How to Support Workforce Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Isolation and loneliness. Fear that you or a loved one will be infected with a deadly virus. Anxiety about finances. Stress over child care and school arrangements.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most people in the United States have experienced at least one—if not all—of these emotions. And that is creating or exacerbating mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse for many.

How to Support Workforce Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mental Health for Remote Workers

In their article “Workforce Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic” in the December issue of Benefits Magazine, authors Anthony Schaner and Jean McClurken provide insight into the pandemic’s negative impact on mental health and offer suggestions for how employers can recognize and address the challenges many workers are struggling with. Schaner is the director of account management at Telligen, a population health management company, and McClurken is the behavioral health manager for Telligen’s work with Montana Medicaid.

One of the difficulties employers face is being able to recognize who may be in need of help because workers are not “at work.”

“It can be challenging to observe whether workers are struggling in real time in even the best of circumstances, but it is achievable through creating a culture of connection and personal appreciation,” Schaner and McClurken write. “Specifically, for remote workforces, it can be important to know the workforce, have personal connections and pay attention to subtle changes.”

Strategies for Supporting Employee Mental Health

Celebrate National Employee Benefits Day on April 6, 2021

They offer the following strategies to overcome the additional barriers:

  • Engage people through video chats as often as possible.
  • Increase and prioritize phone contact with intentional scheduled times just to check in.
  • Look for and acknowledge good performance.
  • Ask direct questions about how people are managing stress.

When it comes to addressing mental health in the workforce, Schaner and McClurken suggest the following best practices.

  • Offer workplace wellness programs to identify those at risk to provide support and treatment.
  • Provide free or subsidized lifestyle coaching, including behavioral health services.
  • Offer mental health counseling telehealth services as an employee benefit.
  • Implement and promote an employee assistance program (EAP).
  • Engage in suicide prevention awareness campaigns throughout the year.
  • Maintain a virtual library of specific trainings focused on work-life balance and promoting engagement geared toward work-from-home employees.
  • Promote information about the risks of self-medicating with alcohol or certain antidepressants during high-stress times.
  • Ensure all wellness activities and programming are culturally inclusive and support a diverse workforce equally.

[Free Webcast: Join us for a discussion on Mental Health at Work: Today’s Lessons for Tomorrow’s Workforce | April 6, 2021]

Using a Total Health Approach

“Employers that bring workforce health tools to their employees are well-served by thinking strategically around a total health approach—addressing and integrating employees’ physical and mental health,” Schaner and McClurken conclude.

“By addressing mental health issues in the workforce, employers can not only improve the overall health and well-being of their employees but also reduce health care costs for their business and workforce.”

Learn More

National Employee Benefits Day is focusing on resilience and mental health. Find resources for plan sponsors, and register now to attend a free webcast on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Learn more.


Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Senior Editor, Publications at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

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