As a partner in a national labor and employment law firm (as well as being a mother to three young daughters), I have witnessed and experienced the mental health impacts of the pandemic on the nation’s workforce.
Personally, I have struggled with managing the stress, burnout and hopelessness that the pandemic threw onto my lap. I have simultaneously taught first grade while counseling my clients and growing my business – all within the four walls of my home.
I am not alone. A Society for Human Resource Management survey of 1,099 employees found work-related concerns left more than 40% of those polled feeling hopeless, burned out or exhausted as they grappled with lives altered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are some of the key findings:
- One in four employees said they often felt bad about themselves, or that they are a failure that has let themselves or their family down.
- 55% report often having little interest or pleasure in doing things since Covid-19 began.
- 65% of employees who said they had trouble concentrating were those who lived with a member of a vulnerable population.
- Women are more likely than men to report often having trouble concentrating at work.
As the above survey results show, my own feelings of fatigue have not been unique to me nor my circumstances.
I have witnessed many of my employer clients struggling with labor shortages and burned out employees. Employers are seeing talent leaving in droves – particularly women and women of color – as they look for relief from burnout and pandemic fatigue.
Amidst the lack of reliable childcare, shutdowns and virtual schooling, parents and caregivers are reporting higher rates of burnout as these workers lack access to recovery between the various stressors of working, caring for their children (or parents) and managing a household.
However, even though I am not unique, because of what I have experienced, I have encouraged other employers to think beyond the letter of the law and realize they can have a broad impact on their employees’ lives and ultimately curb the damage to their business.
It’s not only the right thing to do, but it also benefits everyone to have a healthier and more productive workforce. So here are just some of the topics that have come up for discussion in my interactions with clients. They are topics that I think can and should be prioritized in the workplace:
Prioritize mental health
If employers want results they need to re-prioritize mental health and make measurable goals for the business. One in three workers indicated they would be uncomfortable talking about mental health in the workplace. Normalizing mental health discussions is step number one. A culture where employees feel supported by co-workers and leaders makes them more likely to share feelings or challenges. Working caregivers who reported symptoms of burnout are 90% more likely to believe that their leaders consider productivity to be more important than mental health. This means employers need to make mental wellbeing part of their espoused workplace culture. It must start with leaders making it a priority.
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Employers should not only provide availability to various resources, such as mental health self-assessment tools, free or subsidized clinical screenings from qualified health professionals, or stress management – but they should also track the use of these tools and share the aggregate data with workers. Tracking progress and outcomes enables employers to measure successes. It also shows which areas need improving.
If we’ve learned anything over the past two years it’s that things are rapidly changing, and businesses must be able to adapt quickly. Flexible work schedules are no longer a once-in-a-while luxury, but a necessity for employers. Studies have shown that parents with access to flexible working policies are substantially less likely to show symptoms of burnout. It is no surprise the pandemic has exacerbated the already disproportionate childcare burden on women. Allowing for flexible schedules promotes employee wellbeing, inclusivity and autonomy over one’s life.
Adjust performance metrics
Lack of reliable childcare has left many employees – primarily working mothers – completely exhausted and looking to leave the workforce. But this does not have to happen. Employers should reassess what productivity looks like for their business and the impact attrition has on the bottom line. What worked before the pandemic is clearly not working now. Employees need to recover, recharge and engage in self-care. Employers are in a unique position to incentivize this behavior in the form of reduced work schedules or additional paid time off. These guilt-free benefits encourage workers to actually unplug, recharge and ultimately enhance productivity and customer service.
Provide employee support resources
In addition to mental health resources, employers should consider offering benefits that aim to support employees with the major stresses they are facing – by offering things like family-support services, such as backup childcare, dependent-care stipends or leave for family care. These types of benefits are geared to address some of the root causes of the ongoing stress and burnout that employees face on a daily basis. To enable employees to recover and recharge, employers can offer gym memberships, yoga classes or meditation programing. Before investing in a specific program, employers should survey their workforce to determine the best option.
Remember, the pandemic has changed us all in so many way, and has had a lasting impacting on the on the labor market. Employers are facing a watershed moment. If responded to well though, employers have the perfect opportunity to repair some of the damage caused by the pandemic and create workplaces that are inclusive and support employees.