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CORPORATE WELLNESS: Confronting Mental Health In the Workplace, During Covid-19

The pandemic changed the world. Professionally or personally, COVID-19 will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on organizations, workers, and workplaces. The Global Pandemic has forced mental health and wellness to become a mainstream topic of discussion.

As we head into the gloomier days of winter, it’s predicted that employees’ mental health will decline even more as stresses from continued uncertainty, the lacklustre holidays, and colder weather further impact our coping.

What Do We Know About The Impact Of The COVID-19 Global Pandemic?

The #workforce has hit a #newnormal in how employees will be working for their employers. COVID forced employers and employees to adapt quickly to a new way of working. Some impacts (as many may know) involve employees #workingremotely, forced to adjust to how they get work done. In recent surveys, employees responded that the ability to complete tasks and connect with others was severely impacted due to technical issues, lack of necessary equipment to work effectively, and distractions. Leaders and team members state isolation, decreased social interactions, as well as worry about financial security and health, are among the main factors creating feelings of anxiousness, fatigue and exhaustion (or “burning out”).

A recent study by the Angus Reid Institute indicates that the significant drop in social activities during the pandemic has taken its toll on Canadians. The percentage of those saying they have a good social life has dropped from more than half in 2019 (55 per cent) to just one in three (33 per cent) in 2020. Those that were experiencing high stress, burnout, depression, and/or anxiety before, will see even greater impacts on their mental health. History has shown us that we should expect more issues around substance use, Posttraumatic Stress, and even higher rates of suicide

Resiliency is "the ability to overcome challenges and move forward in the face of adversity". Fostering a resilient workforce is critical as organizations will need to continually adapt to the changing environment.

What Do We Need To Do To Create A Culture Of Resiliency In The Workplace?

Leaders will need to focus on building resiliency, increasing social connectedness, and combatting anxiety in order to survive and thrive. Employees are continuously reporting feeling overwhelmed with the ever-changing climate. Although employers have responded with initiatives like mental health days or weeks, four-day workweeks, and enhanced counselling benefits or apps, they are simply not enough. They are reactive measures to a Pandemic not active supports to the potential of persistent worldly issues.

Employees need and expect sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces, which requires taking on the real work of professional culture change.

Josh Bersin findings from a Willis Towers Watson study of the Employee Experience Implications of COVID-19 shows that while stress, work/life balance, the ability to connect with others and the ability to complete tasks haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, employee outlook appears to be levelling off despite the impact of COVID-19.

“Mental health, in short, needs to be in the business’s operating budget.”

To help build a strong and resilient workforce, employers will need to integrate resiliency training into their workplace wellness seminars/suggestions, focus on building holistic wellness strategies into their benefits plan, and boost the mental health education of their leaders & team members. Mental health, in short, needs to be in the business’s operating budget. It’s not enough to simply offer the latest apps or employ euphemisms like “well-being” or “mental fitness.” Employers must connect what they say to what they actually do.

Three Steps Employers Can Take to Build a Strong Resilient Workforce?

Step One: Consider a Countercurrent Procedure

The importance of incorporating both the top-down and bottom-up approaches simultaneously, moving towards the countercurrent procedure, insuring inclusivity at all levels within the workplace.

It is imperative that organizations move away from seeing mental health as an individual challenge to a collective priority. Given all the workplace factors at play, companies can no longer compartmentalize mental health as an individual’s responsibility to address alone through self-care, mental health days, or employee benefits.

"When "I" is replaced by "we" even illness becomes wellness"

Step Two: Defining Equity Through a Diverse & Inclusive Lens

When we hear the word “equity,” it typically comes up in conversations about salary. While compensation is certainly one component of an equitable work environment, the focus on pay and other similar metrics exposes misunderstandings of equity’s true meaning. In fact, most people tend to confuse equity with equality.

Defining equity in terms of quantifiable results is ultimately counterproductive because it encourages a focus around outcomes rather than how equitable environments are built and maintained in the first place. Only through understanding the process can organizations begin to establish a truly equitable workplace.

Equity and equality are both points along a longer spectrum of diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion have been discussed by most organizations, mostly in terms of talent attraction, retention and promotion, but what is typically not discussed is what a truly diverse and inclusive organization looks like from a more holistic, lasting point of view — and that’s what equity truly is.

Step Three: Without Including Intersectionality In Restructuring, It Will Be Detrimental To The Workforce.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are designed to help people understand and overcome their difficulties regardless if the source is work or otherwise. While most EAPs offer a wide range of services, they often refer to other professionals or agencies who can offer more or extended care in particular areas.

But, do these "check the box" programs provide employees with resources to meet their individual needs with a diverse selection of personalized benefits that collectively support them during each of the most critical parts of their life?

Considering mental health using an ‘intersectional lens’ means considering the whole person, their experiences and individual needs in conjunction with the particular context in which they are working. An intersectional approach to mental health takes consideration of employee wellbeing and organizational impact to the next level.

As corporations and organizations are restructuring workplace wellness programs it is imperative for organizations to not just consider the impacts of Covid-19, but to take this as an opportunity to build anti-oppressive, inclusive, and equitable programs as a collective whole.

“Compassion is, by definition, relational. Compassion literally means 'to suffer with,' which implies a basic mutuality in the experience of suffering. The emotion of compassion springs from the recognition that the human experience is imperfect.”

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