Michigan Association of Health Plans

All employees face mental health risks now. Here’s how managers can help.

The fallout from coronavirus has created high levels of stress for everyone — physically, psychologically, professionally and financially.

That takes a toll on people’s mental health and poses a particular challenge to employers.
Constant stress and uncertainty combined with unhealthy coping mechanisms — such as stress eating and drinking alcohol — can affect employees’ moods, sleep patterns, attention spans, energy and, consequently, their work.
Here’s what managers and company leaders can do to help mitigate the mental health risks facing their team members and de-stigmatize the issue so those who need help will seek it.
Be real
Getting hit simultaneously with a deadly health crisis, daily economic shocks and the almost constant political warfare over all of it is too much for anyone to handle without missing a beat.
“Acknowledge this is tough and [let people know] it’s ok to say so,” said Mary Kay O’Neill, a partner in health and benefits at Mercer Consulting. “There’s resiliency in acknowledging the shared situation.”
And do so not only in group discussions, but also in one-on-one conversations with team members. You also might consider having an office hour where anyone can call you if they need to. “That keeps the channel open,” she said.
Lead by example
Both managers and top brass might consider sharing how they themselves are handling the stresses in their lives. Or, at the very least, make clear that they empathize with what other employees are going through.
Also, take time off and show your team how it’s done. At Mercer, O’Neill said, high level executives are being required to take some of their vacation days now and announce when they do. “It’s modeling behavior.”
Notice uncharacteristic behaviors
Managers have to tell the difference between when a team member is acting normally or not. If someone’s temper flares or their work is late, is that typical of them or is it unusual? If it’s unusual, “the root cause may be different than just someone doing poorly,” O’Neill said.
Consider whether drinking or substance abuse might be an issue. Even people who never had a problem before the pandemic now may be using alcohol or prescription drugs as coping mechanisms, said Patrick Krill, an attorney and addiction counselor who adviseslaw firms and corporate legal departments.
The Kaiser Family Foundationfound that 13% of Americans said they had increased their drinking or drug use in response to the stress over coronavirus andprescriptions are upfor anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs.
“Substance use occurs on a continuum,” Krill said, ranging from abstinence to social use to regular use to problematic use. For example, someone who normally drinks socially may expect a drink will take the edge off. But if they become increasingly preoccupied with having one, and then end up drinking enough to have a slight hangover the next day, that’s a change in the nature of alcohol use, he explained. “It becomes less voluntary and more habitual.”
That doesn’t mean the person is an alcoholic, but the habit at the very least could jeopardize their physical health and their ability to concentrate and perform their job well.
“If the nature of their work is complex and a small detail is overlooked, that can be catastrophic for the employer,” Krill said.
This article was originally featured in CNN Business, read more here.