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Why It’s More Important Than Ever for Trainers to Be Aware of Employee Mental Health

Published by: LifeWorks,

Originally published in Training magazine on September 30, 2020

Paula Allen, Senior Vice President of Research, Analytics, and Innovation, Morneau Shepell

More than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and most people are still working from home. Trainers have had to adapt, transitioning to digital platforms and making other adjustments to keep training initiatives going while the world continues to fight the pandemic. While trainers likely have considered how their audiences will experience training sessions while working from home, another aspect they should consider is the mental health of their trainees.

This is especially important now because American workers are showing signs of continued elevated stress and anxiety due to the pandemic, according to Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of technology-enabled HR services, which has been evaluating the mental health of a representative sample of 5,000 American workers each month since before the pandemic began. This research is designed to highlight the importance of mental health and is particularly relevant to trainers because poor mental health among American workers could negatively impact the effectiveness of even the best training programs.

Workers Under Stress

According to results of the Morneau Shepell Mental Health Index (MHI) as of June 2020, the Mental Health Index score was -6, the same as it was for May. The score measures the improvement or decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75, with positive scores indicating good mental health and negative scores indicating poor mental health. On a day-to-day basis, American workers are experiencing lower optimism (-7.9) and work productivity (-6.9), with higher incidents of anxiety (-7.7), depression (-6.8), and isolation (-5.9). While there has been a modest improvement across most of these areas throughout May and June, isolation continued to grow slightly worse in June.

As we wrestle with the desire to return to life as we knew it before the pandemic and the imperative to keep people safe and healthy, employees have expressed a number of concerns and needs as we enter into the next stage of the pandemic. For example:

  • Less than half of people surveyed (47 percent) feel they have what they need to successfully combat COVID-19.
  • The need for clearer guidance on how to prevent spreading/getting the virus is the most common need expressed by workers (26 percent), followed by the need for additional support to deal with anxiety (19 percent).
  • Thirty-four percent are concerned about the risk of infection from being in stores and service areas.
  • Twenty-four percent believe they will be concerned about job security for a while.
  • Twenty percent indicate their income has changed.
  • Spending habits are likely to change, with just 25 percent of workers indicating they will return to prior spending habits quickly after the pandemic.
  • Thirteen percent of workers are not sure about whether they will return to their former spending level.
  • Ten percent do not have the will or energy to do things they did before the pandemic began.

The Role of Employers When It Comes to Mental Health

As the fight against the Coronavirus continues, employers have become a much-needed source of information and support during this time of crisis. The Mental Health Index found a strong correlation between index scores and the individual’s view of how his or her employer managed health and safety issues during the pandemic. It shows an even stronger correlation between mental health scores and perception of how well his or her employer has been supporting the mental health of employees.

For example, 32 percent of respondents said that their employer has been supporting employee mental health inconsistently, poorly or very poorly during the pandemic. The Mental Health Index score for this group ranged from -12.7 for those who indicated inconsistently, to

-14.6 for those who indicated mental health being supported poorly to -20.2 for those who indicated very poorly. In comparison, those who indicated their mental health has been supported somewhat well have a score of -5.4, with those indicating that their mental health has been supported very well have a score of 3.5.

Key Takeaways for Trainers

Since trainers are also going through much of the same stress and anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not difficult to empathize with trainees, whose mental health could be suffering. Trainers are experts at engaging audiences, starting with where audiences are and where they are coming from. Each of us needs to pay close attention to signs of mental health stress among employees so we can get them additional help and support when needed.

Here are some recommendations for how your training organization can more fully support the mental health needs of employees:

  • Prioritize mental health. Make employee mental health a priority for yourself, your department, and organization as a whole. Good mental health does not happen on its own—especially in times of crisis or stress. Employee well-being needs to be regularly nurtured and supported.
  • Know your audiences. Recognize that new information and new skills may be harder for people to assimilate when there is a backdrop of stress and disruption. Keep this in mind when considering how you pace, repeat, and engage in your training sessions.
  • Provide mental health resources. Now, more than ever, there is significant need to support knowledge and skills that will help people cope effectively and be at their best. Manager training on workplace mental health helps leaders know how to support their people through change, and how to recognize and step in appropriately when someone is struggling. Mental health and well-being training provides a knowledge base to help people understand and respond to the challenges of today’s life. Training also can be a great way to introduce key resources, such as Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services. Like mental health training, EAPs have never been more essential. The Mental Health Index shows that employees with access to EAP services have better mental health scores than those without access. Both EAP and mental health training are key to employee well-being.

Make your employees feel loved