Opinion: Coronavirus stresses at most 7 in 10 American workers, and companies must help them now
With the world’s highest number of COVID-19 diagnoses, record high unemployment and an overburdened healthcare system, the United States has been incredibly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s no surprise that the coronavirus crisis has also turned into a mental health crisis.
As people around the world struggle on an individual level with the impact of COVID-19, the collective level of stress, anxiety and uncertainty we feel is reflected in the workplace. We know from our research at Ginger that American workers felt stressed before the pandemic, with nearly 60% of people sharing that stress made them cry at work, up from 48% in 2019.
Now the stress levels at work are through the roof. We surveyed American workers in the first week of April and found that almost 70% of workers said it was the most stressful time of their entire working career, even when compared to major events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Great Recession of 2008. and others.
Not surprisingly, the stress of COVID-19 has an impact on productivity. 62% of workers we surveyed said they lose at least an hour a day in productivity due to stress from COVID-19, with 32% losing more than two hours a day. For the average American worker, at least two hours of lost productivity per day adds up to at least $ 12,000 of lost productivity per person over the course of a year. The impact of this crisis will undoubtedly persist long after the pandemic has slowed.
93% of workers believe that the companies that survive COVID-19 will be the ones that support employee mental health.
With declining employee productivity and increasing financial uncertainty, employers find themselves in a difficult position. Businesses of all sizes have been left with the question of how they are going to keep their businesses viable, while supporting the health and safety of their employees during this stressful time. But companies can do more: 63% of workers say their company is not doing enough to support their emotional and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic; 93% of workers believe that the companies that survive COVID-19 will be the ones that support employee mental health. Business continuity planning that puts people first has never been more critical.
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To successfully support their employees, companies can no longer be satisfied with traditional solutions such as employee assistance programs (EAP), which provide access to a limited number of networked providers and often have long waiting times for get treatment. America’s mental health system has gone from overburdened to broken, making it extremely difficult to access high-quality care, even before COVID-19. Most people today are unable to see a mental health care provider in person.
The good news is that there are tools and resources for businesses to revolutionize the way they support employee mental health through COVID-19 and beyond. It starts with buy-in from the top. Mental health should no longer live exclusively within the human resources department. All leaders must reach out to support the physical and mental health needs of their employees.
It also means looking for virtual care and more convenient and accessible ways for employees to seek help. We’ve seen it with primary care, and mental health is no different. Technology and virtual delivery systems play a central role in breaking down barriers to access, stigma and convenience associated with obtaining mental health supports. And employees are embracing it: Our research has shown that 38% of employees have tried a technology-based mental health service. Of this group, 64% had used it for the first time in the past month. Like many telehealth companies, our data shows that there is increased demand. At Ginger, we are seeing a significant increase in the use of our services, with a 50% increase in the number of active members in February and March compared to the previous six months.
Ultimately, companies need to make mental health support a core aspect of their business continuity plan, or else have a dramatic impact on employee health and productivity. Accessible and equitable benefits are essential in the post-COVID-19 world, and mental health must be high on the agenda of every executive, leader and board member. The good news is that the digital health industry has solutions at their fingertips and employees are ready to use them.
Russell Glass is CEO of Ginger, an on-demand mental health company.
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