Webinar: Coronavirus and workplace mental health

While physical well-being is vital during the coronavirus pandemic, the situation is raising multiple mental-health issues, including rising stress levels exacerbated by job uncertainty and social isolation.

Looking at mental-health policies and tools, innovative practices and work-from-home protocols, Benefits Canada hosted a panel of experts in a webinar on March 31 to answer plan sponsor questions. Click here to find out what you missed.

Since the coronavirus is forcing employees to work remotely, many are working under conditions to which they might not be naturally aligned, which is creating stress, said Claire Duboc, managing director of MindBeacon Group. Organizations are recognizing that everyone is struggling with their new normal; no employee is unaffected and everyone is reacting uniquely to changing, day-by-day circumstances. “That’s the reality employers are facing,” she said. “It’s not a niche issue, it’s a broad one. We all need to get through this together mentally healthy and resilient in order to be able to continue on.”

Read: Webinar: Coronavirus: What do employers need to know?

Three-quarters (75 per cent) of employers know employees pay attention to workplace culture and that it’s an imperative part of whether they stay with a company, said Karen Adams, chief commercial and health innovation officer at Snapclarity. In fact, 56 per cent of employees say this is more important than salary, she added, noting a strong culture has the ability to support those who are at work, off work and laid off. “We’re at an unprecedented time where companies need to stand up. The culture they build to attract employees is now being seen in an empathetic way — being able to show empathy, be human and have communications that reach out to these people.”

Employers should also consider increasing the frequency of team meetings to help people stay connected, noted Nigel Branker, executive vice-president and president of health and productivity solutions at Morneau Shepell Ltd. Employees working from home might be juggling childcare or competing conference calls with their partners, so it’s also necessary to shorten the duration of these calls. “It’s about creating an accommodating and supportive environment. One of the biggest things we can do as leaders at this current time is to help our people focus on where they need to prioritize and spend their time.”

Many employers have a wide range of resources available within their organizations, noted Lori Casselman, president and chief revenue officer at Wello, including employee assistance programs and virtual health-care services. But often, employees aren’t aware what resources are available to them, so it’s important to communicate and encourage the use of these tools during the coronavirus crisis, she added.

Read: Coronavirus pandemic means ‘new normal’ for employers, employees

It’s also key to remove any barriers to access and support for individuals who are experiencing mental-health challenges, said Casselman, noting virtual modalities do this inherently. “In the times that we’re in, we don’t want individuals leaving their homes. So being able to access very high-quality care while maintaining social distance has been crucial.”

Employers are looking for more psychological service options to make sure their employees are staying mentally healthy during an uncomfortable time, said Duboc. The one-on-one, in-person clinic visit, which is the traditional method of accessing these services, is no longer an option, she added. “There are other things that can be done virtually, but it’s critical for employers to look at programs that speak to their employees and what their individual needs are.”

Even long after the pandemic, virtual platforms and digital care will become foundational, said Branker, noting employers can no longer have unclear work-from-home policies or remote technology issues. Employees will expect remote working to become more of a new norm versus something that’s seen as a privilege, he added.

“Workplaces are going to have to evolve, but the silver lining is that this gives employers a chance to rethink their approaches on how to best support employees and ensure they receive the help they need and to leverage technology to make digital tools more accessible, affordable and a foundational part of the new normal.”

Find out what you missed by accessing the full webinar here.