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3 ways for companies to stop victim-blaming employees

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on June 11, 2020

COVID-19 is taking a massive toll on workers’ mental health, with 86% of Americans worried about Coronavirus. We think employers have a responsibility to help workers get through this.

Writers are pumping out articles about how to stay happy and sane during WFH. Workers are busier than ever, especially working mothers. In an April study, 67% of workers reported higher stress, 57% greater anxiety, and 53% more emotional exhaustion. Other studies show higher rates of depression, PTSD, domestic violence, and substance abuse. For 69% of employees in one survey this is the most stressful time of their career while 88% experienced moderate to extreme stress over the past four to six weeks.

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But most of these articles focus on what employees should be doing to protect their mental health. So here are three ways companies can stop victim-blaming employees and help their workers instead.

1. Offer more mental health resources

It’s heartening to see that over the past two months many companies have deepened and broadened their mental health and well-being benefits. In fact, just over half of employers in one survey said they’d recently introduced new or improved existing emotional and mental health programs.

Here’s a partial list of benefits you could offer or expand for free or at a large discount:

  • Online counseling sessions
  • Online meditation classes
  • Meditation apps
  • Mental health apps
  • Remote fitness/yoga classes
  • Coping and stress management virtual classes
  • Well-being coaching sessions
  • Monthly stipend for mental or physical health

Providers include Sleepio, Wellbeats, Modern Health, Thriving Mind, Plum Village's Zen Meditation app, and Daylight.

But remember that just making resources available isn’t enough. According to one study, nearly half of workers haven’t heard from their companies about what’s on offer. Workers whose companies have told them are 60% more likely to agree with the statement that their company cares about their wellbeing.

Communicate clearly and proactively about your mental health and well-being benefits. Be specific and explicit about what’s offered and through which providers. Don’t wait for employees to ask questions like whether they’re going to be reimbursed or if it’s free up front. Other questions to proactively address include:

  • How do you find a provider?
  • Who’s eligible?
  • How do you take advantage?

2. Set up mental health events and check-ins

In the April study referenced above, 75% of workers reported more social isolation since the pandemic started. That’s likely tied to the fact that nearly a third of employees said they haven’t had any informal contact with their team while working remotely. And socially isolated workers are 19% more likely to say their mental health has declined recently.

Companies have an opportunity to create spaces to bring employees together for socialization.

At Clockwise we do Trivia every Tuesday to connect over something that isn’t work. We’ve also experimented with Drawful and other online games. Some companies are holding online events for employees’ kids as well. Whether it’s virtual happy hours or games, it’s important to get employees talking to each other and having fun regularly to boost morale and mental health.

Regular check-ins are also essential. Nearly 40% of workers say that no one at their company has asked them how they’re doing since the pandemic began. Not shockingly, these workers are 38% more likely to agree that their mental health has declined since they went remote.

And they shouldn’t just be about status updates and projects. They should also be about the worker and how they’re doing. And the person to reach out should be the manager, not HR.

In a Qualtrics survey, people listed HR last among those they’re willing to talk to about mental health concerns, after manager, peers, subordinates, and company executives. Employees with a manager who they say is bad at communicating are nearly a quarter more likely to see their mental health decline.

To reduce the hit to productivity daily check-ins can create, put these meetings on Autopilot.

3. Technology

Another thing Clockwise is doing, along with other companies, is implementing mandatory PTO. Most workers are working more hours than ever, and with nowhere to go, they’re less likely than ever to want to take time off. But overwork leads to burnout and depression, two things that already loom large. Making the time off mandatory and companywide removes any pressure or incentive to work anyway and gives people some much needed rest while also sending a signal that long-term employee well-being is more important than short-term objectives.

We’re also making taking time off easier through Clockwise for Teams. Tell us who’s on your team, and we automatically create a shared calendar that auto-populates with each team member’s out-of-office, WFH, and more.

We also use Clockwise Slack sync, which adds a symbol next to your teammates’ names in Slack to indicate whether they’re available, in Focus Time, or in a meeting. It’s great for OOO and after hours, especially if teammates are in different timezones.

Slack calendar status sync

If you’re out-of-office or otherwise unavailable, it will also automatically turn on Do Not Disturb. Clockwise for Slack will send you a daily forecast of your meetings to help you prepare for your day. And Clockwise will notify you via Slack when your meetings change.

We also send regular employee pulse surveys to better understand how each team, department, and the company as a whole are doing.

Going forward

Rather than leave it up to employees to care for their mental health alone, we encourage employers to help workers stay happy and sane during WFH. Between offering more mental health resources, setting up mental health events and opportunities to connect, and trying Clockwise for Teams, companies can stop victim-blaming employees and start contributing to more mental wellness at work.

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is Head of Content at Clockwise where she oversees the Clockwise Blog and The Minutes Newsletter. She has covered business software for six years and has been published in Newsweek, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

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