The mental health crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly affects the workplace, extending beyond individual struggles.
Many employees silently bear the dual role of working professional and mental health caregivers to loved ones facing challenges.
Recent research from New York Life’s Group Benefit Solutions unveils this hidden challenge, indicating a staggering 48% of workers are navigating this dual role — a critical trend affecting our workforce.
In the face of these stark findings, it’s essential for employers to not only recognize the mental health struggles their employees grapple with personally, but also the challenges they face as caregivers to loved ones.
Support mental health caregivers
Our research uncovered the layers of these individuals’ struggles, illuminating the scale and complexity of their experiences.
Armed with this understanding, we’ve developed a set of strategic recommendations for employers and HR leaders, aiming to guide them toward creating a supportive, understanding and inclusive work environment for resilient employee caregivers.
1. Evaluate current available benefits
Since mental health challenges can be complex and deeply personal, employers might consider offering a range of mental health benefits and resources such as counseling sessions, support groups and assistance programs that help employees with their current challenges and also assist them with finding other specific services.
It’s also important to acknowledge that dealing with finances can have a negative impact on mental well-being. In fact, our research found that 47% of spouses and partners cite the family economic situation as the leading cause of mental health challenges.
After taking inventory of all that is currently available, employers can assess the need and opportunity to add additional mental health and financial wellness resources for their employee population.
2. Work toward flexibility
Consider offering paid time off for caregiving needs, along with flexible work arrangements. We know that when employees feel compelled to show up for work while navigating personal challenges, they are not showing up as their best selves.
Our research underscores the profound impact of caregiving on mental well-being, with caregivers reporting significant workplace challenges. A substantial 48% felt distracted and 47% experienced overwhelming feelings, while a worrying 55% noted a lack of motivation and 53% reported cognitive difficulties, all resulting from their caregiving responsibilities towards loved ones’ mental health.
By offering flexible work arrangements and paid time off specific to caregiving needs, employers can better enable employees to find a more effective work/life balance. This could help ensure that when employees are at work, they are focused and productive.
3. Improve awareness
Drive ongoing awareness of available mental health resources. Even if employers have robust mental health resources available, they are only effective if they are being used by the people that need them.
Our research found that only 54% of caregivers surveyed are familiar with the mental health resources offered by their employers.
To address these awareness gaps, employers should consider deploying communications and reminders throughout the year promoting these resources, rather than highlighting them only at benefits enrollment time. Additionally, employers can consider multiple ways to promote available support beyond the benefits intranet site, such as highlighting resources during company or team meetings.
4. Train and educate
Create training and education specific to mental health needs. Mental health-related training and education may often go overlooked when preparing training curriculums for employees.
Our research found that just 26% of surveyed workers say their company offers training to help them identify mental health needs, while 22% say their employer helps prepare them for conversations with loved ones about mental health challenges.
Implementing management training, for example, focused on effective ways to help employees manage mental health challenges could help to reduce the stigma often associated with speaking about mental health in the workplace. It could also help employees feel more comfortable to discuss caregiving needs with managers before they begin to impact work performance.
5. Find advocates
Develop advocates for mental well-being throughout your organization.
Our research found that more than a quarter (29%) of caregivers surveyed believe there is no one at their company who is equipped to help them find the mental health resources they need. Identifying and designating experts and advocates around mental health benefits can help ensure that the right resources are available, employees are aware of those resources, and support is being reinforced throughout the organization.
For example, human resources and benefits teams can serve as advocates at the company level, making sure the right mental health resources and programs are made available and regularly communicated to employees.
Effective communication about mental health resources must involve more than just HR; it should include local leaders too. Our research reveals a crucial role for managers: 40% of caregivers are most likely to discuss their own mental health concerns with their manager. Team leads and managers can be equipped to effectively discuss mental health needs with their employees and reinforce and drive awareness around available support during one-on-one discussions.
In mitigating the ripple effect of mental health caregiving on workplace performance, employers play a crucial role. By prioritizing resources and cultivating an understanding environment, they can help employees navigate the often-choppy waters of dual responsibilities.
Proactive initiatives can alleviate the impact, enabling employees to perform at their best and feel supported, while still providing essential care to their loved ones.