These are stressful times.

Employees face tremendous strain at work and home, which is often now the same physical place. Not surprisingly, the pressure and fatigue are affecting employee mental health. Let’s take a closer look at the factors driving employee stress, why employer empathy matters so much and how employers can show it.

Employee stress is high

Employee stress may be hitting an historic high: Nearly 70% of workers across every demographic report the coronavirus pandemic is the most stressful time of their professional lives, ranking as more stressful than the Great Recession of 2008.[1]

There are many factors at play. Though many workers are no longer commuting, their remote workdays are long. In fact, the average workday is almost 49 minutes longer than pre-pandemic and meeting times have lengthened by over 12%.[2] Many remote workers are putting in many hours on video conferencing tools like Zoom. These tools require a different kind of concentration and make different demands of the brain, contributing to fatigue.[3]

Distraction and difficulty focusing are taking their toll, too. Research revealed that 40% of employees in late March admitted to lower productivity.[4] And this productivity loss is high: six in 10 workers report losing at least an hour per day, with another 32% losing two or more hours per workday.[5] Lower productivity may have hit millennials hardest first, but as time passes and the crisis unfolds, baby boomers are also suffering from decreasing productivity.[6]

There is also a looming sense of dread that the crisis is not over as employers and employees alike contend with uncertainty. The wave of intense emotions stemming from fear, anxiety, isolation and anger can be overwhelming- leading to chronic stress that can create what is called “crisis fatigue.”[7] Crisis fatigue can make people feel overwhelmed, tired and emotionally numb.

A recent survey from Kaiser has put a spotlight on the physical effects of this increased employee stress: 40% of respondents report sleep problems, while another 33% find their appetites affected. Other symptoms of chronic employee stress include frequent headaches or stomachaches, increased drug or alcohol use and the worsening of chronic health conditions.[8]

Finally, it has become very difficult for many employees to unplug. For those working remotely, the lines between work and home have been blurred. There is no change in environment to signal the end of the workday. Juggling childcare and remote school can mean workers are shifting roles throughout the day, creating a sense that they are working throughout the day but getting nothing done. For millions, the sense of accomplishment that comes with the end of the workday is lessened—or perhaps even nonexistent.

Taken together, longer workdays, constant distraction, crisis fatigue and an inability to unplug can damage employee mental health now and moving forward.

The importance of employer empathy

During this time of collective stress and fatigue, employees need to feel heard and like their hard work is being appreciated. Employers that show empathy by providing effective support for employee mental health and well-being can show employees that they are valued.

Now, more than ever, employee well-being is fragile: three out of four employees are worried about at least one aspect of their well-being during the pandemic.[9] Taking a holistic approach to employee well-being can help employers demonstrate compassion for employees struggling to cope.

The aspects of employee well-being include:[10]

  • Mental health, including psychological and emotional well-being
  • Financial health, or personal and family financial security
  • Social health
  • Physical health, including illness, chronic health conditions, injuries and general lifestyle

Without effective support for employee mental health and well-being, employers are putting workers and themselves at risk of:

  • Decreased productivity and performance
  • Increased absenteeism- when employees miss work because of illness, fatigue or life conflicts
  • Increased presenteeism- when employees are present but aren’t productive
  • Reduced engagement and loyalty

Effective employee mental health programs do more than promote health, well-being and satisfaction in the workforce. In addition to protecting productivity and helping employees cope, the right support can lower the risk of attrition and help companies position themselves as employers of choice during and after this period.[11]

Of course, cost control remains a concern for employers. With uncertainty ahead, it can be difficult to balance the need to show employer empathy with the reality of managing healthcare plan costs. Supplemental health insurance benefits can help employers put coverage and services in place to support employee mental health while protecting the benefits budget.

At a time when employee stress is so high, it’s essential to consider what constitutes effective support. Plans like ArmadaCare’s WellPak with Guide include coverage for prescriptions and doctor’s visits as well as for wellness care like acupuncture and massage therapy, which can help employees address anxiety, and chronic stress. WellPak with Guide also includes an embedded Guide program offering virtual behavioral health and well-being support sessions with masters-level clinicians.

Learn more about our wide range of supplemental health insurance plans.

[1] AMA Stress Report, 2020

[2] National Bureau of Economic Research, 2020

[3] National Bureau of Economic Research, 2020

[4] Optum, 2020

[5] Ginger Annual Workforce Report, 2020

[6] Optum, 2020

[7] Healthline, 2020

[8] Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020

[9] MetLife US Employee Benefit Trends, 2020

[10] MetLife, 2020

[11] HR Executive, 2020