Mental Health at the Workplace – What Has Changed Since the Pandemic?

How has the Pandemic affected our mental health at our workplaces? We look at the rise of mental health challenges and the pressing needs of employees and employers since the pandemic.


Key Questions Answered

  • What is the current status of mental well-being at the workplace?

  • What are currently the most popularly reported mental health needs at various workplaces?

  • What can an employer do? What can an employee do?

  • How to identify mental health challenges at the workplace?

The Statistics: Mental Health


In a society that is so highly interconnected and globalized, the impacts of the pandemic have become increasingly more evident. For example, the incredible downturn of the economy has resulted in unemployment, financial insecurity, poverty, and displacements which can have damaging effects on mental health and quality of life. In fact, these economic challenges have affected the employers and employees across the globe.


According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there has been a reported drop of 24.7 million jobs, as well as an increase in the world’s unemployment rate going from 4.9% to 5.6%. The biggest takeaway from this is that these studies have found that overall mental health has worsened during the pandemic. Individuals are more prone to experiencing an increase in depression, anxiety, and psychological distress as a result.


In Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), reported on results from an online survey conducted by Statistics Canada where approximately 46,000 Canadians participated. These are some of the key highlights of their findings:

  1. 24% of Canadians rate their mental health as fair or poor, compared to pre-pandemic which was only 8%.

  2. Over 50% of Canadians report their mental health worsened due to social distancing.

  3. 88% of Canadians have experienced at least one symptom of anxiety since COVID 19.

Mental Health at Workplaces Amidst a Global Pandemic


With the sudden and unexpected arrival of the COVID-19 global pandemic, few could have predicted how drastically our lives would change both socially and emotionally. Whether it was the never-ending lockdowns or socially distancing from our friends and family, it became an increasingly difficult time for everyone’s mental well-being.


According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health illnesses such as depression are associated with higher rates of disability and unemployment. There is a strong relationship between poor mental health and stress that negatively affect an individual at a workplace. In fact, only about 57% of employees who report moderate depression and 40% of those who report severe depression receive treatment to control depression symptoms. This is quite alarming as depression is one of the most popular mental health challenges reported during the global pandemic.


However, one positive outcome that did arise amid all these disruptions to our daily lives has to be the rise in prominence in the normalization of mental health in the workplace. From my personal experience, I have seen some initiatives taken by my employers that focused on changing the narrative of how we should view working through a pandemic. For example, hospitals offer free subscriptions to the CALM app, a popular meditation app, as well as workshops that address self-care. But is this enough? I personally do not believe so. Yes, these are good steps towards working towards normalizing mental well-being, but I believe there should be a focus on creating a sustainable culture change. There should be a relatable connection between what is being offered and what is actually being done.


Changing the Culture – What Can Employers Do?


So, what does culture change at a workplace look like? According to an article written by Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anas of Harvard Business Review, mental health culture change requires both a top-down and bottom-up approach to succeed in its implementation, similar to any successful business model. From a top-down approach, a workplace should have leaders that treat mental well-being as an organizational priority and remain accountable for its employees.


Have a Collective Initiative


I believe the biggest hurdle we need to tackle as a society is to move away from the notion that mental health is an individual challenge. While it is important to learn about the importance of self-care and practice health habits to ensure mental well-being, we are often too comfortable compartmentalizing our problems and keeping them to ourselves.


This applies to the workplace, where the organization should not put all the responsibility on the individual, rather making it a collective initiative where the individual feels like they are receiving the proper acknowledgment and care. It could be as simple as checking up on employees by asking “how are you doing today?”, employee appreciation, or sharing a personal experience that an individual could relate with. Becoming an ally rather than an employer creates a sense of safety and rids the workplace of fear or shame, especially in regards to topics concerning mental health.


Flexibility in the Workplace


Work-life balance has drastically changed for many during the pandemic. Healthcare and front-line workers had to sacrifice seeing other family members because they were in high-risk settings. Others had to work from home remotely for the first time, trying to balance long hours in meetings while trying to respond to a large list of emails at the same time.


However, not everyone is wired the same! This is especially true in the younger millennial generation where most individuals actually prefer to work at home as opposed to going into work. In fact, surveys from Harvard Business Reviews have shown that the return to work after lockdown negatively affected morale significantly.


Here are some ways that an organization can provide a more sustainable way of working:

  • No after work hours emails

  • Have no-meeting days

  • Offer a work-from-home option

Efforts to Lead as an Employee at Your Workplace


An organization’s efforts to change the narrative at a workplace only goes as far as the people directing the change. You need to ask yourself, what can I do as an employee to help these efforts in reducing the stigma behind mental well-being at a workplace?

  1. You could encourage your workplace to offer mental health workshops and stress-management education. Programs that meet the needs and interests of your co-workers give them an opportunity to engage.

  2. Participate in employer-sponsored programs and activities to learn skills and get support you need to improve mental health.

  3. Share personal experiences to reduce stigma, when appropriate to do so.

  4. Be open-minded about the experiences and feelings of colleagues – respond with empathy, offer peer support, and encourage others to seek help.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has changed everyday life across the world. As a society, we are faced with an uncertainty and unknowing of what is going to happen next. This has led to everyone learning how to adjust quickly during an unprecedented set of circumstances in both their professional and personal lives. Mental health awareness has been taken much more seriously as a result, which lessens the stigma of feeling shameful and embarrassed when talking about personal issues.


Culture change has started in many workplaces already! Let us continue to promote sustainable strategies that create a more compassionate, open, and empathetic work environment for individuals of all races and genders.


Share this article with your friends, co-workers, and employers!




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