- The pandemic may have worsened work issues related to substance abuse, according to a survey conducted by Versta Research on behalf of The Standard. Nearly half of workers reported dealing with a substance abuse issue; of those, the number reporting lower productivity or missed work due to substance abuse has "nearly doubled" since 2019, according to the survey.
- One-third of those reporting addiction issues said it has affected their work more since the pandemic began. Nearly half of employees surveyed reported problematic use of alcohol, drugs or prescription medication, with 1 in 5 noting at least weekly usage.
- "The research not only reveals an alarming rate of alcohol and other substance abuse among workers across a variety of industries and generations, but also paves the way for employers to open the conversation with employees about these issues. In this way, companies can empower workers to seek the help and support they need," said Dan Jolivet, Workplace Possibilities practice consultant at The Standard.
When the opioid crisis came to light, employers found themselves with a significant role to play in stemming a nationwide epidemic. Employer benefits programs were one key avenue to care, prompting some organizations to re-examine offerings to ensure better value. A pandemic requiring mass lockdowns only further tested employers’ benefits, particularly mental health offerings.
Historically, mental health coverage has fallen behind physical health offerings, research has shown. But the pandemic forced employers to reconsider mental health strategies — especially because some surveys showed that employer offerings may have been ineffective in coronavirus’ wake. Fewer than one-third of employers surveyed by by Willis Towers Watson in January said their well-being benefit programs were enough to support employees during the pandemic.
"Technology can play a role in providing increased access to care for folks who are not insured, may live in rural areas who may be stigmatized, and not want to go to a designated mental health professional," William Kassler, chief medical officer of government health and human services at IBM Watson Health, previously told HR Dive. "By creating virtual visits, remote platforms, and different innovative ways in which people can seek care, that reduces some of their barriers."
HR can still play a key role in managing employee mental health by establishing a company culture that supports mental well-being through supporting empathetic leaders and creating mental health-focused employee resource groups.