Maybe it’s the realization of the added year of training put on the athletes or the COVID protocols in place that limited attendance in venues. But if we are really honest about the situation, it’s the exposure to the human side of the athletes competing.

"At the end of the day, we're not just entertainment. We're human, and there are things going on behind the scenes that we're also trying to juggle with, as well, on top of sports." – Simone Biles, American Artistic Gymnast, on the mental health of athletes

This might be the most relatable thing Simone Biles has done in her career – addressing her mental health and the connection it had to her physical health and ability to compete – all while on the world stage at the Olympics. This could be one of the biggest normalizers of mental health we have come across. Michael Phelps addressed mental health issues after his retirement, but it wasn’t until earlier this year when tennis superstar Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing her mental health, that the world began to see in real-time the impact pressure, stress, and performance can have on individuals at the elite level.

These are ELITE athletes - trained to adapt and overcome any situation to perform and win. As we see the human side to these athletes and recognize that everyone has to keep their mental health in check, why do we expect so much of ourselves and our employees?

Springbuk has discussed and provided insight into mental health trends throughout the pandemic. Now as we set our focus on 2022 plan design and options, we can’t lose sight of addressing and ensuring access to mental health care.

Mental Health Trends

Our previous research and other market resources pointed to the escalating trend of overall mental health diagnosis in 2020 and how the pandemic exacerbated the issue. Our 2021 Employee Health Trends Report further evaluated the micro-trends around mental health. We saw a steep increase in anxiety disorders reported in the first half of the year (2020), particularly among adult women aged 18-25 years and 26-39 years.

  • 2020 aggregate Springbuk data indicated adjustment disorders were most prevalent last year among women aged 26-39
  • Increasing more quickly than other cohorts since mid-2020
  • Overall, the three-month treatment rate was 14.3 patients per 1000 as of September 2020, up 14% during the same period in 2019

A New Risk

And now, as employers continue to struggle to meet the mental health needs of employees, a new risk has emerged – employee burnout, resulting from the past 18-months of anxiety, isolation, increased workloads, and, oftentimes, self-imposed reduced time off. A recent study by Indeed illustrates that over half (52%) of respondents feel burned out and more than two-thirds (67%) believe it has worsened over the course of the pandemic, particularly for those working from home or remotely.

Burnout is classified as a specific type of work-related stress - affecting individuals both physically and mentally, including symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Short-tempered
  • Closed thinking
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Exhaustion
  • Reduced performance

It’s these staggering numbers that continue to push employers to provide solutions to their employees to address the ongoing - and evolving - mental health needs.

Through our prior blogs, we have provided recommendations on how employers can address mental health issues like stress, anxiety, and depression. But as we specifically look to address the rising reports of employee burnout, we encourage you to discover the root of burnout in your workplace and evaluate the cultural implications:

  • Survey employees on their needs - Check the pulse of your employees’ overall wellbeing. Ask targeted questions to truly understand their overall needs, what they expect from you as an employer, and what their pain points are. If necessary, allow the survey to be anonymous to ensure employees feel comfortable with their feedback and answers. Be sure to address the results of the survey with action plans and timelines.
  • Create more flexibility with scheduling - 16% of workers didn’t take any time off during the pandemic, and 14% report taking less than they did before 2020. Employees tend to model behavior set by their managers - seeing them use PTO/vacation time and encouraging them to take time off can alleviate the stress of taking time away from work. We’ve also seen positive feedback when more flexibility is allowed with scheduling, such as working remotely as a permanent option or the flexibility to take half days or hourly increments off.
  • Emphasize the importance of work/life balance -​​ The Indeed study results further showed about 70% of all respondents said they have access to work communications on their phones, and 84% of them were likely to respond to work matters after hours. Ensure employees feel comfortable and confident setting work schedules and boundaries - this is often a part of the culture set by managers, directors, and executives. If working outside of traditional work hours, let employees know responses are not expected outside of their work hours.
  • Company-wide mental health days - While many companies encourage and promote taking vacation/PTO days, industry insiders say company-wide mental health days (think of it as a company holiday - paid and can be a day or up to a week) are more useful for fighting employee burnout. These days have the potential to reduce employees checking in throughout the day or worrying about work they are getting behind on while taking time off. By scheduling company-wide time off, employees can truly rest and reset on their days off.

As we move through the last half of 2021 and set our eyes on 2022, let’s continue to humanize the conversation around mental health and surrounding circumstances to address the ongoing trend of mental health conditions.

For more insight into mental health trends and supportive resources, download the 2021 Employee Health Trends Report.

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