Article by Pilar Neves, Innovation Norway, first published in Portuguese by TN Petróleo.
On March 11, The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic due to the spread of the newcoronavirus. Prevention recommendations include washing your hands frequently, avoiding crowds, and staying home from work if you feel sick. Travel restrictions are in place, and the adoption of home office for those working in so-called “non-essential functions” is also among the recommendations.
In addition to a global health issue, the pandemic has hit the daily operation of companies and already has its effects on the job market. In a very short period of time companies and employees were instructed to change their routine, the way they work and how to behave with people. The society that used to work and organize itself through the logic of productivity, today is facing a major paralysis. Crisis situations like this, with a lot of uncertainty and excessive information, can result in symptoms of stress and anxiety in the individual. These symptoms were already monitored by the World Health Organization even before Covid-19. Globally, more than 260 million live with anxiety disorders and more than 300 million suffer from depression. Estimates show that the cost of these disturbances to the global economy exceeds $ 1 trillion a year in lost productivity.
According to Brazil´s Secretariat of Social Welfare, behavioral and mental health disorders are already the third cause of dismissal of workers. According to the Bulletin on Disability Benefits, released in 2017 by the Ministry of Finance, there were more than 9000 dismissals of this type and this corresponds to 9 percent of the support grants related to sickness and incapacity for work. WHO has listed some of the main risk factors for the mental health of employees. Among them are the management model adopted in the vast majority of companies, where it is necessary to demonstrate strength and motivation constantly to achieve goals, achieve excellence, be productive and never fall ill. Another issue addressed is overwork, inflexible work hours and the threat of unemployment.
These data alone are of concern to both authorities and companies. Adding to the current scenario of uncertainties, companies were asked to give quick and accurate answers to their employees and society. We saw many proactive companies that announced donations and production of essential items for this very challenging time. But what about the workers? How can companies build a support network to ensure the emotional health of their employees? The HR department, as the area responsible for the well-being and safety of employees, took on a large part of this challenge. They had to find effective responses to protect employees’ health and decide which initiatives to take off the ground and measure their impacts on the company’s routine.
When looking at the market, we realize that many actions are already being carried out. Even before the current scenario, companies already offered some kind of support to employees on issues related to mental health. Many of them already had Employee Support Programs. According to a survey published by Mercer Marsh Benefits in 2019, 46 percent of participating companies have an initiative focused on the mental health of their employees.
With regard to Covid-19 in particular, a company in the mining sector increased the food voucher by 100 percent, in addition to the already offered support programs. In addition, they are also investing in educational webinars for leaders on empathy and care and are making podcasts available to employees with children at home.
Innovation Norway, a commercial development agency linked to the Norwegian Government, offered to pay for psychological assistance to its employees due to social exclusion. In addition to having frequent meetings with direct leaders to ensure the mental health of their employees, leaders are also being instructed to pass on to employees that there is no expectation regarding productivity in this period. Consulting and technology companies are expanding the scope of support programs for existing employees. Psychological support, legal advice (in case of divorce, for example), financial and medical were already part of many of them following a work regime they were not used to.
Taking into account the mentioned aspects, we can see that Covid-19 has brought challenges for companies, employees and society. And everyone is adapting to this new reality in the best possible way. It is essential that everyone be aware of the lessons that this situation brings with them post-pandemic. International experts point out the anticipation of changes that were already underway, such as the flexibility of the workday, through remote work, distance education, the search for sustainability and the collection, by society, so that companies are more responsible from a social point of view. Studies say the post-pandemic world will certainly be different. And much better.
About the author: Pilar Neves is a project manager for Innovation Norway South America and a specialist in the National Reputation Building area, with an emphasis on the development and management of Gender Equality and Diversity policies for Norwegian companies. She also works as a consultant for Norwegian companies in the area of Aquaculture and Health, developing business in the region.