Remote Employees Express Increasing Need for Mental Health Support

Upset Remote Employee

Providing emotional support has become a critical issue as HR departments scramble to set up and manage remote workforces.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation more people are reporting mental health challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the most recent KFF Health Tracking poll, 45 percent of Americans said that worry and stress related to the virus has had a negative impact on their mental health, up from 32 percent in early March. Nineteen percent say it has had a “major impact.”

Nearly three-quarters of those polled, 72 percent, said their lives have been disrupted “a lot” or “some” by the virus, a 32-point increase from the study conducted two weeks previously. Most people see no end in sight, with 75 percent believing the worst is yet to come. Just 13 percent think the worst has passed.

Providing emotional support has become a critical #HR issue as nearly half of U.S. workers say #COVID-19 has impacted their mental health. #HRTech Click To Tweet

Mental health professionals aren’t surprised. “Given the circumstances, feeling anxious is part of a normal response to what’s going on,” Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told the Washington Post.

In response, employers are actively seeking ways to help workers cope with the pandemic’s effects. Several vendors report experiencing a noticeable increase in queries over the last two weeks. “Suddenly, conversations that were proceeding at a normal pace are getting significantly accelerated,” one digital recruiting firm told us.

Since mid-March, the meditation app Headspace has seen a 400 percent rise in inquiries from interested businesses, said Business Insider. “We’ve seen companies with whom we’ve been talking for many months have a new sense of urgency around the need to do something,” said Chief Science Officer Megan Jones Bell.

Remote Employees’ Needs and Guidance

People are worried about the pandemic’s economic impact as well as their personal well-being, the KFF survey found. More than half, 52 percent, fear they’ll be laid off, while 45 percent worry they’ll lose income either because their workplace closes or their hours are reduced.

At the same time, 57 percent worry they’ll risk exposure to the virus because they can’t afford to stay home and miss work. That was a concern of 61 percent of hourly workers, and 72 percent of those earning less than $40,000 a year.

Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, observed that social distancing, while vital to slowing the virus’s spread, can be a hindrance to addressing mental health issues. “I think some people can feel quite vulnerable that some of their safety nets or coping methods … may be at risk,” she said.

In many cases, video conferencing is providing the mental health support employees need. A number of health plans—including Aetna, Independence Blue Cross and Anthem Blue Cross—told subscribers they’ll cover telephone or telemedicine platforms.

A variety of organizations offer guidance to employers seeking to offer emotional support to their employees. Among them:

Is the coronavirus impacting your company’s business? Send us an email and let us know.

Sign up for our newsletter here.

Image: iStock