Employers Take Note: COVID-19 Is Hurting Your Employees’ Mental Health

There’s no doubt that businesses across the U.S. are being impacted by COVID-19. Obviously, there are financial implications — many companies are facing financial hardship due to the pandemic. But a less obvious effect of COVID-19 that touches every business — even those that are thriving financially — is the dramatic increase in stress, anxiety, and depressive mood among U.S. workers. Total Brain analyzed mental health data from a representative sample of Americans and found COVID-19 is taking a toll on employees’ mental well-being. Ultimately, this can lead to both short-term and long-term consequences for your company.

Total Brain looked at assessments from across its database of more than 800,000 users and found that in the U.S., we are facing serious challenges related to stress, anxiety, resilience, and our ability to focus.

According to weekly assessments taken by a statistically relevant random sample of 500 voluntary Total Brain app users between Feb. 3 and April 19, 2020, there has been a sharp rise in stress (38%), anxiety (54%), and depressive mood (61%). The surge in these feelings corresponds heavily with the rise in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and the implementation of stay-at-home recommendations and restrictions. Total Brain’s data also shows that the number of participants flagging positive for general anxiety disorder or depressive disorder doubled in that timeframe. Our full Insights & Impact Report with additional findings is available here.

If you consider how our brains work it makes sense that the mental health of our society is suffering during this pandemic. When the brain detects a threat, it triggers a response to keep us safe. Until the threat is resolved, we experience a heightened sense of fear and alarm. 

COVID-19 is an ongoing threat that we can’t fully escape at this point. The news, a trip to the grocery store, a new work-from-home routine, social distancing orders, canceled plans, and so many other aspects of daily life right now are reminders of COVID-19. Ultimately, we are stuck in a state of sustained threat response — putting our brains in overdrive. Our brains can’t resolve the COVID-19 threat, so they continuously fire threat response impulses that keep us feeling chronically alert and on edge. As a result, we experience ongoing negative thoughts and feelings.

Employers — Take Note

With so many other competing priorities, is it really necessary and worthwhile for your company to take actions to support employees’ mental well-being

The bottom line: the stress, anxiety, depressive mood, and other negative outcomes your employees are experiencing as a result of the prolonged global health crisis directly impact their performance. Here are six areas where you are likely to notice the effects:  

  1. Employees are less focused – Employees who are struggling with feelings of fear, anxiety, and depressive mood tend to have a harder time completing tasks. They may have problems concentrating, have difficulty thinking and reasoning, put off challenging tasks, and struggle to juggle responsibilities.
  2. Productivity is decreasing – Employees may be taking longer to complete tasks. Participants who completed Total Brain assessments took longer to complete a complex maze assessment task in April than they did at the beginning of February. Response times fell by 15 percent.
  3. Memory is affected – Stress has been proven to impact memory. Findings from Total Brain’s assessments show that people under stress perform worse on memory tasks.
  4. Workplace errors are increasing – As stress rises, employees are more likely to make mistakes. Total Brain assessment data revealed that participants ages 40-59 made seven percent more errors than average on assessment tasks.
  5. Employees are more negative or irritable – Employees’ negativity bias — or tendency to see the “glass half empty” rather than “half full” — typically rises in times of uncertainty. In this case, assessment data revealed a 23 percent increase in employee negativity. Also, stress is tied to irritability — meaning employees may be less patient and cooperative, and workplace conflict may increase.  
  6. Employees are less resilient – Adapting to change and being able to bounce back is important because of all the changes and uncertainty businesses are experiencing. Unfortunately, employees who are struggling with stress, anxiety, and depressed mood are not particularly resilient. Total Brain’s assessments indicate that resilience has already decreased by five percent, and a further decline is expected as the pandemic continues to take its toll.

These trends can have a significant impact on businesses. Consider what a 15 percent loss in productivity across your entire workforce means for your company. And, imagine how your company would be impacted if key employees are making more errors – errors on critical work projects.  Think about what more conflict and less cooperation looks like. These are the challenges that arise when employees’ mental well-being suffers.

Helping Employees Manage Stress and Anxiety

Right now, it is important to realize that COVID-19 is impacting your employees. And when employees are struggling, it affects your business. Managing mental health is important not only during this time of intensified fear and uncertainty, but always. Employers can support employees and encourage them to adopt practices — like following the guided slow, deep breathing exercises or one of the brain training journeys on the Total Brain platform — that they can use now during this hyper-stressful time, and also in the future.

If you want to empower employees to deal with new anxieties and adjustments associated with COVID-19, we recommend introducing them to Total Brain’s new Anxiety Journey. Like the existing journeys on the Total Brain platform that are designed to help users reduce stress, sharpen focus, improve memory, increase positivity, and become more resilient, our new Anxiety Journey provides concrete tools and brain training exercises created to keep users mentally healthy. Here’s a short video that explains the Anxiety Journey: Anxiety Overview with Dr. Evian Gordon.

Total Brain is currently offering a free three-month corporate subscription to help companies offer mental health and self-care support and tools to employees quickly. If you are interested in learning more about Total Brain’s platform and brain training exercises that help minimize stress and anxiety while increasing focus and resilience, contact us. In the meantime, take a closer look at the data in our Insights and Impact report: Mental Health Update: Fear and Uncertainty in the Age of COVID-19. 

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