Emotional and Social Reintegration in the Age of COVID-19
Wednesdays with Woodward webinar
July 22, 2020
Dr. Marcos Iglesias, Vice President and Chief Medical Director at Travelers, joined the Wednesdays with Woodward series to explore what employers can do to care for their employees’ mental health during this unprecedented time of stress and anxiety.
Dr. Iglesias highlighted three areas of focus for an individual’s health: biological, psychological and social.
- Biological health includes direct medical consequences, such as contracting COVID-19, and indirect consequences, like people delaying routine medical care for fear of contracting COVID-19 at a doctor’s office.
- Psychological health takes form in many ways, including emotional, cognitive and physical stress. Mental Health America has reported a 19% increase in screening for clinical anxiety since the beginning of the pandemic. Dr. Iglesias explained that new sources of stress, such as fear of infection, personal or family issues and financial stress, need to be considered as employees return to the workplace.
- Social health is an important factor as well, as people continue to social distance, gather less in groups and have less frequent interactions with co-workers. Some employees will continue to work remotely longer term and may need extra attention to keep them engaged virtually.
Dr. Iglesias laid out his three-pronged approach to avoiding distress in the workplace: prevention, identification of those at risk and intervention.
- Prevention: Offering a safe environment for employees by reassuring them that their safety and well-being come first. Keys to prevention involve providing stability by letting employees know what to expect as they return to the workplace; communication that is timely, factual, clear and supportive; flexible work arrangements, which can help reduce stress for those dealing with personal issues; and emotional openness built into employee interactions.
- Identification: A simple “Are you okay?” can open the door to better employee communications between co-workers and managers. Supervisor training should be focused on: active listening and empathic communication, identifying employees with depression and other issues, handling accommodation requests, and managing the stigma of COVID-19 and mental health issues.
- Intervention: Different follow-up actions are needed to handle physical and mental health in a post-COVID world. Access to telehealth can be an important health care strategy post-COVID, including audiovisual tools, patient portals, e-consults, apps, chatbots, etc. In addition, resilience training to focus on building connections, fostering wellness with nutrition, exercise and sleep, and stress management can help reduce depression and anxiety. Employers can achieve many of these action items through Employer Assistance Programs (EAPs) or by referrals to external organizations specializing in these areas.
Read Dr. Iglesias’s white paper on this topic here.