Addressing Return to Workplace and Post-Pandemic Pressures in the Public Sector
July 7, 2021 / Employee Engagement
Summer Means a Chance to Recharge for Some but Post-Pandemic Pressures in the Public Sector Continue to Build
By now, the statistics are all too familiar: nearly half of adults in the U.S. report negative mental health impacts related to the pandemic. This includes new or exacerbated stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, substance abuse and other mental health-related conditions. As pandemic restrictions loosen and worksites and businesses reopen, it is tempting to assume that the stresses and strains of the last year will quickly dissolve. However, experts point out that while the pandemic worsened the situation, concerns about employee mental health predated COVID-19 and are expected to continue post-pandemic.
The long-term effects of pandemic-related mental health issues may be particularly devastating for employees at public sector organizations, which represent roughly a quarter of the U.S. workforce or 43 million people. Many public sector workers—from professors to healthcare workers—were dramatically impacted by the pandemic. Employees at K-12 schools, colleges and universities, health and social service organizations, and local, state or federal government had to pivot quickly to respond to the virus. In many mission-driven organizations, workers had to focus on how to best meet the needs of those they serve, which sometimes came at the expense of caring for themselves—especially among employees with children at home, aging or ill relatives, or other caregiving responsibilities.
While the pandemic took a particularly heavy toll on many public sector organizations and their workers, employee mental health is a widespread, global concern. According to McKinsey, nearly 7 in 10 workers worldwide describe mental health as a “top challenge.” Virgin Pulse clients in the public sector increasingly cite mental health as a key priority as well. With lost productivity from anxiety and depression alone estimated to cost employers $1 trillion a year globally, there’s a compelling financial impetus for businesses to address the issue. But more than that, it’s the right thing to do. Research indicates that mental and physical health are closely linked and that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts support mental health—and vice versa. Lack of representation, microaggressions, unconscious bias and other stressors—in the workplace and elsewhere—can impact mental (and physical) health.
While there is much work to be done, there is hope. The pandemic highlighted the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace, inspiring employers to expand benefits offerings and initiate conversations about employee mental health. Complementing this increased awareness of mental health in the workplace, there are a growing number of highly effective digital tools and live services available to help organizations address mental health.
At Virgin Pulse we are partnering with many of the leading evidence-based solutions providers to address mental health across our 14 million members. Our Homebase for Health® platform engages members with tailored content and personalized tools to help them feel their best. We are getting closer to a future where communities—including worksites—address mental health openly, honestly and compassionately and where the evidence-based resources people needs are widely and easily accessible. Together, we can get there.