The COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on our mental health continue to be alarming.

recent study conducted by Aetna and Morning Consult showed that 55% of American adults reported a negative impact on their overall stress levels due to the pandemic. Now, employed Americans are taking action, with many deciding to make career changes to prioritize their mental health. As conversations around this crucial topic continue to take place, companies have a chance to join in these discussions and reshape how they prioritize employee well-being.

By taking note of employee concerns and working towards addressing them, whether by tackling workplace stigma, promoting a healthy life-work balance or providing mental health resources, companies can ensure they keep employee well-being top-of-mind. Ultimately, this leads to happier, more productive teams and improved health outcomes overall.

Fight Stigma, Encourage Asking for Help

Millions of Americans are affected by mental health challenges throughout their lives, and nearly one in five adults in the U.S. are affected by mental illness each year. What’s more, individuals spend an average of 90,000 hours – about one-third of their lives – at work, emphasizing the need for support among their peers. Thus, employers must create safe work environments where employees feel comfortable opening up about their mental health and general well-being.

It is crucial for employees to feel that they can turn to their colleagues as well as their leaders when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Employees should know they are not alone, in their feelings or in getting help. The first step towards accomplishing this is to address workplace stigma and foster conversations around mental and emotional health. This allows employees to feel supported and creates a healthy work culture where employees are encouraged to open up about their struggles and find the tools that would best help them address them.

Putting Life First in Life-Work Balance

As individuals continue to worry about the pandemic – and the already blurred boundaries between work and home become even less distinguishable because of it – we continue to see the negative impact COVID-19 has on the mental health of the nation. Our study shows that 4 in 10 Americans (44%) report experiencing burnout or mental exhaustion “at least somewhat often” over the last three months. Burnout – a state of emotional, mental and often physical exhaustion – can, in turn, lead to a lack of motivation and even hopelessness. Unsurprisingly, as a result, 70% of U.S. adults say they are very or somewhat often just trying to get through the week.

Companies should encourage employees to put life first, and make work come second. By flipping the perspective to be a life-work balance, instead of the typical work-life balance, and establishing healthy work routines, employers ensure their employees can feel and be the best versions of themselves, in and out of the office.

Improving Resilience and Promoting Critical Resources

On top of allowing and encouraging employees to adopt a healthy life-work balance and fostering a mental health stigma-free culture, employers can provide resources to employees to support their holistic well-being.

Investing in workplace mental health training programs that can be applied to all employee levels across workplace settings, such as through initiatives like Mental Health First Aid, can help employees recognize the signs that someone is struggling and respond to a mental health problem among their teams. Additionally, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), such as those offered by Aetna’s Resources For Living, can be critical resources to employees as part of a health benefits offerings. In fact, our study found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of working adults say EAPs would benefit their mental health at work.

In addition, 6 in 10 adults agree that they could benefit from learning how to improve resilience, so employers should point them to available resources that can help them do just that, either for themselves or for their loved ones. Examples of these include Aetna’s Mind Check tool and our awareness guides for young adults and parents and caregivers.

We’re seeing increasing collective awareness of the importance of mental health, especially in the workplace. As we work together to continue to navigate the ongoing pandemic, the role of companies is shifting, and employers have a greater responsibility to prioritize their employees’ well-being. There is no better time than now for companies to reassess how to take care of employee’s holistic health so they can be their best selves in life and at work.


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