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COVID-19 - The Impact on Mental Health

We have all been impacted by COVID-19. Each of us has been affected in a different way and on a different level, but we have all been affected in one way or another. It is important to ensure that we are in tune with our workforce, understand how they're feeling, that available resources are communicated to them and that your team has a psychologically-safe workplace to return to... when the time comes.

Building a culturally safe workplace for employees who struggle with their mental health, one where they are able to thrive and grow takes leadership and executive buy-in, workforce training, and a focus on ethical behavior.

There are some specific ways listed in this article of how COVID-19 is impacting employees that we feel all employers should be aware of.

Survivor's Syndrome

This could be the most prominent issue in the workplace today and may easily go undetected before greater consequences from it are recognized. Survivor syndrome or "survivor's guilt" describes a condition affecting employees who were retained in their roles after their team members have been laid off or terminated without cause. These team members believe that they should feel guilty for avoiding the recent downsizing of their organization. They feel guilty that their peers were chosen and they weren't. It can affect employees from an emotional, psychological and even physical perspective.

There is stress and anxiety as well tied to picking up their peers workload that have recently been laid off, sometimes they will let their productivity go.. but most importantly without proper communication and transparency from the leadership team, they will assume that there will be more cuts down the line and that they "might be next". Their loyalty and commitment to the organization is impacted, but most importantly morale and motivation overall decreases.

Alcohol & Substance Abuse

COVID-19 has increased alcohol and drug dependency for many. This is going to be incredibly difficult to mitigate with employees working from home and especially where they are not in safety sensitive roles. The best way to approach this growing problem is to provide information to employees that promotes awareness and encourages them to use the resources available to them through their employer.

We aren't sure what this is going to look like once everyone is brought back into the office, but there will most likely be a ripple effect of employees visibly struggling with alcohol and drug dependency upon return to work. One key thing for employers to be aware of, alcohol and drug dependency does fall within the DSM-5 and are considered to be health conditions protected under Human Rights legislation. If your employee is suffering from a substance abuse disorder, it must be approached with absolute discretion and with compassion.

"Cabin Fever"

'Cabin Fever' is not a medical diagnosis, but it is a very real issue for many in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a result in today's world of being isolated in your home for an extended period of time. It has had an even greater negative impact on those that live alone.

Cabin Fever can lead to more serious health conditions such as restlessness, withdrawal, increased anxiety, depression, feelings of hopelessness and claustrophobic irritability. There will be ripple effects from this as well once employees are brought back into the office. This will become an even greater concern should the second wave of shutdowns occur.

Achieving Positive Outcomes

It will take time for employees to recover from all of this even after a vaccine and treatment has been tested and made available to the public. It will be important that employers are prepared for this, that their HR departments are equipped to support employees upon their return with the proper resources, information and using a consistent approach. If your benefits plan is up for renewal in the near future, it would be of benefit to focus on mental health resources and outcomes over the next at least two years.

There are many workplace mental health resources available to Canadian Employers. To name a few that may provide value:

- The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction has published resources specifically related to the impacts of COVID-19 on Substance Use -

- The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety has published fact sheets, courses/e-learnings, posters, podcasts and webinars available to employers -

- The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has available to employers a Workplace Mental Health Resources Centre providing information and tools to organizations -

Contact us today if you would like help reviewing your Mental Health strategy in the workplace (403) 510-2532 or (250) 800-5656. We are here to help!

Article Written by Alicia Bolton, CEO & President @ OutsourceHR


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