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Employers Make Mental Health Resources a Priority in Fight to Retain Employees During Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches past the two-year mark, employers are increasingly offering mental health resources for their workforce to counter employee burnout that is fueling “The Great Resignation.”

“Between the pandemic and increased workload, burnout has been a major factor driving a mass exodus … with less people in the office, more of the workload is placed on those remaining, prompting them to seek less stressful jobs,” wrote Andy Castillo in American City & County. “More than half of those surveyed reported they’re considering leaving voluntarily, either to change jobs, retire or depart the workforce entirely.

Almost 50 Million U.S. Workers Voluntarily Quit Last Year

A record number of American workers quit, in what some call “The Great Resignation”, their jobs last year with some 47.4 million U.S. workers choosing to leave voluntarily.

“The churn in the American job market is without precedent,” reported CNN Business. “Despite a historic number of job openings, many of the workers who quit never looked for a new gig. Millions of people have left the labor force altogether – to take care of family, retire early, live on savings, or otherwise reassess their lives in Covid.”

The Cost of Burnout on Employee (and Business) Health

Burnout and mental health pressures not only are contributing to this resignation wave, but businesses must address these crucial issues with their remaining workforce.

“Experts note that burnout is also linked to plummeting productivity, poor retention and other factors that can impact a company’s bottom line,” reported ABC News.

The consequence of burnout on employees was already considered deadly prior to the pandemic with the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labor Organization saying that working long hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 percent increase since 2000.

The pandemic has certainly exacerbated this issue.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,“ said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers, and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”

Defining Employee Burnout

Employee burnout, according to the WHO, is defined by three characteristics:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

The WHO says that employee burnout is “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

“Employee burnout is pervasive, pernicious and costly to human life, [businesses] bottom lines, and society – particularly during a crisis like the one caused by the COVID-19 pandemic but also during a broader set of pan-global crises yet to come,” wrote the authors of “How to Prevent and Combat Employee Burnout and Create Healthier Workplaces During Crises and Beyond”.

Mental Health Resources as a Retention Strategy

Employee burnout and mental health issues have been especially acute in fields such as healthcare and education settings, but the challenges are being felt across all public and private sectors.

A survey by the RAND Corp. found that about one in four teachers are experiencing depression and that secondary principals were feeling increased stress and pressure to support their staff.

“School staff are experiencing high levels of job-related stress prompting districts to examine ways to do more to support the mental health and well-being of employees to prevent losing them,” wrote Tracy Morris and Janelle Guillory for the Texas Association of School Boards.

The approach of some school district towards their employee’s mental well-being is something can be mirrored in any industry:

  • Make sure employees are aware of available resources and find different avenues to give employees the opportunity to take advantage of the mental health resources
  • Create support groups, including peer-support programs, as well as provide coping tips and tools for employees.
  • Communicate with employees before they feel the urge to leave. Conduct “Stay Interviews” to understand how employees perceive their jobs and what areas need to be improved.

“Mental health benefits and programs, as well as benefits that take direct aim at common pain points that affect employee’s mental health – like caregiving support, financial wellness programs and more – can be beneficial, experts say,” says Human Resource Executive magazine.

To stave off employee burnout and retain workforce, HR leaders, according to the magazine, suggest:

  • Encourage workers to utilize vacation days and PTO
  • Do not overload employees with online meetings
  • Listen: survey employees to gauge what they are feeling
  • Examine the benefits and resources you are offering your staff

What the People Want: Benefits that Can Counter Burnout

Employers have many options when it comes to employee benefits, so it is important for them to know which options are truly worth offering.

A Visier survey, according to Forbes, found that almost three-quarter of employees (70 percent) would leave their current job for a different opportunity that offered “comprehensive resources, benefits, support or policies intended to reduce burnout.”

Which benefits do employees value the most? The Visier survey found that to combat burnout, these benefits were ranked highest:

  • Flexible work hours for all employees (39 percent)
  • Mental health resources/support (31 percent)
  • Paid sick days (25 percent)
  • Wellness program (24 percent)
  • 4-day work week (24 percent)
  • Gym/fitness membership or discount (22 percent)
  • Work from home options (21 percent)
  • Employee care and appreciation gifts/programs (21 percent)
  • Unlimited paid time off policy (20 percent)
  • Flexible work hours for parents/guardians (20 percent)

“As we move into 2022, employers struggling with recruitment and retention will look to make their well-being programs a differentiator to attract and engage top talent,” Regina Ihrke told the Society for Human Resource Management.