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Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

Albert Qian
Content marketing manager for HCM

The global economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of people are losing their jobs, and thousands of businesses are shutting down. Those employed feel more stressed than ever due to a growing workload, or risk of returning to a workplace with exposure to the virus.  

A notable effect of the pandemic are conversations concerning mental health, a previously taboo subject confined to doctor’s offices and hushed voices. With multiple generations now in the workplace and showing openness to mental health, combined with research showing that mental health issues cost businesses between $125-190 billion annually, leaders are finally paying attention. 

As a technology company, our interests lie at the intersection of need and solutions - a belief we’ve carried in our four decades of operation. Three years ago, we wanted to understand how workers felt about emerging technologies. We commissioned the annual AI@Work study. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and remote work was becoming the norm, we wanted to better understand its effects on mental health in the workplace. Our latest survey confirms that this year is the most stressful ever, with 78% of respondents saying it has negatively affected their mental health.

Mental Health, Front and Center

Mental health has long been a topic separated from the office, but current events mean that personal lives are spilling into the workday. With 85% of workers saying that mental health issues are causing sleep deprivation, poor physical health, and isolation, the eventuality that work is affected is inevitable. After all, who hasn’t seen a child or pet wander into a colleague’s video conference at some point? It’s been a tough time - and maybe that person has even been you. 

To resolve mental health challenges, our survey also showed that people are turning to technology for help – as they have done before. 68% of people, for example, state that they would rather speak to a robot than their manager about work stress and anxiety. While 75% share that AI has helped their mental health at work by providing important information, automating tasks, and reducing stress.  

That said, there are different levels of emphasis on mental health depending on the generation. According to various studies, 31% of Baby Boomers consider their mental health a serious health issue and it nearly doubles with 60% of Millennials and an overwhelming 75% of Gen Z. Though the opinions on mental well-being are different, the one thing bringing each generation together is the collaboration, communication, and productivity technologies keeping the workplace humming. 

Mental health and burnout are salient topics for organizations during COVID-19. Discover why HR leaders must prioritize these challenges.

Getting solution focused 

If you’re a workplace leader, you have the power to start the conversation around mental health today.  Here are some ideas to help you get started: 

  1. Foster Empathy: Empathy is the act of understanding and sharing the feelings of another. The best thing leaders can do right now is to listen, relate, and provide support to their people as they find new ways to cope. One area that companies are turning to is digital counselors, which give employees another option to get the help they need through online means. 
  2. Ensure worker belonging and inclusion in the workplace: The digital workplace should be a welcoming one, as work-from-home orders are extended. Just focusing on work alone can take its toll, since employees may not feel like they are in the loop with all the information they need available. In the long-term, isolation can take their toll on an individual’s mental health and is compounded as employees work from home for long periods. Leaders can manage isolation is by cultivating an inclusive workplace by, for example, taking time for recognition and being available to talk. 
  3. Institute deeper check-ins with team members. The weekly one-on-one during normal times is often focused on addressing project updates and giving recognition for a job well done.  Now we believe these conversations should go further and managers should check-in on well-being. These check-ins should also include time to balance and prioritize worker responsibilities to organization goals, especially in businesses where furloughs or layoffs may have occurred. Employees want to be heard and understand how management handles their concerns.
  4. Encourage mental health days: Sometimes a combination of the workday and current events simply becomes too much. In these situations, encourage employees to take regular time to themselves to recharge, including disconnecting from all work-related tasks and communications. Be aware though of the pressure this can put on those that pick up the slack. 

What’s next? 

COVID-19 remains a salient topic as we conclude 2020, affecting everything from the global economy to individual mental health. With no vaccine expected until sometime 2021, people and organizations must continue to find ways to balance workloads, personal lives, and the news. 

The insights aren’t all gloomy. While our survey did show that 2020 has been the most stressful year ever, the availability of technology supported by artificial intelligence provides a reprieve, and help for leaders looking to provide actionable solutions. As time passes, we expect more employers and employees to make mental health a priority, ushering in a transformation of the workplace. 

Start Addressing Mental Health Today

It’s a tough time for all of us, wherever we work. Start the conversation around mental health in your organization today and see how emerging technologies like AI can help. Download our new AI@Work study As Uncertainty Remains, Anxiety and Stress Reach a Tipping Point at Work to discover more.

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