15 must-read stories about mental health for HR executives

For World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, a look at how and why smart employers are stepping up to help employees as rates of depression and burnout soar.
By: | October 9, 2020 • 6 min read

Mental health has been at the forefront of the pandemic—and for good reason. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress and burnout have soared in the wake of COVID-19, causing smart employers to take a hard look at their benefits offerings—and workplace culture—in an effort to help employees.

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Mental health issues will “far exceed the duration and impact of COVID itself,” Garen Staglin, chairman of One Mind at Work, said recently during a webinar. “There’s no vaccine for anxiety. There’s no vaccine for depression.” In addition to COVID-19 and its associated effects, a weak job market, racial tensions and the upcoming election are adding to employees’ anxieties. “All of this is impacting our lives,” he said.

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In recognition of World Mental Health Day—which is observed each year on Oct. 10—here’s a look at some of HRE’s recent mental health stories.

Is COVID-19 a turning point for workplace mental health? With the coronavirus pandemic putting the spotlight on a growing number of mental health conditions and how they affect employees, experts say companies need to step up and take a hard look at gaps or flaws in their coverage. But as employers turn to new programs and start to shift their culture as a result of the new environment, will things change permanently? Read more here.

10 strategies to improve mental health: A focus on mental health always makes good business sense. But in the time of coronavirus, the practice is becoming more vital than ever. Employees are experiencing higher rates of mental health issues and struggling with feelings of isolation, loneliness and stress—and many are looking to their employer for help. HR executives and other corporate leaders have been stepping up in response to the current environment. So what are some of the best ways to provide mental health support to employees? Here’s what HR leaders and other industry experts had to say. Read more here.

The employees are not all right: It’s a massive understatement to say our collective mental state isn’t good. I’ve reported countless distressing statistics over the past several weeks: 75% of employees are currently experiencing burnout at work. The risk for depression among U.S. workers has risen a whopping 102% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic—305% for workers aged 20-39. Financial stressors are sky-high, with employees worried about losing their jobs (or their spouses losing their jobs), having less money or seeing their 401(k) balances drop. And seven months into the pandemic, things aren’t getting any easier. Read more here.

Why employers should act now on mental health: Workers’ risks of developing depression, anxiety and other mental issues have declined since last month, according to Total Brain’s latest Mental Health Index. But those risks still are significantly higher than they were at the start of COVID-19, proving the pandemic is causing serious—and chronic—mental health issues. Read more here.

Ellyn Shook is HRE’s 2020 HR Executive of the Year. (Photo by Dorothy Shi Studio)

This compassionate leader is HRE’s HR Executive of the Year: In a crisis that’s testing organizations—as well as CEOs and HR leaders—priorities are plenty: the safety and health of workers; driving employee engagement; the ever-changing technology required for the country’s largest-ever, and unplanned, experiment in remote work. But perhaps most important, the pandemic has reiterated the importance of mental wellness, of work/life balance, of self-care. It’s a lesson that drives Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer of professional services giant Accenture—not only for herself but for all of Accenture’s 513,000 employees. Read more here.

Media giant launches mental health day as company holiday: Thomson Reuters is instituting a mental health day as an annual company holiday, the media firm said. All associates who are eligible for company holidays were given a mental health day off on Oct. 9. The day will become a permanent company holiday, extending beyond 2020 and taking place on or around World Mental Health Day—which is Oct. 10—each year, the firm’s CEO Steve Hasker wrote in an email to Thomson Reuters employees that was shared with HRE. Read more here.

Workers fear getting fired for discussing COVID-19 stress: Not only are workers reporting significantly worse mental health due to the pandemic, but a growing number of employees are also worried they will be fired if they mention their growing stress. The startling information comes from Paychex, which finds that 30% of employee respondents feared that discussing their mental health could lead to being fired or furloughed and that 29% thought discussing their issues could cost them a promotion. Read more here.

Workers aren’t getting screened for depression—and it’s costing employers: Although depression risk is soaring for employees, the vast majority aren’t getting the screening and care they need—and it’s costing employers big time. New research from the Integrated Benefits Institute finds that proper screening for depression, as well as some cancers and chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity, is lagging among employees. Not only is that dangerous, but lack of preventive care also is driving up healthcare and productivity costs for employers. Read more here.

Burnout rates are soaring—and employees say HR isn’t helping: The vast majority of workers say they’re experiencing burnout at work, in large part due to the pandemic—and they also say they aren’t getting the help they need from their HR departments. A staggering 75% of employees say they’ve faced burnout at work, with 40% saying they’ve experienced burnout during the pandemic specifically, according to a July survey of more than 1,500 respondents from FlexJobs, fielded in partnership with Mental Health America. Adding to workers’ stress is the feeling that their employer, and HR department in particular, is not helping with their concerns. Read more here.

Employees are refusing to take time off. What’s the worry? More than one in 10 employees (13%) say they won’t take time off work until the pandemic is over, presenting a significant challenge for employers as they witness soaring rates of employee burnout and depression. The new data from software firm Zapier finds that hesitation to take time off may be fueled by a few concerns. Read more here.

3 ways to support the mental health of employees of color: It’s no surprise that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, HR leaders are paying more attention than ever to the subject of mental health. And, with the nationwide protests over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, there’s a growing recognition of how race and systemic racism can impact the overall mental health of people of color and, in turn, HR programs and policies. Read more here.

Depression risk is soaring for workers; How can HR help? The risk for depression among U.S. workers has risen a whopping 102% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic—and 305% for workers aged 20-39, according to new research. Those findings from Total Brain’s July Mental Health Index—which compared pre-COVID data in February—echo scores of recent research indicating the pandemic is having a dramatic impact on mental health, including recent CDC data revealing one in four young adults say they have considered suicide in the past month because of the coronavirus. Read more here.

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Could AI improve mental health? Employees are overwhelmingly experiencing the most stressful year of their lives. Rates of depression, anxiety, burnout and stress are soaring as the pandemic and its associated uncertainties are wreaking havoc on employees’ work and personal lives. But can technology help improve workers’ mental health? New research indicates it may, pointing to big potential for employers as they look for ways to help. Read more here.

Remote work, mental health: COVID lessons from employers: Months into the pandemic, workplace leaders are not only focusing on the now—they’re looking ahead to the future and rethinking policies that have the potential to change the workplace forever. Read more here.

How COVID-19 taught HR ‘a valuable lesson’ on mental health: Before coronavirus entered the picture, companies were just starting to see the importance of employees’ emotional wellbeing and providing them with resources. But now—as many more employees struggle with a slew of problems and look for mental health support from their employers—it’s become an area that cannot be ignored. Read more here.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.