For some time now, there have been warning signs for the need to address mental health and wellness in the workplace. The pandemic has brought to the forefront a looming issue that affects millions of people. Measures requiring partial or full shutdown of businesses and social distancing are bringing to a head the mental health crisis. For far too long, we have failed to adequately address this in our workplaces, communities, and healthcare system.
We don’t mean to be alarmists. These are the facts.
Alarm bells are ringing loudly now as statistics show a significant majority of employees impacted. The pandemic has also significantly disproportionately affected women and minority groups.
• An overwhelming 78% of the global workforce reported negative mental health impact from the pandemic and 76% believe companies should do more to help employees.(1)
• A study tracking U.S. adults revealed that the pandemic had a material impact from the onset. Reported figures for negative mental health rose to 53% in July from 32% in March.(2)
• In September alone, over 1 million dropped out of the U.S. workforce. Of that total, 80% (over 865,000) were women, a rate 4x that of men.(3)
• Worldwide, women are 3x more likely than men to report mental health impact.(4)
• For people of color, the statistics on mental health, mortality rates, and economic impact are far worse.(5)
• Every year mental health challenges cost companies 200 million lost workdays, along with $200 billion.(6)
With anxiety, stress, and burnout reaching all-time highs, leaders must take active steps to support the health and wellbeing of their workforce to pull us out of a deepening crisis.
How can leaders address this crisis?
• Invest in Soft Leadership Skills: 92% of CEOs feel their organization is empathetic, but only 50% of their employees say their CEO is empathetic.(7) Leading with empathy starts at the top. Investing in soft skills such as emotional intelligence workshops empowers leaders and employees to manage through crises.
• Allocate Time for Wellness: Wellness programs reduce health care cost and improve employee productivity 6% to 11%.(8) Research further shows that every $1 investment in mental health promotion has a $3 to $5 return on investment.(9) For these programs to be effective, leaders must allocate time for employees to engage in wellness activities without adding to their workdays.
• Build an Inclusive Culture where Women and POC Thrive: Diverse companies produce 19% more in revenue.(10) While over 77% of U.S. employees say their company employs a diverse workforce, 55% believe their company should do more to increase D&I initiatives.(11) Data supports that the pandemic is severely impacting women and minorities. It is imperative employers create programs and environments that allow them to succeed in the workforce and contribute their fair share of leading future generations.
• Enable Meaningful Engagement: Social Connection increases life longevity by 50%.(12) Employee engagement directly impacts productivity by 20% and profitability by 21%.(13) Working in remote environments with limited travel outside the home has resulted in isolated working conditions for many that have intensified concerns with mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being. Scheduling group wellness sessions that reduce anxiety and stress while keeping team members connected can boost employee engagement.
The alarm bells are nearing peak volume as we head deeper into winter. In an age of pandemic fatigue and burnout, leaders must prioritize overdue attention to mental health and wellness in the workplace by creating convenient access for employees to invest in their well-being and sufficiently allocating time for employees to do so without burdening their workload. Employees were contending with the challenges of juggling both home and work responsibilities long before this year. The pandemic has only exacerbated this problem.
We, especially those of us in a greater position to lead and influence, can no longer look at these statistics with trivial importance and delay. We must act with urgency to change systemic attitudes towards mental health and wellness and prevent acceptance of this as the new normal.