Employee Mental Health and Alcohol in the Workplace

Benefit Trends Executive Health February 18, 2021

Employee mental health, which has been on the decline for some time, may have come close to reaching a breaking point. Data [1] from assessments during the 2020 holiday season show there was nearly a 50% rise [2] in the risk of depression among employees and worker focus dropped by over 60%, [3] to an all-time low. The data showed women experiencing stress rates over 20% higher than their male counterparts during this period. Some individuals have turned to increased use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace, an alarming trend with serious consequences for health, safety and the bottom line.

The challenges of the pandemic have been universal and employers and employees alike continue to grapple with uncertainty. Yet one thing has become clear- the need for effective mental health and well-being support in the workplace. With employee mental health still declining employers have felt the bottom-line impact, as measured by employees’  inability to focus. Index data revealed this drop was prevalent across all ages in the workplace. [4]

This alarming data on employee mental health should concern employers. Garen Staglin, One Mind at Work chairman said in a statement. “Employers have an obligation to identify new ways to support the mental health of their workforce.” Poor mental health in the workplace can show up in many ways:

  • Absenteeism and presenteeism
  • Increased on-the-job accidents
  • Decreased customer or patient satisfaction
  • Reduced engagement
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol in the workplace, which comes with its own set of risks. These include declines in physical and mental health and well-being as well as problems like decreased work quality and collaboration.

Concerns about alcohol in the workplace

Data shows that U.S. adults are buying and consuming more alcohol than before the pandemic. As measured by Nielsen and reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, [5] alcohol sales were up by more than 50% in late March 2020 over March 2019. Both usage frequency and overall consumption have dramatically increased. Data from the study also showed an alarming trend for women, whose heavy drinking (defined as four or more drinks per day) increased by 41%. [6]

Alcohol in the workplace isn’t the only substance of concern. Forty states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths since March 2020 as well as indicators of increased use of opioids and other types of drugs. [7]

While use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace might be in response to present stressors, there can be long-term consequences. During the early days of stay-at-home orders, the World Health Organization cautioned that alcohol use could exacerbate health conditions and drive riskier behaviors. [8] Addictions are chronic medical conditions that can be treated but not cured. People who struggle with addiction may be prone to relapses, especially when stress can initially damage physical or mental health.

Addiction and other mental health conditions are widespread. As many as 20% of adults will experience a diagnosable mental illness annually. More than half of those suffering will go untreated. [9] Why? Some may not realize that they are experiencing a mental health crisis or need. Others fear the shame, as stigma about mental health in the workplace persists. Still others lack access to coverage for care or need help navigating to the kind of care that will benefit their condition and situation.

Effective support for employees

Certainly, the bad news in our difficult present is that many employees are suffering, and some are turning to riskier means of coping. The good news is that addiction and other mental health conditions are treatable, and that treatment is effective. According to research, four out of five employees who undergo treatment for mental illness report improved levels of productivity and satisfaction. [10]

Even better, it can be less expensive and less disruptive to meet the needs of employees experiencing struggles with substance abuse and other mental illnesses than to replace them.

Managers and supervisors may not recognize when an employee is struggling with addiction, especially in a remote work environment when they are not face to face. Or they may have noticed but not know how best to approach the topic with an employee. Yet with employee mental health at risk, how can employers effectively address the challenges of the present and prepare for recovery?

Support with supplemental health insurance solutions

Many employers are also facing budget pressures as the ongoing economic turbulence affects demand, productivity and revenues. Forward-thinking employers are turning to supplemental health insurance benefits as they realize an investment in well-being support helps employees cope.

Employers that are ready to prioritize care and support for employee mental health and well-being during this time are in good company. Nearly 80% of employers indicated in 2020 that they were adding or enhancing access to mental health support and other benefits in response to the mounting pressures of the present. [11]

Supplemental health insurance benefits like ArmadaCare’s WellPak can provide the support employees need. The Connect & Thrive resources embedded in these plans give employees a single point of entry to a range of expert resources for mental health and well-being. This can include support for crises such as addiction as well as daily stressors such as  fatigue, sleep disturbances and more.

True recovery will require proactive care and support for employees by their employers. Learn more about WellPak and our other unique and flexible solutions for employees at every level and benefit budgets of all sizes.

[1] Mental Health Index, Total Brain, 2021

[2] Total Brain, 2021

[3] Total Brain, 2021

[4] Total Brain, 2021

[5] JAMA, 2020

[6] JAMA, 2020

[7] American Medical Association, 2020

[8] JAMA, 2020

[9] Workplace Mental Health, 2019

[10] Workplace Mental Health, 2019

[11] Willis Towers Watson, 2020

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