Addressing Mental Health Concerns in a New Hybrid Workplace World

Addressing Mental Health Concerns in a New Hybrid Workplace World

With the hybrid workplace model being discussed in virtual boardrooms across the country, employers should consider how such a decision will affect the mental health of employees. Are employees mentally ready to return to the workplace? Will continuing to work remotely negatively impact their mental health?

The Current State of Mental Health

Canada was already facing a mental health crisis prior to the pandemic, according to reports from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. COVID-19 magnified the issue in 2020, with mental health declining across the board. 81% of workers felt that their mental health was negatively impacted by the pandemic, and studies show high reports of anxiety, loneliness, depression, binge drinking, and suicidal ideation. June 2021 marked 15 consecutive months of diminished mental health for Canadians, with 10.7 points beneath the pre-pandemic benchmark (LifeWorks, 2021). Unfortunately, experts foresee that mental health concerns will continue to impact employees and organizations for years to come if issues are not met and addressed. Some project a “54 to 163 per cent increase” of mental health issues over pre-pandemic levels (Benefits Canada).

What You Need to Know to Retain Employees

Employees have shown that their employer’s concern for their well-being is a top priority, and a failure to address mental health could affect both employee satisfaction and a company’s bottom line. According to researchers’ analysis of emerging workplace trends in 2021, surveyed employees ranked workplace culture higher in importance than job security, benefits, and even income (O.C. Tanner, 2020). Employees, particularly Gen Z employees, reportedly most valued a sense of community, connection, and wellbeing. 77% of Canadian employees would consider leaving their current organization for the same pay if their new workplace offered better support for their personal well-being (Morneau Shepell, 2020).

Employers should weigh the costs and risks of any decision they make regarding hybrid work and plan for ways to support their employees as we move forward into a new working world.

Mental Health Considerations

Employers should consider that employees may be facing different mental health concerns because of the pandemic and constant changes over the past year.

Crisis Fatigue

Employees may report feelings of crisis fatigue. Crisis fatigue is the feeling of being overwhelmed and defeated while going through a crisis. It is an emotional, cognitive, and physical exhaustion that can occur when we are in a heightened state of fight or flight physiologically for a long period of time. Stressors, and particularly worry and uncertainty, can lead to fatigue and disengagement if you are not maintaining your own self-care.

Anxiety

Employees may be feeling anxious about the decision regarding a hybrid model. Those who continue working virtually may experience anxiety about their workstations if they do not own ergonomic equipment and are having aches and pains while working. Those who return to the office may be worried about maintaining their health, relearning routines, or adapting to new working conditions. No matter where employees are working, they may also struggle with maintaining work-life balance, learning new processes, or resuming old roles.

Isolation

Some employees who have worked remotely over the past year may also experience mental health concerns because of isolation. Feelings of loneliness and depression increased in Canadians over the pandemic, and according to LifeWorks June Mental Health Index report, one in five Canadians indicate that isolation has had the most significant impact on their mental health (LifeWorks, 2021). Employers should continue to consider how teams can stay connected virtually, even as some employees transition back to the physical workplace. How can remote team members be included to reduce feelings of isolation and help maintain a good company culture?

Understanding the potential responses of employees and responding to signs of distress is imperative to ensuring a healthy and happy organization. Employers should not be afraid to ask employees how they are doing and work together to find solutions that will assist everyone in staying well.

What Can Employers Do?

  • Develop a strong psychological health and safety program.
  • Check in regularly with employees. Look for ways to stay connected with employees, listen with attention, empathy, and respect, and notice signs of distress.
  • Promote open door policies. Let your employees know you are accessible and encourage them to come to you with feedback or questions about changes to the workplace and new processes.
  • Discuss expectations openly. Remain clear and consistent on the employee’s responsibilities and discuss solutions for making the transition to work easier.
  • Encourage social interactions. Include icebreakers in your virtual meetings, arrange social events like virtual happy hours or coffee chats, and invite your team to participate in photo challenges. Find ways to include remote employees in the company culture.
  • Encourage team collaboration and communication. You may choose to assign teamwork or involve your staff in decision-making opportunities to help them feel involved and engaged.
  • Offer mental health resources. Provide employees virtual training on ways to improve mental health. You can also request the assistance of an Occupational Therapist to help employees find tools and strategies that will help them be able to stay at work or return to work.
  • Identify possible risks of suicide or harm. Encourage employees to reach out to distress lines for assistance and in critical situations, call 911. You can reach the Canada Suicide Prevention Service for help at 833-456-4566.

How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

We expect that there will be challenges in supporting employees in the decision to return to the workplace, remain remote, or create a hybrid working model. Gowan Consulting will be working with organizations to support their decision making as well as providing assistance to employers who require accommodations for employees. We also anticipate that employers and employees will continue to face mental health concerns as the “echo pandemic” creates a tsunami of long-lasting mental health effects in the coming months and years. Contact us to see how we can help or make a referral today.

Are you feeling overwhelmed in this new working world? We have a variety of solutions and strategies to help. You may be interested in some of our upcoming training opportunities:

Works Cited

Mental Health in Canada: Covid-19 and Beyond CAMH Policy Advice, July 2020, http://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/pdfs—public-policy-submissions/covid-and-mh-policy-paper-pdf.pdf

Is private and public health care ready for a mental-health tsunami?, Benefits Canada, Sonya Felix, November 27, 2020, https://www.benefitscanada.com/news/is-private-and-public-health-care-ready-for-a-mental-health-tsunami-153227

5 Culture Trends for 2021, 2020, O.C. Tanner, https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3A35f4d752-9d29-4bf5-9216-54aa3ee014d6#pageNum=2

Morneau Shepell finds employees would accept lower pay for enhanced well-being support, Morneau Shepell, January 28, 2020, https://media.morneaushepell.com/English/news/news-details/2020/Morneau-Shepell-finds-employees-would-accept-lower-pay-for-enhanced-well-being-support/default.aspx

The Mental Health Index Report, LifeWorks, June 2021, https://lifeworks.com/en/resource/mental-health-index%E2%84%A2-report-june-2021

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