Mental Health And The Wellbeing of Our Workforce Moving Beyond The Pandemic

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2021 Thriving Magazine and was written by Michael Diller, Licensed Psychologist Director at WellSpan EAP. Read the entire Thriving Magazine online here.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew that depression was the worldwide leading cause of disability, and suicide and overdose deaths were at epidemic levels. We also know that 90% of Americans reported issues with mental health over the past year related to the pandemic, anxiety symptoms tripled and depressive symptoms quadrupled. And those epidemic numbers of suicide and overdose deaths only continued to worsen. The once difficult to speak about issue of mental health has now become a major focal point for many employers. What was once much more unmentionable is now something that resonates with many of us as this pandemic, and all the storms that unfolded along with it, have challenged our mental health and overall wellbeing at some point along the way. Moving beyond the pandemic creates opportunities for organizations to embrace learnings from the last 16 months in how best to support the emotional wellbeing of their employees and in turn creating opportunities to thrive both as individuals and as organizations.

What has the pandemic taught us about what will make a meaningful difference in supporting the wellbeing of our fellow coworkers? While many will gravitate to perhaps adding or expanding an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or Wellness benefit offering (and they would be spot on in exploring those options), there is another area that has become even more important. It’s one of the silver linings from the pandemic that we knew of previously, but never fully appreciated until this past year. It’s the culture of an organization.

Lessons learned and keys to not only supporting good mental health in the workplace, but creating a culture of caring and thriving:

  • Creating times to meet and connect with one another to check-in, not about goals and strategy, but simply asking questions about how they are really doing and asking how to be helpful. It speaks to the power of meaningful human connection
  • Leaders acknowledging the pain, challenge and difficulty with transparency—reassuring everyone that, together, the team will find a way through uncertain times
  • Leaders leading with kindness, compassion and empathy
  • Breaking down stigma by speaking openly about mental health and overall wellbeing and creating ongoing awareness of — and access to — tips and supportive resources
  • Inviting the voices of the employees to be shared and heard
  • Re-emphasizing the unified purpose of the organization which has been linked as a major contributor to overall happiness, satisfaction, and engagement at work
  • Encouraging employees to create time and space away from work, take their PTO, maintain an end-your-workday boundary and focus on positive self-care activities as self-care has been found to be at the foundation of growing resilience

As we move through the ongoing pandemic uncertainty, there is indeed hope for better todays and tomorrows. It will not be whether you have an EAP and Wellbeing program, nor how much those programs offer that makes the most difference. Rather the question is, do you have a culture of caring that creates awareness and encourages someone to reach out for help and support through such programs? When we look back years from now, people will remember those who took the time to offer a moment of caring, a gesture of kindness and compassion and people will remember the organization who lifted them up when they most needed it. It is a continued investment in the human experience, the human spirit and the thread that binds us all together, meaningful human connection that will foster good mental health, greater employee wellbeing and a more thriving organization.