Supporting Employees’ Mental Health in Today’s World
DuPage County business leaders gathered on Wednesday, February 24 at a virtual breakfast to have a meaningful conversation about supporting employees’ mental health. The event was moderated by Lisa Paolantonio LCPC, a senior counselor at Metropolitan Family Services.
Chairman Cronin opened the discussion with welcoming remarks. “Today’s topic impacts all of us. Mental health has always been a sensitive subject, especially in the workplace. Simply put, people experiencing stress, anxiety and other symptoms are less productive and less engaged. We can no longer ignore the negative effects of the health crisis on our businesses. According to the CDC, of the nearly 410,000 adults aged 19-64 in DuPage County, approximately 75,000 are experiencing mental health issues. Of that group, nearly 18,000 will not receive treatment. This is why we are here today— this is our workforce.”
Following Chairman Cronin, Lisa gave a presentation on supporting employees’ mental health in today’s world. Her presentation focused on how the pandemic has affected the workforce and what employers can do to support them.
Lisa began by stressing the importance of acknowledging what we’ve been through and validating those experiences. “When we name those experiences, it’s much easier to manage them,” she said.
In terms of how the pandemic has impacted employees’ mental health, Lisa said “I like to think of this as the pandemic onion, because there are so many layers to it.”
The Pandemic Onion:
- Blurred Boundaries – are we working from home or living at work? We’re working longer when we work at home and sharing office space with our living space. This leaves less time for self-care and quality time with family and children.
- Zoom Fatigue – this is the tiredness or burnout from overuse of screen time. According to Lisa, new data suggests that people feel that they need to make more emotional effort to appear interested while video conferencing, because we are missing out on those non-verbal cues that can be picked up while meeting in-person. This takes a lot more of our emotional energy.
- Constant Risk Assessment – “This is taking up so much mental energy. It’s the questions we are constantly asking ourselves about our situation,” says Lisa. “The new and shifting information we are constantly getting is making it difficult to process it all. This is creating higher rates of anxiety and stress.”
- Vaccine ‘Hunger Games’ – “While the vaccine is giving us hope, the roll out has been Hunger Games-style…. it’s confusing and frustrating,” says Lisa.
- Toxic Positivity – This is the over-generalization of a happy state that results in the invalidation and minimization of the authentic human experience. “We don’t want people’s positivity to result in the invalidation of their own emotions,” says Lisa. “If there is a time you are venting to a colleague about how you are stressed and they respond by telling you to cheer up and not be negative, those are not responses that make people feel heard or validated. It’s possible for us to hold multiple emotions at once. You can be thankful you have a job and also feel overwhelmed by your workload.”
- Myriad Types of Grief – “Collectively, we are experiencing grief…. And it’s difficult to move through that grief due to the trauma we are experiencing,” says Lisa.
Supporting employees’ mental health is a multi-prong approach. To offer support in a successful and sustainable way, Lisa suggests:
- Use your resources – lean on your Employee Assistance Program
- Model healthy behaviors
- Set the tone and destigmatize mental health
- Be as flexible and generous as is realistic
- Communicate more than you think you should
- Create an employee resource group
At the conclusion of the presentation, Lisa and other attendees shared resources available for businesses to support their employees’ mental health.