Mental health issues may be hard to see, but now more than ever they need employers’ attention and support.
A Business Case
Only a few months ago, employers knew mental health conditions impacted the workforce, but the discussions Evarts had with them were “soft.” The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has brought the issue to the fore. “Now a huge flag has been raised that mental health is important, and it will be a game changer,” she says. “I think in the midst of things that go bad, there are always things that become improved.”
Wendi Lazar, a partner at the employment law firm Outten & Golden, says they made policy decisions early to reduce stress as employees transitioned to remote work. They ensured people would not need to use their paid time off during the pandemic. They sought to understand what people’s lives would be like: who was taking care of kids or homeschooling; if attorneys would have places where they could work confidentially; or if others would be isolated alone in small New York City apartments for months. Most of their offices are in states that were still under stay-at-home orders in late April.
“If we ignore what is going on in the world and their lives, they won’t feel very productive and supportive of the business,” Lazar says. “It’s good for the company and good for employees.”
Lazar stresses that businesses should remain cautious as they dive more deeply into the personal lives of their employees. Whether an employee can’t work because of a family situation, has anxiety needing treatment, or is diagnosed with COVID-19, these issues should be part of a confidential discussion between human resources and the employee.
“Even during a pandemic, it would be against the law to tell others that someone is sick or send an email saying they have COVID-19,” Lazar says. “HR has a private file, and it shouldn’t go outside of that. It’s a fine line to create a safe space for an employee while not revealing medical information.”