The COVID-19 pandemic left a lasting impact on workers in many industries. From an increase in opioid misuse to a greater need for mental health support, companies continue to face challenges regarding employee safety.
In our 2023 Future of Benefits study, 60% of U.S. workers reported experiencing some level of burnout at work. Thirty percent of U.S. workers say they struggle with feeling depressed or anxious at least a few times a week, up from 20% in March 2020.
Although employers are striving to support employees, there’s more work to be done. In fact, The Hartford’s study found a divide on mental health in the workplace between employers and employees. For example, 75% of employers said their company encourages a dialogue about mental health, but only 48% of workers agree.
Bridging this gap will take time and effort. In this article, we’ll explore the challenges employers face, and what companies can do to help keep their employees safe, healthy and productive.
Challenge 1: Working Under the Influence
The opioid epidemic affects companies of all sizes. And it’s gotten worse throughout the pandemic, with opioids representing a significant portion of the record number of reported overdose deaths.
However, other medications, alcohol and illicit drugs can similarly impact an employee’s behavior and performance.
Challenge 2: Burnout in the Workplace
Most U.S. workers are at least somewhat happy at work, but this happiness is fragile as burnout remains a key concern for employers to monitor closely.
A key factor in burnout is the overextension of employees. More than half of the employers polled in the 2023 Future of Benefits study expect their workforce to be available after normal working hours. Fifty-five percent of workers reported working more than 40 hours per week, with 34% of workers saying they feel pressured to be available after normal working hours.
Dr. Adam Seidner, chief medical officer at The Hartford, shares that it is essential to consider the future state of work when talking about employee burnout. “We are seeing an increase in employee burnout for a variety of reasons. As an employer, you must consider where you can ease the strain on employees. It is essential for employers to create healthy workplace routines, enhance their mental health and wellbeing resources, offer flexibility and find a way to incorporate technology to create more efficient working environments.”
Finding qualified candidates also continues to be a challenge for employers, which leads to an overextended workforce. The national unemployment rate has been steadily decreasing since a spike in 2020during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a recent poll found that 52% of employees quiet quit, leaving employers faced with a lack of productivity and engagement from current employees.3
Challenge 3: A Multigenerational Workforce
Hasta five generations work together in today’s workforce, bringing together different perspectives and ideas that can give companies a competitive advantage. At the same time, a multigenerational mix presents some challenges.
Each generation has different biological, cognitive and socio-emotional needs –and expectations of their employer. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, aging advances some functions while diminishing others.
For instance, while a person’s knowledge tends to advance with age, their physical stamina decreases. A company needs to understand these changes to foster an environment that helps employees of all generations perform at their best level.
What Employers Can Do
Solution 1: Foster a Drug-Free Workplace
One of the most important steps employers can take to ensure employee safety is a clearly written drug-free workplace policy. At a minimum, it should include:
- Rationalization for the policy, such as organizational goals and compliance with law or regulations
- Expectations for compliance
- Consequences for violating the policy
- Training for supervisors to determine if someone is impaired while working
Several states have implemented Drug-Free Workplace Credits for insureds who certify that they maintain a drug-free workplace. These states include:4
- Carolina del Sur
If a company wishes to adopt a zero-tolerance drug policy, it should explore what that means in the unemployment environment. It could further narrow the pool of quality candidates.
It’s also important to include assistance options when enforcing drug-free policies in order to support employees living with alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder. Below is a list of select employer resources that can help with that effort:
- Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
- SHRM Employee Handbooks
- U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)
- The Hartford is also providing free opioid and addiction resources through its partnership with Shatterproof.
Solution 2: Foster and Cultivate a Stigma-Free Culture
In our 2023 Future of Benefits study, 64% of employers feel the deteriorating mental health of their workforce is having a negative financial impact on their company. The study also found stigma associated with mental illness prevents U.S. workers from getting help.
We understand the challenge this poses to businesses and employees. It’s why we’ve partnered with nonprofit organizations, such as Shatterproof y National Alliance for Mental Illness, to create a stigma-free culture and give employers the resources and tools they need to help employees.
Employers can create an employee benefits program that addresses the unique needs of their employees. A stigma-free workplace encourages employees to seek the help they may need.
Solution 3: Monitor Work Performance
Monitoring work performance or changes in behavior can identify conditions that impair function early on. Supervisors should receive regular training on identifying changes in employees, as well as implementing company procedures for intervention and referral. Referrals may include:
- Meeting with Human Resources
- Contacting an employee’s physician or the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Solution 4: Prioritize a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Ensure you are watching for signs of burnout and direct workers to internal resources that could help such as an employee assistance program (EAP) or other wellness programs. Según la Mayo Clinic, signs of burnout may include:
- Becoming cynical or critical at work
- Trouble getting started
- Irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients
- Lack of energy to be consistently productive
- Difficulty concentrating
Recognizing good work by your employees goes a long way to ensuring they feel valued at work. Praise can help increase an employee’s sense of accomplishment.
Solution 5: Assess Fitness for Duty
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines fitness for duty as:
“An individual’s physical, mental and emotional state which enables the employee to perform the essential tasks of his or her work assignment in a manner which does NOT threaten the safety or health of oneself, co-workers, property or the public at large.”
Employers have a legal right to perform fitness for duty exams, including:
- Return to work
- Job performance
- Post-offer physical examinations
Physical Ability Testing (PAT) and Post-Offer Employment Testing (POET) services offer functional evaluations of a person’s ability to safely perform the functions of a job. Solutions like these can help an employer assess whether the applicant being hired is able to perform the essential functions of the job and can perform without harm to themselves or others.
Ensuring your employees are properly trained and able to perform their role can minimize risk for the both the employer and employee. Implementing proper programs and trainings can help prevent many types of injuries. “Injury prevention services not only reduce work-related injuries and illness, they can also improve safety and morale,” said Amber Walton, assistant vice president of product development for the health services team at The Hartford.
Focus on Employee Safety and Wellbeing
There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges that employers face today. And because every company is different, addressing any issues will require a unique approach. Regardless of what challenges your business faces, putting a priority on employee health and safety is essential to your success.
1, 2 “The Employment Situation,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2023
3 “State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report,” Gallup, September 2023
4 “Drug-Free Workplace Premium Credit Programs,” National Council on Compensation Insurance, September 2020
La información proporcionada en estos materiales brinda información general y de asesoría. It shall not be considered legal advice. The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) will be an appropriate legal or business practice. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations or operations are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Readers seeking to resolve specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns related to the information provided in these materials should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. All information and representations herein are as of October 2023.