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COVID-19 and mental health: Ways to help your team

Team AckoJun 29, 2022

According to a study conducted in the United States of America (USA) in 2020, 70% of American workers felt more stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to any other point in their professional lives. While this study is limited to a country, it is likely that people across countries might have faced similar issues due to the pandemic. Yes, vaccinations are in place but the threat of virus mutations also exists.

COVID-19 and mental health: Ways to help your team

The blurring of personal and professional lines due to the Work From Home (WFH) scenario comes across as a major factor in inducing stress. Financial concerns and job insecurity also contribute a lot. If left unattended, such issues can lead to long-term mental health concerns and loss of productivity due to burnout.

To prevent this, employers need to be proactive by resolving mental health issues among employees. The following sections will highlight examples of employers preventing burnout and mental health complications due to work pressure. Also, you will come to know of ways in which your organisation can gauge employee mental health and incorporate the necessary measures. Let’s get started!

How to help your team

Company leaders need to understand and address mental health issues among the employees before the workforce burns out due to prolonged stress. Many companies are beginning to recognise this and are taking steps to make workplace policies employee-friendly. 

While the employees need to be encouraged to take the initiative on these lines, companies must provide a platform for employees to discuss and deal with work-related issues. Here are some of the ways of doing so.

1. Prioritise mental health

It is worth considering the mental health of your company’s employees while making crucial business decisions, especially during this period. Also, setting aside a dedicated budget meant exclusively for programs and initiatives for this purpose is a good idea.

2. Invite honest discussions 

Many employees may not be comfortable talking about mental health issues as opposed to physical ailments. As a result, often, employees who need help are not able to speak about their situation.

When senior leaders open up about mental health issues and their struggles, it can provide a fertile space for other employees to join in. Regular sessions can be incorporated into the company calendar to address these problems and allow employees to open up while coping with the pandemic.

Questions around job insecurity, salary cuts, promotions, and the company’s future should also be addressed directly. After all, any uncertainty around these can lead to added anxiety among employees. In case a company is facing a crisis, transparency is often the best way forward. In doing so, the employees realise that they are an essential part of the organisation’s future. 

The leadership at the professional water treatment and bottling company Culligan demonstrated how this could be done. One of Culligan’s owners personally led a video communication initiative to address his journey with mental health.

3. Have a strategic approach

Mental health trouble due to workplace anxiety is no longer seen as an individual issue but rather an issue that affects both the employee and employer. Thus, when formulating a long-term strategy for business growth, initiatives towards improving mental health play an important role. The impact of health on global businesses may become evident only over a while.

Organisations such as Deloitte, Clifford, BHP, Chance, HSBC, Salesforce, and Unilever, came together to discuss ways to advance mental health awareness and encourage best practices at their workplace to help combat the impact of mental health issues.

4. Employ professional help

Accessing professional help for mental health issues can be intimidating, and some employees may find it challenging to find resources. In such scenarios, a company can hire mental health professionals whom the employees can speak to. The next important step is to create awareness around the initiative and encourage employees to use it when needed.

RedDoorz, a budget hotel operator from Singapore, launched a hotline as a part of its effort to support its employees, hotel partners, and staff. This hotline, known as the Hope Hotline, has partner counsellors and psychologists providing counselling sessions free of cost to employees. The aim is to help employees deal with pandemic-induced stress.

5. Encourage a healthy routine

As workspaces have moved into people’s homes during the pandemic, it is becoming difficult to set clear boundaries. Encouraging employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance is crucial at such a time.

Employees also need to be granted some leeway to take care of personal tasks that they might be putting off. Health issues caused due to the pandemic within the family also add to their stress levels. Permitting employees some time away from work and flexibility regarding working hours can go a long way in helping them maintain long-term productivity.

Providing facilities such as short-term leave to deal with mental health issues is also a good move. In the long run, it helps companies save on employee burnout costs.

Kickstand Communications has been taking steps to maintain an optimal work-life balance for its employees. They provide employees with more flexible work hours and three hours per week to step away from the computer screen. The company also provides a monthly wellness stipend to spend on activities to improve one’s overall health.

Also, check: COVID-19 insurance policy

6. Promote healthy habits

Yoga and meditation can be beneficial for the overall wellbeing of employees. Companies can create daily or weekly rituals wherein employees are encouraged to participate in these activities together over a video call or in-person if the office is functioning. Employees can also be given access to online services and apps in the mental wellness space to access them as and when they can.

Headspace’s partnership with the United Kingdom’s National Health Services is an excellent example of this kind of initiative. The employees received a complimentary subscription to the meditation and mindfulness app to help them deal with the pressure caused by the pandemic.

7. Provide financial aid

Additional financial burdens by way of medical costs or emergency costs could affect an employee’s savings. Companies need to step up in such times and provide financial aid to those that need it. This could be by way of loans or an advance on the salary.

Company-wide programs to help with the healthcare facilities for employees and their families are also beneficial. This can be extended to COVID-19 testing and hospital stays as well. Setting up a relief fund for employees in need can be wise. CVS Hearts uses an employee-funded relief program to help those in the company who are in immediate financial need.

8. Funding a health policy

Many companies have taken several mental health initiatives and have a well-funded health policy to help reduce COVID-19 induced stress. While it might not be possible to completely eradicate the stress related to recent work trends in the short term, offering employees tools and services to deal with their issues better is an achievable goal.

A company health policy that reduces the stress of anticipating a financial burden in the case an employee or their family member is affected can prove to be a good move. For instance, Ally Financial covers the cost of diagnostic testing and virtual doctor visits for their employees and helps cover unexpected costs incurred due to WFH.

Giving employees access to new-age group health insurance plan can be cost-effective for the business and valuable for employees as it helps cover certain medical costs. For example, unlike traditional insurance providers, ACKO Health is a new-age health insurance policy for employees that offers policy customisation, discounts on medicine and lab testing, and access to doctors among other features.

9. Employee Support Groups (ESG)

Recently, there has been a rise in the number of Employee Support Groups. While it may take a while for this to become a mainstream practice, corporations have found that it can help with pandemic-induced anxiety in the short term. The long-term benefits are yet to be studied.

While organisational initiatives might help provide a balanced personal life, reduce financial stress, and give way to more open conversations, peers can help to create a sense of togetherness and bonding within the company. This helps to reduce some of the fears employees might be holding on to. It can help them in terms of their productivity. It can also be the first step towards healing from the trauma and worry caused by the pandemic.

Goodway Group hosts Family Fun Fridays where employees and their family members can come together to talk and indulge in fun activities together.

Assess your employees’ mental health

Opening up a space for honest discussions is a crucial first step. A questionnaire to assess your employees’ mental health can be helpful in this regard. It lets you know where your overall employee motivation stands and allows you to recognise those who may need help overcoming prevailing conditions.

Here’s a sample survey for employees to understand their overall mental wellness and know which individuals are most susceptible to burnout. You can make changes to it as per the industry you operate in and according to company policies.

1. Awareness

The first part of the survey can focus on employees’ awareness around initiatives the company is undertaking. Here are some questions related to awareness.

  • How enthusiastic or inspired do you feel by your daily work?

  • Do you feel you have the resources available at the workplace to cope with the stress you face?

  • Do you have an understanding of the various initiatives and services available at the workplace?

  • Are you optimistic that the resources offered by the company help deal with work stress?

  • Is there anything else the company can undertake to help you and your family deal with the current situation?

2. Policies

A questionnaire can also help you understand the gaps within your organisation’s policies and what steps can be taken to fill them. Here are some questions for this part.

  • Do you feel comfortable talking to your peers, superiors, or someone from the Human Resource team about your mental health?

  • Are you confident that the organisation’s leaders have a concern for your mental health?

  • Are the steps taken by the organisation to deal with mental health issues helpful for you?

  • Are there any policies, initiatives, or practices that you feel are negatively affecting your mental health?

  • Are there any possible policy changes that can help you work better?

  • Do you think the senior management is open to talking about mental health concerns and addressing them?

3. Team dynamics

Employees spend most of their time with their teammates, and hence understanding team dynamics can be helpful. These questions provide an insight into how employees view their managers and peers while highlighting how their work is affected.

  • Do your team members create an environment for you to feel comfortable discussing mental health?

  • Do you feel like your manager is concerned about your mental health?

  • Can you comfortably discuss the challenges you face due to the pandemic with your manager?

  • Are you comfortable discussing any necessary changes in timings, deliverables, or workload with your manager?

  • Are you comfortable asking your manager for mental health leave?

  • Do you feel your manager prioritises the mental health of the team along with managing work efficiency?

  • Do you think your colleagues are supportive of taking time off due to mental health concerns?

  • Rate your experience in your team on a scale of 1 to 10. (10 being the best possible experience and 1 being a poor experience)

4. General Resources

It is also good to make employees aware of the resources available outside the workplace so that their family members know where they can turn to when they have mental health concerns. Often, trusted sources are challenging to find. Having a list of these sources handy will undoubtedly be of service to employees.

  • Do you have adequate access to mental health resources?

  • Do you have an understanding of the mental health resources available to you and your family?

  • Is there a specific kind of counselling that you feel can help you deal with work stress?

  • Is there something the company can do outside the workplace to further help you improve your mental health? 

The responses to the survey need to be tracked to know which concerns need to be addressed immediately and which need long-term planning. The questionnaire will help you identify areas of overlap in employees’ mental health concerns. For example, if most employees are finding fixed working hours to be problematic, you may consider implementing flexible timings to address their needs.

Although you may not address all concerns immediately, having an open line of communication where employees know that their concerns are heard and are being worked on is an essential first step.

A positive change

There is undoubtedly an increase in pandemic-related stress among many employees, leading to severe mental health issues such as anxiety, burnout, or even long-term depression. Preventing these problems is no longer just an individual’s responsibility.

Corporates are working towards dealing with employee stress to prevent burnout or high attrition rates. However, investing in mental health initiatives needs to be a continuous process. These problems can only be solved in the long-term when employees and employers work together in a sustainable manner.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on industry experience and several secondary sources on the internet; and is subject to changes. Please go through the applicable policy wordings for updated ACKO-centric content and before making any insurance-related decisions.

Sources

  1. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200409005169/en/New-Data-Ginger-Shows-70-Percent-Workers 

  2. https://www.business.com/articles/workplace-stress-anxiety-covid-19/

  3. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/supporting-mental-health-in-the-post-pandemic-workplace.aspx

  4. https://www.sane.org/spotlight-on/workplace-mental-health/151-talking-about-mental-health-in-the-workplace

  5. https://hbr.org/2018/11/we-need-to-talk-more-about-mental-health-at-work

  6. https://www.mhanational.org/blog/8-employers-supporting-employee-mental-health-during-covid-19

  7. Business leaders launch The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health | Deloitte Global

  8. https://www.ttgasia.com/2020/05/18/reddoorz-offers-mental-health-support/

  9. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ca/Documents/about-deloitte/ca-en-about-blueprint-for-workplace-mental-health-final-aoda.pdf

  10. https://www.businessinsider.com/companies-offering-more-mental-health-benefits-amid-coronavirus-2020-4?r=US&IR=T#kickstand-communications-is-providing-employees-with-a-more-flexible-schedule-5 

  11. https://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/amid-growing-global-health-crisis-nhs-partners-with-headspace-to-provide-all-employees-free-subscriptions-to-curb-rising-stress-and-anxiety-862975559.html

  12. https://cvshealth.com/social-responsibility/our-giving/community-support/employee-relief-fund

  13. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2020/04/06/how-one-company-is-taking-care-of-employees-during-covid-19/?sh=741e7e9e488d

  14. https://www.acko.com/group-health-insurance/

  15. https://www.us.jll.com/en/trends-and-insights/workplace/how-companies-are-supporting-employees-during-covid-19

  16. https://www.hibob.com/blog/covid-19-employee-wellness-survey/

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