Employers, Be Aware Of Employees’ Mental Health—Moms Especially

Employers, COVID-19 has taken a high toll on employees’ mental health.

We’re now a full year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re still home-schooling our kids while not seeing family or friends and worrying about our elderly parents. We are struggling to do our jobs and do them well. We are on allostatic overload, for sure, with all of this uncertainty fostering record numbers of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

The cost seems higher for women as they continue to bear the brunt of childcare and school, cleaning, planning, coordinating, shopping, and cooking all while “managing” full-time jobs. McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2020 reported that more than one in four women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely. 

The New York Times named the impact of the pandemic on working mothers, especially, “The Primal Scream” in a new series that debuted this past Sunday. In it, the authors described a feeling employees who are moms know all too well:

the “mom” part of their lives needed to be hidden from view — lest they be viewed as “uncommitted” to the work or somehow less fit for the job. For hourly wage workers — and many of those now tasked with doing the essential work to keep our country running — that burden has often been even more pronounced.

Back in October, I told you here that the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) reported that almost 41% of US adults are struggling with their mental health or substance use.

The NYT article describes one woman on a conference call with her team while on a conference call with her child’s school while making dinner and helping her child with homework.

It sounds exhausting.

In fact, in opposite-sex couples, “it is mothers who do the majority of the domestic chores and child-related planning, even when both parents work and the woman is the breadwinner.”

Image by Standsome from Pixabay

Employers, is this an issue at your workplace?

If so, what can you do to help?

What Can Employers Do?

First, employers may need to consider that productivity can be excellent while still being lower than pre-pandemic levels. Communicate.

Often, employee management lags behind profit and productivity levels. Communicate with your employees often and authentically to determine if they have the time and resources to do the actual job you want them to do.

Similarly, talk with your teams about mental health. I think authentic communication destigmatizes the whole idea of mental health as a “problem,” reframes it as a workplace challenge, and presents an opportunity for creative and even innovative ways for people to work together. Check in with your employees, especially now that you can’t grab lunch or coffee together or just stop by another person’s office or cubicle. We are all thirsty for human interaction.

Second, lead by example. As I’ve written countless times in this blog, organizational leaders set the tone, and people tend to follow the leader. If you, as a manager or supervisor, prioritize mental health, your employees are more likely to do so as well.

Third, consider insisting on better mental health benefits from your insurers and, if possible, outreach, coaching, and fostering support through peer-to-peer connections or Employee Assistance Programs.

I noted here that some companies have increased employees access to mental health resources, such as free counseling sessions, financial counseling and mobile apps that teach stress-management techniques.

Fourth, consider paid or unpaid sick and/or family leave whether or not your state requires it.

Whatever works. Doesn’t have to be expensive, and there’s no need to sacrifice work quality or profits.

On the legal side, remember the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)!

  • Determine whether or not an employee requires an accommodation. Actually talk to the employee about this. We call this “engaging in an interactive discussion.”
  • Obtain from your employee or his or her doctor an understanding of how the disability affects the employee’s ability to do the job.
  • Then….provide the accommodation! JAN provides an extensive list of accommodations for employees who suffer with mental health disorders including flexible scheduling, additional time to learn new tasks, time off for counseling, frequent breaks, and backup coverage.
  • Document substantially a determination not to provide an accommodation because of an undue burden.

So Many Takeaways

Employers, I list a lot of takeaways in this post. Like the women in this NYT article, employees worry that their next conversation with their bosses about not being able to find childcare will result in termination.

Maybe firing is fair, and maybe it’s just the pandemic and that your employees who are parents are relentlessly overwhelmed and exhausted constantly working at an unsustainable pace.

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.