Many students had an abrupt end to classroom learning this spring, as classes largely went online in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. Although parents remained somewhat hopeful through the summer, it gradually became clear that many schools would resume online, either entirely or in part.
Kids attending school at home may experience boredom or isolation, and students who will return to in-person classes will continue to experience disruption: they may be required to wear masks, attend drastically smaller classes, or miss out on sports or activities. Parents – many of whom will be working from home or in radically changed office environments – will also feel anxious for themselves and their kids. This in turn can create challenges for employers as stressed parents feel torn between being emotionally present for their kids and professionally present at work.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, job-related stress is the nation’s leading workplace health problem, and productivity losses from absenteeism related to stress cost employers $225.8 billion, or $1,685 per employee, each year. In an effort to address this, most employers offer Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs – employer-sponsored tools to help workers reduce stress, improve their mental health and connect to childcare resources. In most organizations, however, the utilization rate of EAPs is low. In fact, in 2018 the National Business Group on Health found that the median EAP utilization rate was only 5.5 percent.
In normal circumstances, back-to-school season is already a time of increased mental health benefits utilization. Now – with a global pandemic, increased civil unrest, and the build-up to a contentious presidential election – people are feeling more stress and anxiety than usual. According to a recent Pew Research poll, 18% of respondents report feeling anxiety most or all of the time in the past week. If parents are experiencing increased anxiety, depression, or disturbed sleep, they will be less able to navigate challenges at home and work.
As an employer, what can you do to support your employees? If EAP programs aren’t the answer, what resources might resonate with busy parents?
Do the pre-work.
Employers can take steps to reduce stress before challenging situations arise by taking a cue from how essential businesses handled the early stages of the pandemic. Cross-training staff on important functions and making back-up plans can help ensure no one feels pressure to come to work when they are sick, and having these plans in place will help things run smoothly if workers do need to take time off. This is also a good time to develop a fair work-from-home policy – rather than stick to one that was thrown together at the start of a global health emergency – and communicate it clearly. Simply knowing that there are options may help employees to feel less worried.
Open a dialogue.
Employers can also take this time to remind workers about policies that can help them: paid family leave, flexible work schedules, the ability to work from home, or whatever applies in their own organization. Make it clear how to take advantage of these benefits, and if there are policy changes, communicate them in plenty of time for people to make adjustments to their routine at home or in the office.
Re-evaluate existing paid leave or childcare policies.
This is a larger undertaking, but many companies are expanding paid parental leave or backup childcare options. Think of these updates not as short-term changes, but as an investment in your organization’s future. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a lot of shortcomings about how we work, but also presented an opportunity to do better. Offering flexibility around parental leave and childcare is a great way to attract and retain the talent that helps your organization succeed.
Prioritize mental health at an organizational level.
Although the dialogue around mental health has increased in recent months, employees may not know how to access care and be reluctant to ask for fear of stigma. Employers who create an ongoing conversation about mental health can increase the likelihood that someone will connect to care. With a program like Emvitals, employers can offer an easy way for workers to evaluate and strengthen emotional health. By taking a holistic self-assessment, employees can see their risk for stress overload and other common mental health conditions and partner with a dedicated care concierge to connect to the right level of care quickly and easily. The Emvitals platform also provides a weekly touchpoint to evaluate how people are coping with increased stress, as well as strategies and resources to address factors that can exacerbate stress.
To learn more about incorporating Emvitals into your workplace wellness or benefits programs schedule a demo today.