Employers move beyond empty words to helping workforces deal with mental stress

Mass mails to employees on how difficult the situation is and that ‘we are all in it together’ will only help to a point. Image Credit: Shutterstock

‘We are all in this together…’

‘These are unsettling times, but we need to find the positive factors and try to move ahead…’’

These messages or variations were what employees the world over received when the COVID-19 breakout happened and businesses took pre-emptive measures to ensure their continuity.

In many cases, these messages were followed by a termination notice because despite being in it together, companies had to keep their own interests in mind. This wave of worry and uncertainty produced by the pandemic disrupted people’s sense of physical and mental security.

In a survey conducted by Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, 86 per cent of respondents in a survey of over 5,500 people said that their financial situation had made their mental health problems worse.

A change in relationship with money

The messages from employers promoted an unhealthy working environment among those who were still employed, forcing them to overwork to hold on to their jobs. Or brought on by their guilt over remaining in their jobs while others were losing.

“Over time, the anxiety over finances made people careful about their money, changed their spending habits and their relationship with money,” said Himani Kulkarni, founder of mental health initiative Chaubara.

A financial wellness survey conducted by PwC showed 65 per cent of employees changing their spending habits, with about 43 per cent of them postponing major purchases to save.

“If you have a mental health problem, you’re more likely to be in debt,” said Phil Bridges, founder of UK-based mental health training and counselling outfit, The Mind Map. “And yet, if you’re in debt, you’re also more likely to develop a mental health problem.

“Shelter, clothing and food are key aspects in Maslov’s hierarchy of needs and, of course, have a financial value. When we can’t address our basic wants and needs – whether paying our mortgage or electricity bill – everything else, the stuff that contributes to an enjoyable life, take second place.”

Fear over finances

A study by the Australian National University showed that financial stress during the lockdown played a bigger role on mental health than fear of actually contracting the disease. An individual’s financial stability and ability to cope with a difficult situation was put to an ultimate test the past 12 months.

“Questions about financial security, ability to access adequate healthcare, and the extent to which a person’s finances can help them survive can also be attributed as a component that adds to the fear around the disease,” said Kulkarni.

The constraints the pandemic placed on lives revealed pitfalls in that went by unnoticed in the past. The lack of importance on mental health stuck out like a sore thumb as people struggled to move forward with day-to-day activities.

Companies have taken steps towards ensuring holistic wellbeing and recruited – or outsourced – professionals to improve mental health instead of offering typical healthcare plans. Businesses provided flexible working hours and arranged coaches and nutritionists to work with employees along with mental health professionals.

The pandemic may have come as an unwelcome surprise, but the process of coping has taught both employers and employees some serious lessons. It should not end with that.