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Employee Mental Health During and After COVID-19: 2020 State of Workplace Empathy Study Reveals Leaders Must Act

Employee Mental Health During and After COVID-19: 2020 State of Workplace Empathy Study Reveals Leaders Must Act
Posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2020 by Jon Shanahan

Of the many new challenges we’re all experiencing today, acknowledgement and active support of mental health may be amongst the most prominent.


Increased focus on mental well-being was an important workplace issue even before the pandemic, but it’s now front and center as our entire workforce deals with unprecedented pressures on our health, finances, and more, all of which can impact mental health.

Businessolver’s fifth-annual State of Workplace Empathy Study reveals that employees, CEOs, and HR professionals alike continue to place significant value on supporting mental health and they believe employers need to take action to improve overall employee well-being. Despite that agreement, only 69% of employees believe that all levels of their company are empathetic towards employee mental health. The need for increased understanding between all coworkers, added resources from employers, and more visibility of existing programming is clearer and more urgent than ever. Yet given the challenges of maintaining a business in the current climate, how can employers answer this demand?

These data highlights from our fifth State of Workplace Empathy Study can help employers contextualize the matter before enacting a plan:

  • Employees fear coming forward about mental health issues. 64% report a concern that transparency about mental health issues could impact job security.
  • There is a disconnect between employees and leadership. 86% of CEOs believe that their organization openly discusses the importance of mental health with their employees, in comparison with just 58% of employees.
  • Employees may be unaware of existing mental health benefits offered by employers. 76% of CEOs say their organization currently offers mental health benefits but only 51% of employees report awareness of them.
  • Nearly all employees agree that employers should be doing more. That includes 92% of employees and 100% of HR professionals.

These responses make clear that organizations must now find empathetic and effective ways to support the mental health and overall well-being of their workforce. What are reasonable actions for employers to take at this time?

  • Start openly discussing mental health. This must begin at the top and cascade throughout the organization. Leaders need to create a culture of openness and inclusion, one that encourages and provides avenues for people to share openly as needed. In fact, 93% of employees say that an open-door policy that allows face-to-face communication with leadership or HR is important to addressing employee mental health.
  • Build empathy by connecting employees. It has, of course, become more challenging to connect with each other during this time, but that doesn’t mean that employers don’t have tools at their disposal. For those working remotely, consider arranging for employees to match with a “coffee buddy” within the organization. Encourage buddies to hold virtual personal check-ins and promote open lines of communications. Organizations employing frontline workers might consider creating regular team check-ins for discussing the emotional aspects of the day-to-day.
  • Enact meaningful benefits programs. Employers should expect these mental health challenges to continue to some degree after the COVID-19 pandemic passes and we all adjust to a new normal. Now is the time to review the mental health benefits your organization offers. This entails everything from the cost of co-pays for therapy visits (virtually, or, eventually, in person) to the availability of an Employee Assistance Program resource or a mental health service app.