Advice for employers as staff struggle with Covid-19 mental anguish

A survey shows that 76% of participants are concerned about the economy and its ability to bounce back. Other worries concern childcare and schooling, family wellbeing and career opportunities.
A survey shows that 76% of participants are concerned about the economy and its ability to bounce back. Other worries concern childcare and schooling, family wellbeing and career opportunities.
Image: 123RF/fsstock.

The health insurance industry should prepare for an increase in mental health expenses over the next two years, according to new research on mental health in the workplace during the coronavirus pandemic.

The findings, by Afriforte of the faculty of economic and management sciences at the North West University, were presented on Thursday.

They suggested health insurers consider proactively assessing the mental health of members to inform their underwriting risk and disease-management strategies. The findings were based on a sample of 1,656 employees polled between May 15 and June 15.

Cassey Chambers of the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) told TimesLIVE the group had received an alarmingly high number of calls in the past week from people asking for help to deal with their distress.

“We get about 1,200 to 1,300 calls every day. Most of them are single parents who have lost their jobs and are battling to put food on the table. A man who had a job last month called and told us how he is now in a soup queue. We will hear more and more of these stories over time.

“A lot of employees who don’t work from home are experiencing increasing stress.”

Prof Ina Rothmann, extraordinary associate professor at Afriforte speaking about the research, said managers needed to realise that though everyone was experiencing the coronavirus crisis, they were not experiencing it in the same way. This required managers to stay connected with each staff member, striking a balance between empathy and productivity.

“The challenge is that most large organisations may not have a viable way to recognise each employee’s circumstances and may not know what each person is facing unless they create a means for them to do so,” she said.

A person with high concern, low hope, and high levels of pre-traumatic stress disorder or stress-related physical symptoms needs urgent help and mental health evaluation. This would include evaluating behavioural risks at a personal level, such as suicide ideation, substance abuse, and other possible dysfunctional risks, Rothmann said.

“To proactively address the mental health risks of employees around Covid-19, collaboration between health insurers and corporate employer groups might be important. Employers are best positioned to proactively mitigate the mental health impact of the Covid-19 disruption on a large number of citizens,” the research paper said.

It was well known that high stress affected employees at work and contributed to lower productivity, higher risks of mistakes and accidents at work, said Rothmann.

“Employers should ensure that they stay connected with staff by assessing the stress experiences and mental health of their staff objectively [understand where staff are] and facilitate a ‘Covid-19 touch base session’ with teams.

“Although we are all freaked out about the future, we are contributing to make it better by taking action. Listen to and recognise the concerns of colleagues or significant others but also reframe negative thoughts that they might experience to more positive thoughts,” Rothmann added.

From the total sample, 49% of employees indicated high concern while only 2% reported not to be concerned about the future. About 76% of participants said they were concerned about the country’s economy and its ability to bounce back.

The other biggest concerns were childcare and schooling, family health and wellbeing, and future career opportunities. But many still showed signs of hope.

© TimesLIVE


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