American workers are worried. Why that’s a problem for HR

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the nation’s health and economy, American employees remain concerned—for the third straight month—about the toll the virus is taking on their lives, new numbers show.

Fresh research from Morneau Shepell, a Chicago-based provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, reveals a negative mental health score for employees surveyed for the June Mental Health Index report. For that research, the company surveyed 5,000 U.S. respondents who were employed within the last six months.

According to Stephen Liptrap, the firm’s president and chief executive officer, financial risk and feelings of isolation remain the top threats to American employees’ mental health.

The June Mental Health Index score is -6, identical to May’s score. The score measures the improvement or decline in mental health from a pre-2020 benchmark of 75.  It also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark, measuring optimism (-7.9), anxiety (-7.7), work productivity (-6.9), depression (-6.8) and isolation (-5.9).

While the sub-scores remain low, there has been a modest improvement across most of these areas—except isolation, which declined slightly—when compared to the prior month, Liptrap said.

See also: COVID-19 strategy 101—how to improve mental health

“As the United States continues to experience the impact of COVID-19, the Mental Health Index shows the ongoing negative effect the pandemic is having on American employees’ quality of life and mental health,” Liptrap said in a company release. “Although some people have returned to work and certain industries are experiencing upticks in operations, employers and employees alike remain uncertain and wary about future waves of closures that could hinder the economic recovery.”

As the nation cautiously moves into the pandemic’s next phase, only 47% of employees surveyed feel that they have what they need. What’s missing? Most commonly reported were clear guidance on how to prevent spreading/getting the virus (26%), followed by support to handle anxiety (19%).

With a mix of social distancing, self-isolation and the closure of some businesses, the Index data indicate a likely change in spending habits post-pandemic, as only 25% of those surveyed say they will return to prior spending habits quickly after the pandemic. Other findings include:

  • 34% are concerned about the risk of infection from being in stores and service areas;
  • 24% say they will be concerned about job security “for a while”; and
  • 20% indicate that their income has changed.

Paula Allen, Morneau Shepell’s senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation, says that, while employers need to keep employee physical health and safety top-of-mind during this time, mental health plays an equally prominent role in employee performance, which ultimately impacts the overall health and productivity of the organization.

Related: 10 strategies to improve employee mental health

“During uncertain times, employers and managers need to frequently communicate with their employees and provide the necessary tools to alleviate stress as much as possible to create a healthier work environment,” she says.

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