightforward questionnaire that can be taken anonymously online. It is meant to gauge an individual’s levels of anxiety and depression and provides instant feedback to users. The tool isn’t designed to diagnose depression, but it may help someone who is struggling to get the necessary support. Tools to help build emotional resilience are available at findyourwords.org.

Leverage technology to stay connected. Encourage virtual meetings and “watercooler moments” to maintain connection with your employees. Set up video support groups for parents who are balancing distance learning for their children with remote work, or for employees who are struggling to cope with the racial unrest in their community. Make sure leaders show empathy and are available to staff to discuss concerns.

Use your EAP and health plan. Check in with your employee assistance program to confirm their availability and to coordinate support for employees. Remind the staff that the EAP is there if they need support and can connect employees with behavioral health support services. Also, connect with your health plan to learn what resources they are offering to support plan members and pass that information on to employees. Kaiser Permanente members have access to a suite of non-clinical behavioral health resources, including free access to several mindfulness and meditation apps. 

Promote work-life balance. It’s easy for employees to be too connected to work when their home space becomes their workspace. With children home from school, the pressures on employees at home are intense. But working around-the-clock can result in burnout and resentment. Set realistic expectations around appropriate working hours and make sure to communicate these so that everyone is on the same page. Encourage leadership to lead by example and demonstrate a healthy work-life balance.

As we look at the long-term health of businesses through these turbulent times, ensuring strong mental health of employees is critical. Providing tools and resources to employees to help them cope with feelings of stress and anxiety is a worthwhile investment. By supporting your employees during these uncertain times, you will provide them with strategies to help them deal with difficult situations in the future. And, you’ll cultivate a company culture of open dialogue, teamwork and empathy. 

Kaiser Permanente has released a Covid-19 playbook, “Planning for the Next Normal at Work,” to guide employers and businesses through health considerations they will need to address as they safeguard workplaces during the Covid-19 pandemic and prepare to bring employees back to traditional work environments. It includes considerations for supporting employees’ mental health and can be downloaded at: https://business.kaiserpermanente.org/thrive/resource-center/covid-19-return-to-work-playbook

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. Learn more about how Kaiser Permanente can help business leaders reimagine employee support at kp.org/LeadBoldly.

Originally published on The Baltimore Business Journal. 

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