For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has made work more stressful than ever. A survey published in April 2020 by Bloomberg found that seven in 10 employees felt this was the most stressful time of their entire working career. And in August 2020, a survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America found that 75 percent of workers had experienced burnout.
Stress and burnout are directly connected. If unaddressed, stress can lead to other mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other serious issues. People who have mental health conditions also often have physical health conditions. All of this can lead to increased absenteeism among employees or diminished focus and productivity when they are on the job.
This relationship between mind and body poses a particular challenge for the manufacturing sector. Before the pandemic, manufacturing employees already had higher rates of hypertension and smoking.
Of course, the health of your business is connected to the health of your employees. Lower productivity, higher employee absenteeism, and shrinking margins can all result from a workforce that isn't as healthy as it could be. However, you can take significant steps to bolster the resilience and health of your employees by creating a workplace that supports mental health as strongly as it does physical health.
It starts with building a culture of well-being -- a work environment where people feel connected, engaged, and supported. In this type of environment, employers:
Communicate frequently to increase transparency and build trust
Acknowledge feelings and experiences related to the stress of current events
Provide clear leadership and expectations
Recognize and reward employees
Evaluate and adjust workload management
Provide active engagement from managers and leadership
There are also specific structural components to support a culture of well-being. These include:
Self-care tools like health apps, assessments, and other resources that promote meditation, mindfulness, stress management, and physical well-being
Employee assistance programs with assessments, critical-incident response protocols, and solution-focused counseling
Easy and convenient access to specialty care for mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders
The key to the structural components is they must support an employee across a continuum -- emotional well-being, mild distress, temporary mental health conditions, and chronic mental health conditions.
Another part of establishing a culture of well-being is to encourage employees to take steps to maintain and improve their health. That is especially important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also brings up the question of vaccinations.
With COVID-19 vaccinations now available across the state, it's possible that some of your employees will be reluctant to get vaccinated. Encouraging discussion about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine to build confidence can be culturally healthy and help support increased vaccination rates for workplace well-being. Here are some suggestions and resources to help company leaders address questions and concerns:
As a trusted source of information, show how you and other leaders in the workplace are participating
Use mentors and employee leaders to raise awareness
Prepare to address anti-vaccination perspectives and provide a forum where it's safe to talk about mistrust and fears to address myths that may be circulating
Anticipate cultural and social considerations -- lead conversations with empathy and remember that cultural experiences are diverse and unique
Whether it's stress around vaccines and the pandemic or the daily stresses unrelated to COVID-19, by creating a culture of well-being, employers can not only help improve the health of an individual employee, but they can also help improve the health of their entire workforce. And a healthier workforce makes for healthier business.
To help support a culture of well-being in your organization:
Find free workplace wellness resources and toolkits at kp.org/choosebetter.
Listen to and share the podcast Preventing Burnout in the Workplace, in Health Views with Deb Friesen, MD, and Kaiser Permanente doctor.
Join Kaiser Permanente and Manufacturer’s Edge for a special presentation on April 22, A Physically & Psychologically Healthy Workforce = a Healthy Bottom Line. Register here.
Melissa Chisum is senior director of Small Group Sales for Kaiser Permanente. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.