The view from the ground: The impact of the pandemic on employees’ mental health | Inquirer Business
MAPping the Future

The view from the ground: The impact of the pandemic on employees’ mental health

/ 02:01 AM August 15, 2022

The pandemic has significantly changed the way people work. It has also affected the well-being of employees who had to learn how to work from home (WFH), then adjust to shifting social distancing measures. Given their impact on the workforce’s productivity, these experiences and their effects on employees’ mental health deserve to be looked into.

This is what communications consultancy firm EON Group did with its recent study. Gathering the sentiments of 2,000 working adult Filipinos from various industries, it aimed to determine the mental health effects of the prolonged WFH/hybrid workplace setup, the factors negatively affecting employees’ well-being, and the programs companies have offered as solutions.

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To further enrich the study, EON also interviewed human resource executives and a mental health service provider to gain insights into the process of planning and implementing employee well-being services in the workplace.

Mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic

Half of the respondents state that their quality of life has worsened since the pandemic started, specifically 51 percent of the women and 53 percent of the single-parent demographic. While the majority of other demographic groups also experienced a decline in quality of life, the combined work and family responsibilities at home due to mobility restrictions have meant additional burdens for women since they are traditionally expected to oversee childcare and household work on top of their jobs. Lack of child care help also strained single parents who juggle work with parenthood at a time when children had to do their schooling at home.

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The challenges of hybrid work also affected the respondents’ sense of well-being: 60 percent of those working from home three days a week feel that life has become more difficult.

The top factors that contribute to people’s stress, anxiety and depression are financial considerations, health concerns and inconsistencies in the workplace setup. When experienced with frequency, these result in burnout, loss of drive and focus, and struggles with work-life balance.

Twenty-five percent of respondents disclosed experiencing stress once a week and a third of them have felt stressed at various frequencies since March 2020. Anxiety also afflicts 23 percent of the respondents weekly and 30 percent of them monthly. In addition, 41 percent have difficulty falling asleep at night and 35 percent suffer from inconsistent sleep schedules.

Given these, 41 percent worry about the long-term effects of their work setup on their mental health.

“Mental health issues were already present prepandemic; they just became more rampant since the start of the crisis,” Vivian Cruz, an accredited global training partner for Certified Practitioner in Human Resources and the head of human resources (HR) for a major power company, shared with EON. “Before, HR practitioners were able to address these issues [in-person] through employee engagement programs. When these became unavailable during lockdown, it became a challenge.”

From compliance to proactive listening

Thirty-six percent of the respondents haven’t seen any programs that support their mental well-being implemented in the workplace while 27 percent are unaware if their employers offer any such service. Furthermore, 30 percent cannot say if their companies’ efforts to look after them have been helpful while 12 percent admit there was no help offered at all.

This is despite the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) signing in February 2020 the Department Order No. 208 series 2020, which contains guidelines on how to implement mental health policies and programs in the workplace pursuant to the Mental Health Act.

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Compliance as motivation

According to mental health services provider In Touch Philippines, compliance is the main motivation behind the requests they receive from companies. “The most common inquiry is if [we] could help them create and/or implement employee well-being programs that comply with the Dole memorandum,” a representative disclosed.

Businesses must realize, however, that the regulation aims to prioritize the workforce’s mental health and well-being since these impact productivity, especially during a time of prolonged crisis such as the pandemic. “People may have what we call ‘pandemic fatigue,’ possibly due to dealing with fear, change and grief and experiencing burnout and stress. Business leaders need to help employees develop resiliency or know when to encourage them to avail of their employee-well-being benefits.”

Of course, there are unavoidable pain points when providing corporate mental health support. For Andree Kintanar, vice president and head of HR for plant operations and head of pandemic initiatives for the Ayala Group’s energy platform ACEN Corp., covering employees’ varied needs was challenging. “Not everyone is open to talking to [a psychologist] about their problems; some prefer opening up to trusted colleagues or friends. What’s important is that services like therapy sessions are available to those who need them.”

The need for empathy

Company culture also plays into it. In Touch sees the lack of workplace trust as an underlying factor, along with the lack of mental health awareness. Cruz believes that company leadership ultimately determines the success of its efforts. “If executives don’t view mental healthcare as essential, it’d be difficult to allocate time and resources to develop these programs.”

Investing in employee well-being pays off, however. Its returns are increased employee engagement, a high retention rate and sustained productivity. While providing psychiatric help, WFH equipment and other benefits can get costly, actively listening to what employees need and working with them to generate solutions already go a long way.

With employee loyalty and productivity critical for economic recovery, a company that exemplifies “malasakit” will see its efforts reciprocated by its people. Good leaders know that a people-oriented strategy is always at the heart of a good business. INQ

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and not the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is cochair for governance of the MAP committee on ESG. He is also vice chair of ISA and Center for Excellence in Governance and former chair of Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD). Feedback at [email protected] and [email protected]

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