Image: iStock/Nenad Cavoski

Some were fortunate to spend the pandemic sheltering at home with loved ones, while others were sadly alone throughout, but none were immune to potential depression caused by the protective protocols of COVID-19, a new Gartner report found. More than 5,000 employees participated in Gartner’s survey, which revealed that 29% admitted they were depressed as a result of the pandemic. Forty-nine percent of those whose companies offered mental health and well-being programs participated and availed themselves of the service.

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Businesses adopted what was immediately dubbed “the new normal,” and provided employees with flexible work schedules, notably if they had to double as caregivers for family members, and 26% gave employees paid time off for childcare, while 21% gave PTO for eldercare. Additionally, families with school-age children coped with distance learning, adding another layer to an already full schedule.

Gartner further surveyed 50 human resources leaders who revealed 64% of companies provided their employees with new well-being offerings and 34% expanded access to existing offerings.

“Two things surprised me from the survey,” said Carolina Valencia, vice president in the Gartner HR practice. “First, it’s important to call out the survey findings themselves and put them into context. Our research shows that one out of every three people are struggling with depression as a result of the pandemic, that number should be very alarming. Second, we cannot overlook managers. Managers are in a unique role – the level of burden that managers and leaders are facing is significant right now. They are juggling the thoughts and feelings of their direct reports while also taking care of themselves. Organizations need to equip managers with the right tools to support and empower those around them, without overlooking their own health.”

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Gartner offered three suggestions for employers: Commit to help employees cope with stress factors, even post-pandemic, personalize support to meet diverse employee needs and establish programs, processes and guidance to enable discussions.

While it was a painful lesson to learn, company leaders learned that their organizations must deal “with every facet” of health, physical illness as well as mental well-being. Companies have also had to address “some of the new stressors” that emerged as a result of the pandemic.

“One of the most fascinating things we have seen is how much organizations have rallied around the idea that they have to take action and invest in employee wellness,” Valencia said. “In the height of the pandemic, we saw organizations dealing with massive budget cuts, furloughs, layoffs and salary reductions. Yet, organizations recognized there was a significant amount of money that needed to go into well-being offerings. Business leaders realize this pandemic is very much a humanitarian crisis, and employee benefits reflect that. However, organizations need to recognize the impact of these benefits. This means once crisis conditions subside that employers will continue to invest in these areas.”

In the report, she is quoted as saying “The need for well-being support has skyrocketed since the pandemic struck, giving organizations a new mandate to offer more and better programs. Organizations, more than ever, must respond to all facets of the individual, from the physical to the emotional, and address some of the new stressors that have emerged over the past year.”

Despite “the COVID-19 pandemic [being] an anomaly, disruptions are increasingly common and organizations must be equipped to support the well-being of employees,” Gartner noted. “HR leaders need to establish programs, processes and guidance in advance of whatever unexpected event comes next.”