The Real Cost of Pandemic Fatigue

Sep 03, 2020

In March, we were running at full sprint. That sprint has since turned into a triathlon with an unknown finish line. Our collective exhaustion is leading to the exponential growth of a struggle that was on the rise prior to mandated masks and isolation: mental wellbeing.

The Washington Post and ABC News reported in March that 70% of Americans feel stress and worry over the COVID-19 pandemic. Willis Towers Watson followed suit in August, announcing that 92% of employees report some degree of general anxiety (55% of that at a moderate/severe level).

Whether you’re ready to admit it, these statistics are affecting your medical insurance plan’s bottom line—and not just due to mental health service utilization. A 2018 report from the CDC stated, “Even after taking other health risks—like smoking and obesity—into account, employees at high risk of depression had the highest health care costs during the 3 years after an initial health risk assessment.“ Considering what stress can do to our physical bodies, it’s no surprise that mental wellbeing is often the root cause of so many general health problems. All that aside, mental health struggles also deliver a major blow to employee job performance and productivity. So what are you doing to address this equally-serious pandemic?

Are you offering a free Employee Assistance Program (EAP) embedded within your life/disability plan? Hooray! Promote it as much as you can. Share willing testimonials with your employees in a HIPAA-appropriate way. Remove stigma so that employees feel free to engage. Make it clear that the information they share with the counselors is strictly confidential and will not be shared with you, the employer.

Be aware that the traditional “freebie” EAP might not be meeting the depths of your employees' needs. These programs are notoriously underutilized, but SHRM reported in a September article that phone calls to EAPs are up as much as 20%. Employees who are accessing the traditional EAP are sometimes limited to three visits only. And one of G&A's EAP partners reported that telephonic (not on-site) counselors are staffed to roughly 1 counselor for every 200 covered employees. In today's environment, while the free EAP is a good start, it might not be enough.

When you increase your EAP offering, your employees see you valuing them as people as well as professionals. Connect your employees with a higher number of visits and a more positive experience than being thrown into a giant pool of resources to navigate completely alone. If you're concerned about cost, these buy up plans are relatively inexpensive. Recent marketing for Gregory & Appel clients produced a cost average of $2.75 PEPM for 8-visit plans and $1.80 PEPM for 6-visit plans. Price tends to increase with smaller employee counts and higher visit offerings.

Also remember that, as a business leader, one of the fastest ways to undermine the mental health of your workforce is to deny yourself the self care you are promoting. In a recent G&A webinar, 38% of responders said they are doing nothing to prioritize their mental health.

So it’s time for some straight talk. If we as business leaders neglect intentional care of our mental and emotional health, our employees will feel the expectation to follow our lead. People are nervous to ask for help or a break under normal circumstances. In this pandemic and everything we as a people are facing, further disaster is inevitable if we do not encourage time off or self care.

Unfortunately, mental wellbeing is an area where masks, specifically the metaphorical ones, are ineffective if not detrimental. Be intentional in your approach to normalize self care, and your entire organization may find success in catching their breath.


This post is part of New World, New Strategy – a blog series to help your organization persist and thrive.  Check out the other posts here:

The Real Cost of Pandemic Fatigue
Surviving in Open Enrollment Pandemic
Remote Employees: Cyber Nightmares or Warriors?
End the Fire Drill and Move Your Organization Forward
Stop Buying Insurance by the Old Rules – "Best Practices" Aren't Helping You Now
To Return or Not Return to Work?