Employees with effective support and the right mix of benefits are more equipped to manage and recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to experts.
For HR, a focus on employee mental well-being and an evaluation of available benefits have emerged as solutions to assist workers who feel stressed and burnt out, employee benefits experts and consultants said during the 2020 Disability Management Employer Coalition Virtual Annual Conference Aug. 12.
Benefits a part of holistic health
Many employees are feeling more stressed than before the pandemic, Cynthia Coverson, senior vice president and head of regional business group benefits at MetLife, said, citing the organization's 2020 employee benefits survey.
And, 73% of respondents said a financial concern, such as threats to income, contributed to the stress, which is especially poignant for employees with lower annual personal incomes, the report found.
Employees can be well protected and supported through a combination of employer benefits, federal programs such as Families First Coronavirus Response Act and COVID-19 programs that complement existing state-mandated disability programs, such as those in New York and New Jersey, Coverson said.
Embracing a model of holistic well-being is the new normal for employee benefits, according to Tracey Ferstler, assistant vice president and head of return to health at MetLife. Employers that are providing benefits during the crisis are positively impacting employee well-being, Ferstler said.
Support can increase productivity
The pandemic has had a "profound impact on the boundaries between family, work and health especially for people who are working from home," William S. Shaw, associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, said. "One piece of troubling news that we're beginning to see is that reports of mental health and substance use disorders are increasing," Shaw said.
Behavioral health issues are impacting the workplace, and it's seen across ages, industries and positions, according to Dan Jolivet, workplace possibilities practice consultant at The Standard. About 32% of surveyed workers with mental health issues said 20 or more hours of their time at work per week was less productive, The Standard's 2020 Behavioral Health Impact study found. Almost all employees surveyed (91%) agreed that employers should work to help employees with substance abuse or mental health issues keep their jobs.
However, "less than one-third of HR decision makers feel very confident accommodating behavioral health conditions," Jolivet said. It isn't all intuitive when you need to help someone stay at work who is dealing with a behavioral health condition, he said. In 2019, the Integrated Benefits Institute published research identifying the ways employers can improve participation in health and well-being programs, Jolivet said. They suggested aligning the health of the workforce with the company; obtaining leadership buy-in; soliciting employee feedback and encouraging leaders to participate in wellness programs, he said.
Implementing workplace policies that include work-life balance, workflow planning and management development programs can be a primary means of prevention in dealing with the stress employees are feeling, according to Shaw. Helping employees cope with the current crisis can also include resilience training, annual reviews and personal development plans and healthy lifestyle and well-being programs, he said. And, employee assistance programs (EAPs) can be effective in supporting employees through these challenging times, he added.
Jolivet also emphasized the importance of EAPs. However, if they're hidden on intranet sites and employees can't find them, they lose value, he said.