- Many employers' mental health concerns for employees amid the pandemic were heightened with the start of the school year, according to Unum. The employee benefits provider released a report Sept. 21 that explored challenges facing employers and how use of accommodations can support employees.
- A survey of more than 400 employers found the majority (85%) expressed concerns about their employees' mental health and wellness as the pandemic continues. Noting that anxiety and depression can result from the current crisis, about 58% of employers said workers increased use of offered workplace mental health or wellness benefits, and 67% predicted that in the coming months, usage would increase.
- Almost every employer surveyed (93%) had some employees who are parents of school-aged children, according to the report, and with the school year starting, some fear a "mental health tsunami looms." About 78% of respondents said a modified back-to-school schedule would be somewhat or very challenging for their organizations. The top three concerns were: employee productivity; an increase in leave requests; and shifting the workload to other employees when someone takes leave. More than half (57%) of the respondents said they have made accommodations for employees. Flexible work schedules was the top accommodation (76%), followed by full-time work-from-home arrangements (58%) and reduced work hours (48%), according to the report.
As many companies focus on a return-to-work plan to bring remote workers back to the office, concerns about the mental health of employees and accommodations have been top of mind, according to David Fram, director of ADA and Equal Employment Opportunity services at the National Employment Law Institute.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers a number of disabilities that are not obvious, also referred to as invisible disabilities, Fram told HR Dive in a previous interview. In regard to mental health, invisible disabilities can include conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, he said. "Employees who may have a neurological impairment or an immunodeficiency impairment" are at high risk to contact the novel coronavirus, Fram said. Accommodations may be needed, he said.
However, if employers continue with a remote workforce, a focus on employee mental well-being and an evaluation of available benefits is still essential, panelists said during the 2020 Disability Management Employer Coalition Virtual Annual Conference Aug. 12. Employer benefits, federal mandates such as Families First Coronavirus Response Act and programs created amid the pandemic that complement existing state disability programs, such as those in New Jersey and New York, can support and protect employees, Cynthia Coverson, senior vice president and head of regional business group benefits at MetLife, said.
Workplace policies that include work-life balance, management development programs and workflow planning can prevent stress and anxiety in the workplace, William S. Shaw, associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, said during the conference. Employee assistance programs can also be an effective way to help employees, Shaw added.
"Companies that use accommodations, mental health benefits and virtual solutions will be better equipped to weather the storm," Rob Hecker, vice president of global total rewards at Unum, said in a statement.