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Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has left many of us all feeling a lot more stressed than usual. Given that before the pandemic some 40 million U.S. adults were affected by anxiety – were makes the potential impact of the current upward trend disturbing.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”
Per a recent poll conducted by CBDistillery on Americans and their overall mental health in 2020: Respondents claimed they lost approximately 5 hours of sleep a week and gained, on average,13 pounds—all due to stress. When anxious feelings becomes more severe and physical symptoms like increased heart disease, vision problems or asthma occur—then these responses can be classified as an anxiety disorder.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association (ADAA) some 72 percent of America’s employees experience daily stress, 56 percent confess it affected workplace performance and more than half say it affects their relationships with coworkers.
This can have serious consequences for the companies they work for. A World Health Organization study found that anxiety disorders cost the global economy about $1 trillion in lost productivity every year, and that was before the pandemic.
The main reasons cited were absenteeism along with the less visible, and often more concerning, “presenteeism” (i.e., working longer hours with less impact).
Pre-COVID data from the OECD shows this inverse relationship between hours worked and lost productivity. While the U.S. was in the top 10 of most productive countries, it took far more time to achieve similar outputs as most other countries on the list. In contrast, Luxembourg produced almost twice as much as America, while working far less hours.
COVID-19 pandemic has only served to increase these existing challenges. Working from home, while “ideal” for many in the past, now comes with new stressors.
Three ways companies can help
1. Start the conversation: Leadership has an essential role to play in increasing awareness about the anxiety staff members are feeling. The more openly it is discussed, the more comfortable employees will be in addressing it.
Discreet check-ins provide good opportunities to find out how people are doing. Managers can further support greater wellbeing through the introduction of scientifically proven tools, like a gratitude practice. This can easily be done at the end of each meeting by asking team members what they are grateful to help increase overall positivity, reducing anxiety in the team.
2. Free up employees to be flexible: Being malleable about work hours and building buffers into deadlines are just a couple of things that can be implemented to alleviate the buildup of anxiety. However, this flexibility can also lead to additional anxiety if done in isolation. As the nature of work and employee roles have changed, so have measures for expectations. It’s essential that managers are clear about what they want, so as to prevent additional stress from creeping in.
3. Supercharge your support system: There is clearly a greater need for peer networks, support groups, external coaches and mentors. Establishing and encouraging these internal and external services has proven incredibly helpful to employees in managing their overall wellbeing.
As the pandemic continues, flexible benefit plans are key pillars of support in helping employees manage anxiety. For some companies, this has come in the form of allowances to set up their work from home environments, specific allowances for massages, health foods, meditation programs and acupuncture.
Concerningly, a new poll on the telehealth industry conducted by Kaiser Permanente found that 3 out of 4 respondents have delayed annual physicals and urgent care for illness or injury.
Good benefits are essential and a one-size-fits-all approach won’t fly. Generally speaking, a mix of standard work from home benefits and flexible systems to support lifestyle and/or personal choices provide a good balance.
The future of workplace stress
The individual pain your employees are feeling is now a communal pain that will impact their work and the work of others. Some will need more help than others and all will be looking to management for support. And, if they don’t receive it, many may leave.
As the next decade’s economy evolves companies will need to do more to help their workers actively manage their careers and pivot to new ways of hitting deadlines. The human-centric strategies mentioned above will go a long way to keeping employees engaged and creating better customer experiences.
Related: How You Can Protect Your Mental Health During the Pandemic