Stress related to COVID-19 is having an enormous impact on people’s mental health, as demand for support services surges and substance abuse and suicides continue to rise. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released a report to delve further into how employees are coping, based on data collected in April 2020 from over 1,000 US employees. The results show employees struggling with depression and exhaustion, while failing to take care of themselves well.

Nearly 1 in 4 employees feel depressed.

Almost a quarter (23%) of employees reported that they often feel bad about themselves, that they are a failure, or they have let themselves or their family down. A similar amount report feeling down, depressed, and hopeless, and 22% have little interest or take pleasure in anything. When factoring in employees that only occasionally experience these feelings, these numbers all jump to well over 40%.

Over 40% are dealing with exhaustion.

Two in five employees deal with feelings of exhaustion, with 41% report being “burned out,” 45% feel emotionally drained, and 44% feel “used up.” Younger workers and women were significantly more likely to report feelings of exhaustion. For Gen Z workers, 51% feel burned out (compared to just 24% of baby boomers).

More than one in five have trouble concentrating.

Twenty-two percent of employees overall are struggling with staying focused, with 54% of those being women. For Gen Z workers, almost a third (31%) can’t focus well.

Over a third have a lack of energy.

Thirty-five percent of employees are experiencing tiredness or a lack of energy, the majority of which are women (56%). Again, younger generations are affected more. Additionally, less than 40% of workers get enough sleep to feel rested; for those that can’t work remotely, that number drops to 34%.

Only 7% have reached out to a mental health professional.

While 42% reported reaching out to friends and family and 11% to colleagues, a huge number (37%) haven’t done anything to cope with their symptoms.

Over 40% struggle with their work-family balance.

While just over one in five employees feel that COVID-19 has threatened at least some aspects at their job, roughly twice as many employees seem stressed from family responsibilities. About two out of five feel unsatisfied with their work-family balance. Interestingly, those numbers are not different between those who work from home and those who don’t.

The situation is much worse for those living with a member of a vulnerable population.

Those particularly affected are employees living with a member of a “vulnerable population,” defined as a healthcare worker, “essential” worker, elderly adult, or immunocompromised individual. Two-thirds (65%) of this group experience difficulty concentrating; the same amount reports feeling like a failure.

Ways To Support Workers’ Mental Health

While the report showed that most employees believe COVID-19 hasn’t negatively impacted their relationships with coworkers and 63% say their supervisors have adapted well, employers can provide more mental and emotional support to their workforce through strategic wellness benefits.

Many of these employees may be facing mental health problems for the first time in their lives. Clearly communicating what benefits are available and providing content that promotes awareness of mental and emotional health issues can encourage these workers to seek help. Additionally, mental health resources should be easily accessible. Telemedicine options can make it more simpler and more stress-free for employees to get professional help, especially if they are unwilling or unable to see someone in-office during the pandemic.

Resources such as mindfulness and meditation tools, tips for stress relief, and regular encouragement from supervisors are easy-to-implement tools that help employees stay focused and maintain energy levels. Increased paid time off and sick leave can also assist employees in achieving a satisfactory work-family balance—especially for working parents and caretakers juggling schedules made more chaotic due to COVID-19 closures.

Employees also report exercising less frequently than they did before COVID-19 lockdowns, and many are indulging in unhealthy snacks. Programs that facilitate at-home physical activity, such as virtual fitness classes, as well as content with healthy meal planning advice or recipes can be helpful in getting employees’ daily habits back on track. The resulting physical benefits of increased activity levels and a healthy diet directly support energy levels, more restful sleep, and better mental well-being.

Businesses should also remember to keep in mind how much their particular workforce demographic may be impacted, as many of these stats suggest younger workers and women are having a significantly more challenging time. This can be helpful in determining whether or not employee benefits need to be expanded in order to effectively increase happiness and productivity.

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