Protecting Workforce Mental Health and Productivity during COVID-19

With every day that passes under various shelter-in-place and similar orders, life before COVID-19 seems less and less familiar. Yet prior to the pandemic, businesses were just starting to recognize and deploy an employee benefit demand that went beyond the traditional employer offerings of health insurance, life insurance and 401k contributions—holistic wellness. A decidedly positive, albeit fragile, trend was emerging that prioritized mental health and community building in the workplace. It was not uncommon in small and large companies alike to see direct offerings, stipends or discounts for meditation, therapy, yoga, gym memberships, life coaches, meal plans, etc. More than ever, wellness in the workplace was being recognized as being about more than sick days and family leave—it can be key to remaining competitive in drawing talent and, in turn, enabling sustained growth. As tellingly, health insurance providers were rolling out and investing in preventative health programs—becoming more aware that their own long-term savings were tied to having a healthier pool of participants.

But just as that particular tipping point was being reached, we have a global crisis and the widespread, persistent trauma accompanying it stemming from lost lives, livelihoods, and any sense of routine and safety. “Perceived and real threats to one’s safety from both a health and financial standpoint, isolation, and cultural change on a global scale cause massive disruption to the psyche,” says Maryam Javanbakht, owner of Clearbody Method, which specializes in physical therapy, myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, and lymphatic drainage. “The stress is undeniable.”

Suddenly holistic wellness is less a “perk” and more a necessary response to the workforce’s individual and group trauma.

With that in mind, small and large businesses alike should approach their insurance providers as potential partners in addressing the increased need for robust mental health and wellness services during and after this crisis. The pitch is in sync with the greater preventative health trend—it’s in the best interest of the insurance company to address the issue early on to avoid getting slammed down the road. Businesses that want to be there for their workforce and take steps to safeguard productivity could ask insurance providers to expand or extend programs already in place, possibly allow people to stay on mental health plans even if regular health coverage is not available, or similar creative solutions.

Finally, with increased remote health offerings, a caution to businesses implementing new programs or expanding existing ones—especially in light of the duration and potential permanence of remote working arrangements. Businesses need to be careful in selecting platforms and be aware of cyber issues and privacy—especially when talking about sensitive topics like mental health. Working with an existing insurance provider and legal counsel could help safeguard exposure in this way.


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