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Worker mental health concerns continue past pandemic

mental health

The mental health of employees, which became a significant concern for employers during the COVID-19 pandemic, remains an issue as companies return to normal operations, said a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mental health issues often worsen work-related injury claims, so companies should be aware of the problem and work proactively to support workers’ mental health, said Atlanta-based Dr. L. Casey Chosewood, director, office for total worker health, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, at the CDC.

He was speaking at a presentation Wednesday sponsored by Travelers Cos. Inc. during Riskworld, the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.’s annual conference in Atlanta.

Many workers, especially health care workers, suffered from stress, burnout and other mental health challenges during the pandemic, and they continue to struggle after it has subsided, Dr. Chosewood said.

“One out of every three workers say their return to work has worsened their state of mental health,” he said.

The rapid changes in the workplace — for example, through the introduction of new technology — can add stress for some workers, and, since the pandemic, workers are more willing to talk about mental health issues, Dr. Chosewood said.

In addition, mental health issues slow recovery from physical injuries, and companies should not assume that their existing wellness programs will solve the problem, he said.

“They don't want a lunch and learn on how to eat healthier. You cannot overcome 10 to 12 hours of terrible working conditions with a lunch and learn on preventing diabetes,” Dr. Chosewood said.

To decrease workplace stress, employers should take measures to offer more flexibility for workers and to train supervisors to be aware of mental health issues, he said.

“Recognize workers, create a positive space, give them meaning for what they're doing as it impacts greater society, show them the good in the work they do, use healthier supervision, give more voice and autonomy to workers, give them more day-to-day flexibility,” he said.