The Florida Chamber Safety Council hosted a webinar Thursday to help business leaders learn how to recognize issues their employees may be facing and how addressing those issues proactively can produce positive outcomes for the individual and business alike.
Dr. Aaron Weiner, a clinical psychologist who specializes in addiction counseling, led the discussion. The Chicago-based counselor brought with him data showing how the pandemic has affected well-being in general, and at the workplace.
Among the toplines: Anti-anxiety prescriptions are up 40%, alcohol and cannabis sales are booming, and opioid overdoses — an epidemic long before COVID-19 — are on the rise.
Florida has not been immune to the national trends. The Florida Behavioral Health Association, which represents mental health and substance abuse treatment centers across the state, has reported a marked increase in crisis calls, opioid deaths and even suicides over past year.
Problems at the workplace are mounting, too. More than four in five employers report their workers are struggling with burnout. Half of them say the pandemic is the root cause. Another third pin the blame on the political environment, though in many ways the two stressors are linked.
Substance abuse is a cause as well. About 75% of adults with a substance use disorder are in the workforce, and they call in sick three times as often and file workers comp claims five times as often as other employees.
“Addiction costs employers $81 billion annually due to absenteeism, lost productivity, health care, theft, and accidents,” Weiner said.
Weiner also noted jumps in non-pharmacological vices. Gambling and pornography consumption during work hours have seen substantial increases.
“What’s happened, essentially, is with the outbreak there’s been an increase or changes in all of these different factors that lead to this reduction in subjective wellbeing,” Weiner said.
At the same time, most employees aren’t comfortable broaching the subject of mental health at work — more than two-thirds say they’d rather talk to a robot than their manager about depression.
“And depression actually tops the list of the costliest chronic conditions for employers, due to a 35% reduction in productivity, (it costs) approximately $210.5 billion per year. That amounts to 31 days of missed work per year and 27 lost due to unproductivity,” he said.
Weiner outlined many steps businesses can take to improve employee well-being — first and foremost leading by example. If managers and executives can open up about their own struggles and how they are taking steps to address them, it can shatter the “Superman Myth” and help people be more open.
“If you as leaders can demonstrate that this is something that we care about, that we are doing for ourselves, that can give permission for your employees to do it as well,” Weiner said.
Preventative or proactive mental health days are also a good policy, Weiner says, as are “wellness rooms” — essentially a quiet, private office set aside with comforting décor where employees can take 15 minutes to catch their breath.
Also, simply checking in with employees is a crucial task that most managers neglect.
“Break away from the workplace for a second (to) just think about your personal life. If you are partnered, if you’re married, if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend — if you know they’re having a hard time and you don’t ask about how they’re doing, that sends a message, right? That says ‘if you cared about me, you would be asking, or you would at least be asking if not doing. And the same thing absolutely goes for employers,” Weiner said.
Companies can also define what holistic well-being — a combination of physical, mental, financial and social well-being — means to them.
Most companies define physical well-being, but there’s a drop off after that. Weiner pointed to a study that found about 40% of employees say their company offers little to no mental health assistance, or that they wish the company offered more.
“When I think about people who wish they had more mental health assistance to me that says, ‘I would use it if it were there.’ And that means that they’re struggling. Their quality of life is suffering, their quality of work is probably suffering, too,” Weiner said. “So, if you met that need, you would see those positive changes, again, across the board.”