November 3, 2020

Concern for Employees’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A recent survey conducted by Unum indicates that 85% of employers are concerned about their employees’ mental health and wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Given the feedback from an employee survey conducted by Limeade, these concerns seem very valid.  For example:

  • 49% of employees reported less energy for non-work activities since the start of the pandemic; 
  • 42% of employees reported less interest in socializing with friends;
  • 42% of employees reported having more trouble sleeping; and 
  • 33% of employees reported more alcohol and substance use than normal.

Mental health experts have raised additional concerns with the onset of cooler and darker days in the upcoming fall and winter seasons. In addition to the stress and anxiety associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, some people may also have to cope with strain of seasonal depression. Although employers can’t control the weather or the pandemic, they may be able to help employees navigate through difficult days ahead to stay healthy, happy, and productive. 

  • Communicate – Keep communication with employees open and honest. Employers and managers should let employees know that they are aware of the challenges that they may be facing. Keeping an open line of communication can make employees feel less alone and more comfortable to come forward and discuss issues that they may be experiencing.  
  • Keep things light – If you have workers coming into the office, try to maximize the amount of natural light in the office. For those working remotely, encourage them to sit near a window or to go outside throughout the day for a quick break. A report published by Wellness Works indicates that just 15 minutes of exposure to natural light promotes better sleep, better moods, higher vitamin D levels, and increased energy and productivity.  
  • Provide support – Now more than ever employers should promote resources like their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and mental health benefits. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Coping with Stress webpage also provides helpful information and links to organizations like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and National Domestic Violence Hotline. 
  • Educate employees about the flu vaccine – As COVID-19 persists into the winter months, healthcare experts are reminding people of the importance of getting the flu vaccine. Getting a flu shot is an easy way for people to protect themselves and the people around them from getting sick. According to the CDC, the flu vaccine prevented 4.4 million flu illnesses, 38,000 flu hospitalizations and 3,500 flu deaths in 2018-2019.  Employers may want to check in with their health insurance carrier to see if they offer any incentives for employees to be vaccinated.  
  • Consider offering flexible hours – Many employees are trying to balance working full-time with their children’s ever-changing school schedules. Offering flexible hours could help reduce their stress knowing that they can take some time during the day to help their kids with their studies and make up those missed work hours later in the evening.  

Sources: SHRM, “Workers’ Mental Health Suffers During the Pandemic: How Managers Can Help” Wellness Works, “Protecting Employee Health and Well Being During COVID-19” MIT Technology Review, “Winter Will Make the Pandemic Worse. Here’s What You Need to Know”

Compliance Update

On October 26, 2020, the IRS announced that the 401(k) individual contribution limit will remain unchanged at $19,500 for 2021. The catch-up contribution limit for employees 50 and older will remain at $6,500 for a total 2021 contribution maximum of $26,000.

HR/AA consultants are available to work with you on a project, interim or ongoing basis including assistance with understanding, implementing and administering best practices related to the current COVID-19 challenges we are facing.

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