The pandemic has impacted employee mental wellbeing in many ways, and companies with multi-generational workforces are facing many challenges at the workplace while supporting their mental wellbeing.
The Standard (StanCorp Financial Group, Inc) conducted two surveys with more than 1,425 U.S employees in each survey to study the impact of the pandemic on behavioral health in the workplace. The first survey was conducted in late 2019 and the second in late 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study revealed that there was a significant rise in employee mental wellbeing issues before and during the pandemic. While 39% of employees were diagnosed with mental health issues in 2019 (pre-pandemic), the number rose to 46% during the pandemic. Also, the percentage of employees suffering from serious mental health illness increased from 7% in 2019 to 11% in 2020.
The study also revealed that almost 71% of employees belonging to the Gen Z group and 59% of millennials have reported mental health issues during the pandemic. This was high compared to the fewer 36% of Generation X employees and 22% of Baby Boomers group.
While 55% of employees said that some type of mental health issue had affected them during the pandemic, 36% of workers said that addictions or substance abuse affected them relatively more during the pandemic.
Almost 65% of employees lost about 10+ hours of work productivity per week due to mental health issues during the pandemic in 2020, compared to a lesser 58% in 2019, before the pandemic began. Similarly, 57% of the respondents lost almost 10+ hours of productivity per week due to substance abuse in 2020 during the pandemic, while it was 47% in 2019 before the pandemic.
Melissa Oliver-Janiak, the senior director of benefits and HR Service Center at The Standard said that the pandemic had increased stress factors of the younger generation of employees, who were already trying to cope with mental health issues. The most common stress factors included – low income, job security, less housing stability, and higher debts than the other employee generations. On the positive side, this younger group of employees was not shy and felt empowered to speak up about their mental health needs. Oliver-Janiak also said that employers must listen from their employees to understand their mental health issues, benefits, and support them throughout.
How the pandemic has affected younger employee generations?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected employees in many ways, especially the younger generation, and studies show mental wellbeing declining during the pandemic. The social isolation has restricted socializing, refraining them from public activities. The remote working situation added to the sense of social isolation as the daily interactions at the workplace also got restricted. In addition to the impact on the social and financial health, the uncertainty about the current events had added to the trauma.
Compared to the older generations, the younger generations have grown up at a time when talking about employee mental wellbeing issues is less of a stigma. Their ability to talk about their behavioral health needs and their willingness to accept help must be leveraged by employers to address employee mental wellbeing issues with the right workplace benefits and necessary support.
Employer-Sponsored Mental Wellness Programs
Survey studies show that millennials expect more health and wellbeing support from their employers. With the need for mental health care in the open, employers are implementing corporate wellness programs with mental health support. While most Millenials and Gen Z are aware of their mental wellbeing conditions, they are not potentially aware of the mental health benefits and the support resources available to them through their employer-sponsored corporate wellness programs. Such employees may take less advantage of the employee wellbeing programs and the mental health initiatives offered to them as a part of their employee benefits package.
Employers must start by creating a workplace culture where it is normal to hold discussions about mental health issues. This way, it becomes easier for the employers to put across the needed employee mental wellbeing resources to the right employees. With a positive workplace culture, better communication channels, and easy access to mental health resources through corporate wellness programs, employers can assure the right tools, support, encouragement is provided to all the employees, ensuring their holistic wellbeing. While it improves employee wellbeing, thus reducing healthcare costs and absenteeism rates, it also enhances employee engagement, productivity, retention rates, and overall business growth.