Two years from the start of the pandemic Luke Smith examines the consequences of Covid and its impact on mental health and productivity
Nearly two years after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, mental health continues to be a global struggle. The new normal – no matter how much we’ve eased into it – is filled with high levels of stress, insecurity, and anxiety. From health fears to economic concerns, the effects of the pandemic are standing strong.
So how has this prolonged public health crisis affected employee mental health, especially as workers are expected to remain productive and positive, and what actions should business leaders take action to alleviate long-term mental health effects?
Heightened anxiety affects focus
The declaration of a pandemic naturally created a spike in public concern, with many adults in the US growing uneasy about the potential repercussions of COVID-19. But while our society soon adapted to the news, worries about health and economic issues never truly went away. Much of today’s new normal is filled with lingering anxieties about Covid-related issues, which persist even for people who are no longer heavily concerned with the virus itself.
Misinformation is a big factor in the continued anxieties surrounding the pandemic. For instance, despite the proven safety of FDA-approved vaccines, many people are prone to anxieties about the risks of vaccines, which often seem more prominent than the risks of the virus due to frightening or misleading news stories. As employees gauge the risk of returning to the office without vaccination or worry about company vaccine mandates, they may grow increasingly stressed about work.
Handling the prolonged crisis with grace requires business leaders to individualise their responses for different employees
Anxiety commonly leads to a lack of concentration. If left to fester, widespread anxiety within your workplace can easily lead to poor focus and low efficiency. Employers can support their employees and prevent long-term distractibility by acting as a source of truth during the pandemic. Frequent media exposure is known to cause distress, so rather than putting the full responsibility of research on your employees, provide easy access to accurate and helpful resources about the pandemic.
Loneliness expected to persist
Loneliness is one of the top contributors to the mental health crisis that came with the pandemic. In addition to being isolated from friends and family members, workers all around the world became isolated from their colleagues. Periods of time with the highest rates of mental distress – including depression and anxiety – coincided with the strictest confinement measures.
While many countries are through the toughest days of the pandemic, social isolation at work – where most adults spend 40 hours per week – is expected to continue. Remote work is expected to remain part of our new normal, with 45% of employees working from home at least part-time. Both due to continued health concerns and due to a shift in workplace culture, people are no longer interacting with their teammates as much as they once did, which can result in continued mental health struggles that affect their quality of work.
Helping employees through the prolonged public health crisis is all about creating a comprehensive mental health strategy that makes it easier for team members to ask for help. Additionally, stay in touch with your employees and offer emotional support when needed.
Physical infections can reduce productivity
While mental health issues are rarely associated with the virus itself, physical infections can be a root cause for mental disorders. The infectious nature of the virus already makes it difficult (if not impossible) for people to contribute to their workplace when they have Covid. But as employees continue working in a prolonged crisis, it’s important to recognise that post-viral syndrome can become chronic fatigue syndrome and contribute to anxiety, depression, and employee productivity declines.
Early intervention is key to alleviating the physical and mental illness that comes with Covid, along with its healing process. To adapt to the enhanced need for mental health support, workplace leaders can consider offering more comprehensive health benefits and access to on-site support. Rather than simply offering sick days, you can also offer employees mental health days and a longer-term recovery schedule for employees who need help to bounce back from their illness.
Heightened health disparities mean imbalanced effects
The long-term impact of the pandemic isn’t felt equally across the countries. Inequities are becoming increasingly prominent due to Covid. For instance, Black and Hispanic Americans have faced greater stressors, both economically and health-wise, throughout the pandemic. Native Americans already had more risk factors for mental health issues like depression, suicide, PTSD, and substance abuse well before the pandemic took shape.
Handling the prolonged crisis with grace requires business leaders to individualise their responses for different employees. Offer enhanced care and emotional support for those who need it, understanding that not everyone has the same experiences or resources.
Build a culture that supports your workers
Working in a prolonged crisis has taken a toll on many people’s mental health,, and as a result, has led to significant productivity struggles at work. Acting as a source of truth and support for your employees whenever they
Luke Smith is a freelance writer