My great-uncle was a fighter pilot during World War II. Based in England, he would fly his P-47 Thunderbolt on dangerous missions over enemy territory. His objective was almost always the same: to protect the lumbering Allied bombers from the Luftwaffe’s powerful planes.
I’ve read my great-uncle’s diary from the war and done extensive research on the experiences of his fellow pilots. I’m struck by the juxtaposition that occurred each time a plane returned safely to base after a mission. After facing hazards such as anti-aircraft guns, enemy fighters, friendly fire, mechanical failures, and foul weather, the crews would exit their planes feeling as though they had cheated death. Setting foot on solid ground again often felt like a monumental achievement, as though luck and providence had combined to allow it to happen.
But life at the base continued as normal. There was no ticker-tape parade to welcome these pilots home after their dance with death. Trucks ambled around, ground crews tended to planes, and laughter might even be heard from various locations on the airfield. Life seemed so normal, which was as disturbing as it was comforting.
Many US workers are experiencing something a bit similar now that we have survived months of surging cases, overloaded hospitals, family trauma, and other difficulties associated with the pandemic. It might seem as though the world should pause for a universal “week of healing,” but life continues to move right along. Our children go to school, we go to work, the mail appears in our mailbox each day, and our favorite shows get renewed for another season.
Because daily life can’t pause, you’ll need to keep working despite the trauma brought on by the pandemic. Likewise, you’ll need to be an advocate for yourself and make sure to get any needed support. Your well-being is paramount, although the world continues to spin and it might seem like no one’s concerned with how you’re feeling.
Many of us already face challenges to our mental and physical health. Research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests that a quarter of our nation’s citizens deal with mental health or substance abuse disorders. Suicide has become increasingly prevalent in the US in the past decade and is in the top 10 causes of death.
These figures, while noteworthy, all predate the pandemic. You can probably guess what has happened in the ensuing months as our lives were flipped upside down and many of us lost loved ones.
“Preexisting mental health challenges have been exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 crisis,” explains an insightful report from McKinsey. “Based on analysis by McKinsey, COVID-19 could result in a potential 50% increase in the prevalence of behavioral health conditions. A new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 45% of Americans felt that the COVID-19 crisis is harming their mental health, while 19% felt that it is having a ‘major impact.’ In a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 73% of Americans reported feeling anxious at least a few days per week since the onset of the pandemic. Between mid-February and mid-March 2020, prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications increased 34%. During the week of March 15, when stay-at-home orders became pervasive, 78% of all antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-insomnia prescriptions filled were new (versus refills).”
We all need help. We all need compassion. And the most likely source for these balms, at least initially, is ourselves. Even though we have a million demands on our plates right now, we must be patient with ourselves and identify new ways to improve our well-being.
As a small business owner, you have more responsibility than the average American. You must focus on your well-being while also taking care of your employees.
Improving the well-being of your employees does more than make them happy—it can also have a profound impact on their health and help them to manage any behavioral health conditions. When you care for your employees, they see where your priorities lie and are more likely to stay with your company—and who among us doesn’t love the idea of loyalty from satisfied employees?
Beyond the ethical importance and heartwarming aspects of supporting the well-being of others, there are also major financial implications. Behavioral health conditions almost always hurt your bottom line, with related costs that include higher turnover, increased healthcare costs, lower productivity, and rising treatment costs.
As American workers take a more proactive approach to their well-being, small business owners must rise up to meet their needs. It’s a symbiotic relationship that depends on focused effort and genuine compassion.
“Employees need, and increasingly demand, resources to help them cope with mental health problems,” says McKinsey. “If companies make mental health services more accessible and intervene in the workplace in ways that improve well-being, they will simultaneously make investments that will provide real improvements in employee outcomes and consequently in company performance.”
Talk to your employees to learn more about their needs. This ideal starting point signals right away that you care, which builds trust in the relationship. Plus, you need their input: well-intentioned business owners can implement all the changes they want, but if they aren’t meeting their employees’ unique needs, the impact will always be muted.
Feel free to bring suggestions to these conversations. Your opinion is also valuable and should be welcomed. Perhaps you might offer to create a more flexible work schedule, designate a room in your office for meditation, or provide access to online mental health resources. Ideally, you can work with your people to find solutions that improve well-being and also align with your company’s values and goals.
One of the lasting benefits of your conversations with employees: they’ll be more likely to communicate with you in the future. A startling number of American workers worry that their careers will suffer if they speak up about mental health concerns—so they suffer in silence, which only compounds the problems for them and for your business.
Our modern world brings with it a dizzying array of modern challenges to mental and physical health. To address these threats and improve well-being, we need to acknowledge that life will never be the same as it used to be before the pandemic.
“Pundits spend a lot of time saying ‘This is not normal,’ but the only way for us to survive, day to day, is to normalize the events, the threats, the barrage of information, the costs, the expectations of us,” explains a report on well-being from Buzzfeed. “Burnout isn’t a place to visit and come back from; it’s our permanent residence.”
It’s easier to reconcile our current situation when bolstered by the new resources accessible to you and your employees. Connectivity and access are the name of the game, as you can now get help from just about anywhere on earth.
You might want to check out some of the apps that promote mindfulness and mental health. Popular examples include:
Other exciting resources are available to help you and your team book virtual therapy sessions. The immediacy and convenience here are key, as you can get help when you most need it—and the stigmas that sometimes surround therapy are less pronounced when you’re able to receive care from the privacy of your home.
Here are 3 options you might want to consider:
Will these apps solve all our nation’s problems? Nope. But they do provide another way for you and your employees to advocate for your well-being and become your best selves. When paired with genuine empathy, these apps can be powerful tools.
Our most powerful asset in the battle for well-being has been—and always will be—communication. We’ve got to be honest with ourselves regarding our needs, then vocalize them to our loved ones. We also need to reach out to others and ask how we can support them through their unique struggles.
By bringing this collaborative approach to your workplace, you can improve morale, enhance well-being, and make life happier in general. It’s truly a situation where a little effort can go a long way. You don’t have to have all the answers—you just have to have the desire to help. And this rising tide of support will lift all the boats in the office, promoting health and happiness.