The pandemic has negatively impacted mental health across the board. Essential workers have been exposed to war-like conditions; the rise of remote work has led to isolation and loneliness; and feelings of depression and hopelessness have been reported at significantly higher rates.
If there is a silver lining, though, it’s that our collective dysphoria has placed mental health at the forefront of many conversations, including at work. Now is the time for companies and business leaders to take a closer look at their staff’s stress levels and implement changes that will help them get through these difficult times and beyond.
Job stress costs U.S. businesses an estimated $300 billion per year in the form of employee turnover, absenteeism, diminished productivity, accidents and more. Recognizing and addressing these issues can help foster a positive company culture and build stronger relationships with your employees.
Here are 25 things that you should know about U.S. workers' mental health during COVID-19, including tips on how to lower employee stress levels.
Related: Employees and Companies Are Facing a Burnout Crisis
1. The pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues across the board
Before diving into workplace-specific mental health concerns, it’s important to understand the current state of our society’s emotional wellbeing overall. As of January 2021, approximately 40% of adults in the U.S. had reported symptoms of anxiety of depressive disorder. These numbers are up from 11% in 2019.
Clearly, the pandemic has taken a large toll on many peoples’ mental health. Therefore, even if you do not have any employees directly suffering from mental health issues, they might have family members or friends who are.
2. Substance abuse is on the rise
Another unfortunate side effect of the pandemic has been the increase in substance abuse. Around 13% of adults have reported starting or increasing substance abuse to cope with the emotions related to the coronavirus, according to the Center for Disease Control.
3. Employees feel burnt out
Given the massive changes to the work environment and the widespread devastation caused by COVID-19, it’s no surprise that workers are feeling burnt out. In fact, according to Clever Real Estate’s 2020 Remote and Office Survey, more than 40% of workers are experiencing burnout.
This syndrome is caused by chronic and sustained workplace stress and impacts productivity and overall morale. To combat this, companies should take steps to properly manage each employee’s workload and ensure they do not feel guilty about taking time off.
4. Many people prefer working from home
Countless businesses were forced to close their doors at the start of the pandemic, leading to the rise of a dispersed workforce. This has had far reaching implications, but not all of them have been negative.
Although the commercial real estate industry has suffered, 63% of employees say they like working from home more than in a traditional office setting, and nearly 30% report wanting to continue working remotely even after the pandemic.
5. Remote workers are working overtime
Although people seem to enjoy remote work, it also comes with its own set of problems, such as working longer hours. More than 4 out of 10 remote workers in Clever’s survey said they start the work day early and end the work day late. This can lead to increased stress and risk of burnout.
6. Workers are juggling multiple responsibilities
Now that the lines between office and home have been blurred, employees are wearing multiple hats at once. Parents are switching between Zoom meetings and their children’s distance learning sessions; children of elderly parents may be helping them during the day; pet owners might be walking their furry friends or going to the vet; the list goes on.
Be mindful of the fact that your employees may be working odd hours because the rhythms of their days have been completely disrupted.
7. Physical health is suffering, too
A link is often made between ‘body’ and ‘mind’ because poor physical health can lead to increased risk of developing mental health problems and vice versa.
Many gyms and group fitness classes have closed or are at limited capacity due to social distancing measures. Additionally, with more individuals working from home and sitting for extended periods of time, your employees may not be getting the necessary physical activity they need.
Employers who want to help may consider offering virtual fitness subscriptions or a health stipend and/or communicating about their health care plan’s offerings.
8. Workers think their employers don’t prioritize mental health
Clever’s Remote and Office Survey revealed that only 17% of workers feel their organization makes mental health a priority.
9. Work stress impacts employees’ personal lives
Today, 37% of employees are experiencing job stress that's so intense it frequently impacts their personal life, according to Clever’s Remote and Office Survey. Not being able to relax and enjoy time off can affect employees’ mental health and productivity.
10. Disconnecting is difficult for remote workers
When your office is in your home, it can be difficult to unplug. Among the remote workers in Clever’s survey, 63% said they find it difficult to shut down after work.
Make sure your employees are taking necessary time to recharge and have a dedicated office space, or at least a dedicated place, to do work. Working from a bed or at the dinner table might cause employees’ minds to gravitate toward work during their downtime.
11. Employees want work-life balance
In a recent survey by FlexJobs, 73% of individuals working remotely during the pandemic reported having a better work-life balance when working from home.
Companies trying to improve their employees’ mental health should make sure workers have time to live their lives outside of work as well. Some of the top reasons people enjoy working from home include: eliminating their commute, added flexibility in their schedules, saving money, and spending more time with loved ones.
12. Loneliness is growing due to isolation
Social distancing has forced many into isolation, which can be hard on even the strongest person’s mental health. A study done by Steelcase of more than 32,000 workers across 10 countries (including the U.S.) revealed that isolation was the largest concerns for remote workers. Humans are social creatures, and people want to return to the office to reconnect with their colleagues and their organization’s mission.
13. Remote workers are turning to coping mechanisms
Coping mechanisms can be helpful or destructive, depending on the mechanism. Clever’s Remote and Office Survey found that, when compared to in-office workers, remote workers are 35% more likely to report journaling and 11% more likely to practice meditation at least once per week. These are healthy coping mechanisms; however, remote workers were also 37% more likely than their in-office counterparts to cope with recreational drugs at least once a week.
14. Lack of access to proper equipment is stressful
For people who depend on physical equipment or specific programs to properly do their jobs, not having access to them can be incredibly stressful. Make sure your employees have the tools they need to produce their best work possible.
15. Performance reviews can be anxiety-inducing
For both essential and non-essential workers, performance reviews are often a source of anxiety. In many ways, the added pressures of the pandemic has made these critical analyses of their performance even more daunting.
Employers should use these reviews as opportunities to provide constructive feedback and steer away from measuring individuals solely based on strict targets.
16. Financial worries are causing insomnia
In Clever Real Estate’s COVID-19 Financial Impact Series, 84% of respondents reported having sleepless nights since March due to financial worries. These included the inability to pay bills, the possibility of losing income and running out of savings.
Make sure your employees understand they have job security, and consider rewarding hard work with a bonus or a pay increase if you are in a position to do so.
17. Existential dread is on the rise
Beyond stressing about themselves, people are also having anxiety about the world overall. In Clever’s COVID-19 Financial Impact Series, more than 4 out of 10 respondents said they had sleepless nights due to worries about “the current state of the world.”
18. Achieving life’s milestones
One side effect of the pandemic has been historically low mortgage rates and a massive migration of people to new cities and states. From starter homes to fixer-uppers waiting to be flipped, millennials have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to jump into the real estate market.
However, buying a home, paying its associated costs and moving can be very stressful. If you have an employee going through a major life transition, be mindful of this and give them a reasonable amount of space and time to get settled.
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19. Student debt is a big stressor for younger workers
Seventy-seven percent of millennials are currently paying off student loans. Many feel their debt is a major hindrance to achieving the next steps in their lives such as buying a home and starting a family.
If your company offers student loan repayment assistance, make sure that is clearly communicated. It can help out your younger employees tremendously and reduce their stress in the process.
20. Safety is on peoples’ minds
According to Clever’s Remote and Office Survey, 46% of respondents currently working in an office said they are worried about their health at work. Moreover, nearly 60% of remote workers said returning to an office provokes worries about their health.
21. Many are afraid to seek help
Sixty percent of people in need of mental healthcare never seek help at all. A fear of being stigmatized stops many individuals from seeking the care they need. Employers should create safe spaces for their workers to use mental health care programs available to them.
22. Using PTO days can help
Given that traveling and going out has been largely paused due to COVID-19, many employees have been disincentivized from using their paid time off (PTO) — just 14% of workers used all of their allotted PTO in 2020. However, taking time off to mentally recharge can do wonders for someone’s productivity and mood — even if it’s just to sit around and watch TV.
23. Workers do not always know about mental health resources
Sometimes, workers do not use mental health resources because they do not even know their employer offers them. Businesses that have employee assistance programs, health care plans, fitness subscriptions, etc., should communicate about these offerings. This will also normalize their use for people that need them.
24. Offering flex hours can improve productivity
Remote employees are no longer sitting at their desks from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Many are signing on earlier, making up for hours on the weekend, taking care of children or parents during the day, and so forth. Offering flexibility can ensure employees get all of their work done and reduce their stress levels about working within a strict time frame.
25. Businesses should investing in mental health
Finally, it pays to invest in employee mental health! The World Health Organization estimates that every $1 a company invests in mental health treatment yields a $4 return in improved health and productivity.