In addition to “normal” winter and holiday stressors, this year we have even more reason to loathe winter: the US offered relatively little relief to workers and businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and rather than calming down, political upheaval has simply become much more immediately dangerous.
If you’re like me, as soon as the air begins to cool, the leaves begin to crisp, and pumpkin spice reacquaints itself with the latte population, you’re already thinking with dismay to the bitterly cold winter months that are only a few weeks away. I admit, I used to be a fan of the colder months, back when winter meant snow days and sipping hot cocoa after sledding, but as an adult my dread begins a full season in advance as the days begin to darken and I know it’s only a matter of time until the sun is setting at 4 PM.
Between the holidays, year-end, and other personal responsibilities, December is a busy and often difficult time during a regular year, and January isn’t much better. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, also known as seasonal depression) triggered by decreased sunlight during the winter months, combined with the physical and social isolation of quarantine, and the human toll of the coronavirus, means that this may be a difficult new year for many, more so than usual. A reminder to employees regarding the mental health resources (especially counseling) that are available, as well as health care coverage information, may help remind those who need them that they aren’t alone. While mental health care may be overlooked in favor of covid-related needs, especially as cases spike, one the types of virtual counseling most healthcare plans now cover have become near-ubiquitous due to pandemic-related stress and anxiety and can be widely applied to mental health needs regardless of root cause.
In addition to “normal” winter and holiday stressors, this year we have even more reason to loathe winter: the US offered relatively little relief to workers and businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and rather than calming down, political upheaval has simply become much more immediately dangerous. The recent violence at the Capitol (and the associated ripple effect on our nation) plainly demonstrates that we have a long road ahead when it comes to our extremely divided nation. To believe that simply because the calendar has changed that our societal ills will suddenly disappear is unfortunately not likely; we cannot simply “move on” from the events of the last twelve months, nor should employers pretend that “business as usual” will suffice. As the pandemic continues, so does the strain it places upon families and individuals. Therefore, even though vaccine distribution is ongoing, employees may understandably need more time to complete projects—especially as we approach a full calendar year since covid began spreading in the US.
While every single one of these issues may not touch each employee’s experience (for example, not every employee experiences seasonal depression, or has a family member who has fallen ill), these issues are still pertinent. A spouse, partner, or child may be experiencing personal hardship, or there may be other concerns about which employers are unaware. The more resources employers can offer during this time, the better prepared employees can be, and the resources available through employer-sponsored healthcare plans can help them navigate the various stressors of the season and throughout the year, and allowing employees to take “mental health days” (similar to sick days, but to care not for their physical needs, but their mental and emotional needs) can not only improve employee’s well-being, but also improve productivity. After all, having an employee take a day off to recuperate rather than force themselves to work through it with diminishing returns is mutually beneficial and can help prevent burnout. Mental health and wellness can be difficult at the best of times, and with the events of the last year, it’s no wonder that so many are struggling to get through the day.
These articles are prepared for general purposes and are not intended to provide advice or encourage specific behavior. Before taking any action, Advisors and Plan Sponsors should consult with their compliance, finance and legal teams.
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