by Caroline Bottger
The coronavirus mental health crisis is here, and employers need to plan accordingly.
From work to home to family, uncertainty reigns. Being in an uncertain state for a significant length of time can “lead to a heightened sense of anxiety,” said Bella Grossman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Katz Institute for Women’s Health. Over 40 percent of Americans report struggling with their mental health since the pandemic began, according to a CDC study.
Anxiety and stress are a potent mix, especially in the workplace. In 2004, the American Psychological Association published a study showing a link between stress and violence, which creates a “fast, mutual, positive feedback loop between stress hormones and a brain-based aggression-control center.”
In mental health, like security, early detection is key. The Center for Workplace Mental Health says that “no single risk factor can predict a violent act,” so HR professionals should look for clusters of risk factors. Work-related factors include tension with a boss, feelings of isolation, unfair treatment at termination, and changes to the workforce, like firing and furloughing. Unfortunately, all these factors have become magnified a hundredfold by the pandemic, and HR should pay special attention to how workers are responding.
To alleviate stress, employers must make a point of actually listening to employees. Writing for Law360, attorneys Lauri Rasnick and Elizabeth McManus said that when employees “complain to management only to have their complaints ignored, such incidents, coupled with other COVID-19 stresses, can create a workplace violence tinderbox.” Frustrated individuals might bottle up their feelings, or resort to solving the problem on their own, which could lead to workplace violence. Implementing periodic check-ins, surveys and anonymous reporting tools give employers a big picture of how their staff is doing, and employees a place to voice their concerns without fear of retaliation.
Furthermore, having an accurate demographic breakdown of staff can help managers tailor coping measures. Knowing how many parents are on staff, for example, should shape a company’s response. For some groups, it might be adjusting deliverables and being flexible with deadlines. For others, it might be getting early access to one’s salary.
“Empathetic leaders dial in to the needs of their employees and adjust to the moment,” wrote Jennifer Moss in the Harvard Business Review.