A report released Wednesday by the San Diego Workforce Partnership found workers both locally and across the country are struggling with anxiety and depression as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, negatively impacting their quality of life.
In “The Quiet Struggle: Leaving a Job I Love to Care for My Family and Mental Health,” experts urge businesses to invest in the overall mental and emotional health and happiness of their employees.
Among the suggestions: a $17.65 an hour minimum wage.
Before the pandemic, one-fourth of all workers had been diagnosed with depression, and one-third reported experiencing some kind of depression, the report finds. Additionally, 44% of the region’s workforce made less than the local self-sufficiency wage of $36,700 annually, said San Diego Workforce Partnership.
Stagnant wages, a focus on productivity over mental health and overwork have exacerbated mental health issues in a society without adequate health care, the report says.
These have been further pushed to the limit by a year of lockdown and deaths from COVID-19. Racial and gender inequities place extreme burden on individuals who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, often forcing them to carry the weight for broken and fractured systems, the partnership found.
“The mental toll of this crisis is not reserved for those who have lost work or even loved ones,” said Brooke Valle, chief strategy and innovation officer at the partnership.
“It shows up in surprising ways, such as: guilt that we are still working or able to pay bills when others are not, pressure to minimize Zoom appearances of children or pets lest we seem unprofessional or uncommitted, the embarrassment at letting others down or leaving things unfinished, concern when taking leave that we are being left behind, fear that we are not doing enough to help or protect others, physical sickness, and even terror at saying out loud that we are not OK.”
Recommendations in the report include:
- Lead with vulnerability and openness. Create transparency, to share stories of adjusted schedules, career breaks, job sharing, dial downs and other solutions instead of keeping them as closely held secrets.
- Create cultural norms that don’t shame others for taking a different path, but focus on contributions and how workers can quickly re- engage after time away.
- Equip managers with the tools they need to have vulnerable conversations with their staff, reduce organizational stigma, and help workers access appropriate resources.
- Pay employees a living wage — Workforce Partnership recommends $17.65 minimum hourly — in addition to benefits, including retirement savings, paid leave and health insurance.
- Provide stable and flexible work schedules, dial down options or job sharing to enable workers to explore ways to structure their workload to contribute meaningfully to both their work and their family.
- Create employee resource groups to provide safe spaces for employees to engage with others who may be experiencing similar challenges and collectively brainstorm or simply let others know they are not alone.
- Establish mental health supports as a crucial component of a workforce development program.
- And build systems that facilitate access to mental health services for workers in need in the job search and transition to work.
These solutions, the partnership suggests, will not only make for happier, healthier employees, but will also improve the bottom line.
“Leaders strike the tone; imagine how we can shift perceptions when we demonstrate that mental healing is as important and valued as physical healing, and that neither type of struggle needs to prevent workers from contributing in real ways,” Valle said.