Addressing Employee Mental Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is shaking everyone in the US and around the globe to their core as Americans worry about their health, jobs, finances and future. Social distancing is likely making everyone feel anxious, insecure and disconnected from their daily routines.

At a time when emotions run high, employees may be feeling stressed and anxious and concerns about coronarivus may be taking a toll on their mental health and their ability to work productively and efficiently. The following are some tips for employers to address and manage employee mental health during this challenging time:

Communicate Directly with Employees Regarding Mental Health Efforts

During this challenging time, an employer should consider reaching out directly to employees regarding mental health issues through health and wellness programs already in place to address well-being and manage stress. For example, XpertHR’s parent organization, RELX Group has a Living Well Program where they provide employees with various resources to address:

• Mental health, stress and anxiety;
• Incorporating exercise into the daily routine;
• Engaging the family and children;
• Keeping in touch with family and friends;
• Cooking and eating healthy while at home; and
• Sleep issues.

Employers also may want to set up virtual mindfulness sessions or yoga sessions.

Offering these measures may not only help employees fight stress and anxiety, but may also have the added benefit of improving improve employee engagement and morale.

Support Remote Workers

Since so many employees are now working remotely from home, make a concerted effort to keep employees connected and engaged. This may be through the use of daily or weekly check-ins, team challenges and messages of encouragement. Such measures may go a long way in terms of bolstering mental health during this challenging time.

Be Flexible with Attendance and Leave Policies

With everyone focused on remaining healthy, employers may consider being more flexible when it comes to their attendance and leave policies pursuant to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

An employer should do its best to communicate its policies clearly and make sure all employees know what they are entitled to in terms of sick leave, caregiving leave, PTO and other leaves of absence. An employer should also keep employees apprised of the measures with respect to leave protection that are being taken at the federal, state and local levels to address the coronavirus pandemic.

It also is important for employers that still have employees physically coming to work to stress that they should certainly remain home if they feel sick with a sore throat, fever or a severe cold and not risk furthering putting themselves or their co-workers in danger.

Additionally, per CDC Guidelines, you should not require employees to produce a positive COVID-19 test result to excuse an absence or a note validating illness or return to work. Doctors’ offices and medical facilities are extremely busy and may not be able to provide timely documentation.

Maintain a Healthy Work Environment

If employees are remaining at the worksite during the coronavirus pandemic, an employer should do its best to make them feel more comfortable and show the steps it is taking to maintain a healthy and safe work environment. This may include providing:

• Information regarding ventilation at the worksite and the circulation of fresh air;
• Hand sanitizers and plenty of soap and water in the restrooms, kitchen and cafeteria areas; and
• Information regarding efforts the employer is making to clean and sanitize work stations and workspaces as well as common areas.

Access to Government and Community Resources

An employer should do its best to provide employees with access and information regarding government relief and community resources that may be available to assist them and their families during this crisis.

Remind Employees About Benefits Already in Place

At this critical time, it is important to remind employees about benefits that the employer already has in place. For example, make sure they know about any employee assistance programs (EAPs) available to them. EAPs generally provide access to mental health professionals and counseling services. Although providers may not be physically accessible for appointments at this time, virtual sessions may be an option.

Additionally, remind employees about the health benefits that they may have through the organization and provide details about what such benefits cover. It also may be helpful for employees to think outside the box with respect to insurance company offerings such as telemedicine to address any non-coronavirus health issues.  Telemedicine can allow employees to seek medical attention for their needs without the stress of leaving their homes, putting themselves at risk for exposure and cutting into their workday.

Provide Accommodations

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state and local laws, employees with mental health issues may be able to obtain reasonable accommodations if doing so would not create an undue hardship for the employer. Such accommodations, may include:

• Providing paid or unpaid time off or a leave of absence;
• Offering employees the opportunity to telecommute or work from home; or
• Offering flexible work arrangements; or
• Providing time off during the workday to seek counseling or therapy.

As always, in assessing a request for a reasonable accommodation, an employer should weigh the undue hardship on the organization. However, given the present circumstances, try to be reasonable when it comes to granting accommodations.

Focus on Charitable Efforts

While this is a time of confusion and uncertainty for everyone, some groups may be more severely hit than others including the elderly and those in need. An employer may want to consider partnering with community-based organizations to stay in touch with the needs of the elderly by reaching out to seniors who are alone or hosting a virtual food drive for the poor, health care and hospital workers who are putting their lives on the line.

Not only may this assist an employer in improving its brand and reputation in the community, but doing good deeds for others has been directly linked to positive mental health benefits. Volunteering and charitable work can reduce stress, combat depression, provide a sense of meanings and purpose, and make individuals feel connected to their community and to the world.

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