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Employers, employees look to mitigate mental health fallout from the coronavirus pandemic

It is important to break up your day, especially when working from home.
(Dreamstime/TNS)

DEAR READERS: The COVID-19 shut-down has had a huge impact on people’s mental health. According to MetLife’s 18th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, two in three employees say they feel more stressed than they did before the pandemic. And while 80% of employees now think their employers have a responsibility to address their health and well-being (versus 73% pre-pandemic), 58% of those who struggle with work/life balance say their employer doesn’t offer mental health programs that meet their specific needs. So how can employees cope? And how can companies make sure they’re doing all they can to help their employees from a mental health perspective?

“Employees today are experiencing burdens to their mental health unlike ever before from social isolation, work and financial pressures … so it’s critical that employers use this time to adapt their existing strategies to help employees feel supported and meet their changing needs,” says Bradd Chignoli, senior vice president, Head of National Accounts at MetLife.

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Just what might those strategies look like?

Here, experts offer some steps employees and employers alike can take to mitigate the mental health fallout the pandemic has wrought.

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Create daily transitions

“When people are at home all day, they don’t experience the same transitions that normally break up our days — commutes, lunch breaks, the gym — that can interrupt unhealthy trains of thought and reset our moods,” says life coach Philippe Danielides of Inner Current Coaching. “Especially if you live alone and are working from home, there aren’t any external events to snap you out of the worrying thoughts that contribute to mental distress.”

Psychotherapist Mary K. Tatum, of Tranquil Soul Counseling, says employers should let their employees take breaks in the middle of the day if needed. “Several of my clients have reported that clocking out and going for a run during their lunch break for an hour has helped them maintain motivation and focus during the afternoon,” Tatum reports. “A short stretching routine or exercise in the afternoon does amazing things for mental and emotional strength and mood.”

Communicate often

Senior management should call and schedule online meetings with staff on a regular basis, according to Sharon L. Cohen, co-author of “Disaster Mental Health Community Planning,” a book on disasters and mental health. “Thank them for their work and keep them up to date on return to office status if applicable,” she says.

Also, make sure to give employees as much positive and specific feedback as possible.

“Being distant and at home now creates anxiety that bosses may not be noticing an employee’s efforts and hard work,” Tatum says. “Our brains are wired to be hard on ourselves and anxious, so verbal encouragement and verbalizing specific things that were done well have been scientifically proven to create more motivation than instilling fear or just giving deadlines. This also maintains a feeling of connection and rapport.”

End the day on time and on a positive note

While it’s easy to send work emails and text messages and make phone calls during off-hours, don’t do it, Tatum cautions. “No one wants to get a work text at 8:30 at night. Everyone needs rest,” she says. “There needs to be a distinct mind shift when the workday ends to prevent burn out, employees feeling overwhelmed, and to maintain long-term focus.”

And everyone should wrap up the workday with positive thoughts.

“Worry and anxiety aren’t generated by what’s happening now, but rather by our anticipation of future events that are literally impossible for us to take action on in the present moment,” says Danielides, who suggests asking yourself four questions to reduce worry and anxiety: What went well for me today? What can I improve tomorrow? What’s the first thing I want to do tomorrow morning? What was my favorite part of today?

Utilize EAPs and other online wellness programs

Cohen and Chignoli both stress the important role Employee Assistance Programs and other mental health programs can play in these uncertain times.

“Keep the EAP number visible. If an EAP program is not available, review the mental health provisions in insurance, including tele-med availability. Provide a list of trauma-informed counselors in the area that are covered,” Cohen says. “Reinforce that these are difficult times and there is no stigma for those needing help … remind them to seek an EAP or equivalent help if needed. Let them know they can voice their concerns about returning to the new normal with the EAP.”

Chignoli also suggests offering virtual counseling sessions and financial wellness programs that help employees plan for short- and longer-term goals to help them navigate stress.

While there’s no way to alleviate all the stress this current crisis has caused, taking steps to minimize its impact can have lasting results.

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Employees who feel their employer is “doing enough” or going “above and beyond expectations” in supporting their wellness during the pandemic are almost twice as likely to feel holistically well in the current environment (58% vs 31%), the MetLife survey revealed.

Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has covered personal finance and other business-related topics for a variety of trade and consumer publications. You can email her your career questions at kfurore@yahoo.com.

(C) 2020 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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