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January 7, 2022

Business

The Unspoken Side Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic: "Getting" Mental Health

A girl holds two cartoon faces, one happy, one sad.

This article was written by Terrance Rosales MSML, PHR, SHRM-CP, 2021-2022 WGU SHRM Virtual Student Chapter President

I recently attended the BOLI (Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries) Labor and Employment Law Annual Conference, hosted by the State of Oregon Council, as new case laws and changes to employment laws happen regularly in the human resources industry. Having a better understanding of these changes is important to remain compliant and aware of regular and new struggles that employees face in the job market. The presentation lasted over two days, and was beautifully handled by the BOLI representatives. Many employment law and HR consulting firms came together to present different topics in breakout rooms provided by the conference organizers.

One topic from the conversations during the conference spotlighted a troubling trend that has been surfacing as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to rage on. Mental health awareness has never been higher, with more people in the public eye advocating people to ask for help when they need it, and being willing to admit when they are overwhelmed by personal struggles that affect their ability to contribute to society where they are comfortable with.

Anxiety and depression have risen substantially in the workplace. Whether it be the separation of societal norms, such as physical touch of any kind, in-person interaction or simply being able to see the body language of someone from the images of their face, we have never been more isolated in recent history than we are now. Short-term disability claims and leave-of-absence claims are becoming more common, and while an outstanding trend that help is being requested is starting to occur, it’s the long-term effects that are leaving many chronically disabled people feeling ignored in their needs.

The pandemic has affected everyone–even people who during the Pre-COVID days never felt the effects of poor mental health. The problem lies with the people who deal with acute bouts of mental illness. As they deal with the ups and downs of depression, or the crippling feelings associated with anxiety, they all have or will eventually recover as the world heads toward a period of recovery. From that point, the concern lies where sympathy is created from these people with the people who deal with long-term cases, and where the sympathy can turn into ignorance.

Every person who deals with disabilities learns methods of self-care. Many find ways to cope with the conditions they deal with daily to continue being contributing members of society. Taking advantage of programs and benefits offered at different levels of organization that they can exercise during the worst of their symptomatic episodes.

The verbiage is when it matters. “I get it” or “Here’s how you get over this” are just some key phrases that while it sounds like helpful to the person delivering the message, can be condescending to the receiver. It's similar to a local softball player who hits well in his league communicating with professional baseball players in how to swing their bat. It creates a environment of tone-deaf thinking where quick fixes and duct tape are not effective. Shutting down the idea that any one “gets it” is extremely important to ensure that every employee is validated, and given the same opportunities to take care of themselves and their job security.

Emotional intelligence is a very important skill in the toolbox of the HR professional. While we want to be able to support everyone that comes through our doors, standardizing our words and offered actions is important to ensuring that everyone is treated fairly, regardless of their conditions. Falling into the trap of Ethos establishment can lead to mistakes and unintentional consequences. Be mindful when speaking with someone about their needs. Allow them the power of determining what that looks like for themselves.

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