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COVID’s Impact on Mental Health and Tips for Employers

July 8, 2020

About the Webinar

This webinar helps attendees understand how COVID-19 has impacted the mental health of employers and employees. Our panelist discusses mental health issues before and because of COVID-19, and what employers can do to help.

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COVID’s Impact on Mental Health and Tips for Employers


Lizz Morse: Welcome, everyone. First, I just wanted to thank you all for taking the time to join us today. We hope you are all staying safe and healthy. My name is Lizz Morse. I’m the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at VensureHR and I will be your host over the next hour. The webinar today is the second in a series focused on sensitivity in the workplace and will be focused on the impact COVID-19 has had on the mental health of both employers and employees. We will be covering relevant topics through a Q&A with our panelist. We will do our best to answer all questions, but any that we do not get to will be responded to on an individual basis after this presentation. Just a reminder that this webinar is being recorded and we will share that recording with all registrants after the session concludes.


This webinar is brought to you by VensureHR and all of our PEO partners. VensureHR is the leader of 20-plus PEO partners. Our clients are in all 50 states and generate most of the questions that we will be answering today. Our agenda for today’s session includes mental health issues before COVID-19, mental health issues because of COVID-19, Gen Z and mental health, what employers can do to help, and a Q&A. If you hear a topic that you need more clarity on, feel free to submit a follow-up in the Q&A box. To submit a question, please enter it in the dropdown section titled, “Questions.” If you are a current client, we kindly ask that you indicate this by typing “client” in your question. You will not see the questions or comments of other participants. We will do our best to address all questions within the allotted time. If your question was not answered, or you have additional questions after the session has concluded, please feel free to send them to webinarhrhelp@vensure.com. We are thrilled to have Robin Paggi joining us as our panelist today. Robin is a seasoned human resource practitioner specializing in training on topics, such as harassment prevention, communication, team building, and supervisory skills. And Robin, over to you.


Robin Paggi Thank you very much. Like many of you, I’m working from home, and so, of course the gardener is across the street with his leaf blower, and my dogs are barking at the gardener with the leaf blower. So, hopefully that will not be too distracting for any of us. I wanted to tell you a little bit more about who I am as it relates to this topic, especially. As in my introduction, I am introduced as a seasoned professional–I appreciate that–which means I’ve been in human resources for a while. And when it comes to mental health issues and especially the discussions that you have to have sometimes with employees, I have been on both sides of the table on those discussions–as the person who is talking to the employee about a mental health issue and as the employee who is being talked to about a mental health issue. And so, I’m halfway through a master’s in psychology. But I think what really prepares me to talk to you about this is because of my experience. And so, I’ll tell you more about that as we get going.


First of all, we’ve had mental health issues in America before COVID. It’s prevalent in America. The National Association of Mental Illness says “one out of five adults experience some form of mental illness every year.” Now, these are not mental illnesses that necessarily debilitate people and prevent them from working. There are a lot of people who have diagnosed mental illnesses and undiagnosed mental illnesses who go to work every single day, and sometimes their mental illness gets in the way of them being able to work, and sometimes it’s a non-issue. For the most part, you don’t even know that there is an issue because it’s never come up. So, just know that when you look around your workplace, one out of five people potentially are diagnosed mentally ill. Some of those disorders are anxiety disorders. Forty-eight million people in the United States have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders; major depressive episode, 17 million; post-traumatic stress disorder, nine million; bipolar disorder, seven million; borderline personality disorder, three point five million; obsessive-compulsive disorder, three million; and schizophrenia, one point five million. We’ve got a lot of mental illness in America. Unfortunately, nearly 60% of people with the mental illness do not receive treatment for that. Now, why is that? Well, sometimes it’s because they can’t afford to. Sometimes it’s because of the stigma involved with seeking some kind of treatment, especially for people who right now are called our essential workers. Firefighters, police officers–people who see trauma every single day–are much less likely to seek treatment for it because of the stigma involved, the fear of losing their job because they might come forward and say that they need some kind of help because a lot of times, people in those positions are men–and sorry if you’re a man listening–that you are less likely to receive treatment or to seek treatment as a result of the stigma that you are weak when you do try to receive treatment. Unfortunately, a lot of people who are in law enforcement and firefighters commit suicide as a result of the things that they see that they cannot process with an individual who can help them because they are reluctant to seek that treatment. So, that needs to stop. We need to become comfortable with the fact that we have mental illnesses. We’ve got to be comfortable talking about it and seeking treatment for it because as our COVID situation continues, our mental health issues will continue.


What mental health issues have happened as a result of COVID? Well, first of all, isolation. Now, that’s especially for those of us who are extroverts. I do a lot of training on personality styles and talking about extroverts and introverts. And one of the things that, if you’re not familiar with this, extroverts need to be around people in order to feel healthy. They need to talk to people in order to process information, to process their feelings, in order to feel healthy. And when they are isolated, it leads to unhappiness at the very least, depression at the most. So, those of you who are introverts and have you had to work from home, it might not have been so significant for you as it is for people who need to be around people in order just to feel healthy.


Massive job losses. I know that some people have gone back to work, but we still have about 30 million people who have filed for unemployment in the United States. I’m in California. I’m in a county in California where our restaurants opened, and then a couple of weeks later, the inside dining had to cease for at least three weeks. So, we had people who went back to work and now, they’re out of work again. And this seesaw back and forth is one of the things that leads to depression and anxiety.


Economic downturn. Of course, if people are not working, hopefully they’re not spending money that they’re not making, and all of these businesses who are not making money, and we all suffer as a result of that.


And school closures. A lot of people are having to educate their children while at home and if you have read reports about that, like I have, you have read that there’s not a lot of educating going on, and how difficult it is for people to try to work and try to educate their children at the same time. I saw something that said that most high schoolers are not even engaging in their classes. As soon as the classes stopped on campus, they were done pretty much. And one of the things that happened in a lot of places is that schools just gave the grade that the student had earned at the end of when the school started closing. And so, there was really no reason to continue education. One of the things that has happened in a school district in the county where I live is that the school district just decided to let the parents decide whether the schools were going to reopen or not, instead of making that decision. No surprise to me, the parents said, yes, schools need to open because they want to get their kids back there and probably out of their hair. So, we’ll see what happens with that.


Authors of the article, “The Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19 and Physical Distancing” said that they predict we’re in store for an overflow of mental illness. Now, you look at all those millions of people that I’ve already said are suffering from mental illness. We’re going to have millions more probably. So, that’s the bad news. I’m going to give you a little bit more bad news before I give you the good news. I do a lot of work on talking about different generations. As a matter of fact, I just co-authored a book on Generation Z that will be published hopefully in March. And so, I’ll let you know and send you an autographed copy for a small fee.


So, next slide, we’ll talk a little bit more about Gen Z. Generation Z–people calculate that this generation started being born in about 1995, 1996. So, how do you determine different generations is basically what was happening to them during their formative years. In our formative years–or when we were in high school or about that–what happens to people during those years usually has a significant impact on them and shapes them to a certain degree. I mean, the generation that we were born is just one of the many things that shapes us. But we have commonalities with people who are of the same age and they impact us to the degree that they did not impact prior generations. So, for example, Generation Z, the oldest is 24 years old. They don’t remember 9/11. Now, for Millennials, 9/11 was a huge defining factor. Imagine when you’re 10, 12, 15 years old, and you’re watching the Twin Towers come down. I was 37 or 38 when that happened, and it had an impact on me, but not the same as it does when you’re in your formative years. Your formative years–you were forming who you are and your worldview and events that happened during that time have a profound impact on us. One of the things that a set of Gen Z, as a result of all of the things that happened during their formative years, such as global warming, mass shootings, including lots of school shootings, sexual harassment, their coming of age during the #MeToo movement. Now, sexual harassment has always existed. It’s been against the law since 1980. But those of us who are older, it wasn’t in our face all the time like it is for the youngest generation. Family separations for a variety of reasons. One of the things that we don’t have–the nuclear family–so much as we did in previous generations, such as the Baby Boomers.


Work, and Generation Z hasn’t had a lot of work experience yet, but when they do go to work, typically it is very different than how they have grown up. One of the things that is said of Generation Z is that a lot of them had snowplow parents. Now, we’ve heard of the phrase helicopter parents for those parents who hovered around to make sure that everything was going OK with their children. Well, snowplow parents are the ones who are just forging, overcoming any obstacle or barrier to their child’s success. And a great demonstration of that was the college scandal–parents paying people to take their kids’ SAT and all sorts of things in order to get their kids into school. Now, that doesn’t represent all of Generation Z, obviously. But, think about this: For those of you who are my age–and I’m 57–if you went to school and accidentally forgot your lunch or your lunch money, would your parents have taken it to school for you? Chances are the answer was no. For the youngest generation, yeah, chances are the answers were mom or dad, typically mom, would leave work and go and take lunch to their child. And so parenting styles changed dramatically. Teaching styles changed dramatically for this generation. And when they go to work, a lot of times it’s a rude awakening for them, that their boss is not going to act toward them like their parents do. So, that’s one of the reasons that work is causing some anxiety for them.


And health and financial concerns. One of the things about Gen Z is that a lot of them struggle from health issues, primarily from obesity. Now, America is having health issues as a result of obesity, regardless of any age. One out of three American adults are obese. So, that’s one of the things, is that children are becoming obese as well. The more overweight you are, the more financial concerns you’re going to have because healthcare is going to cost more for you. So, just all of these things that Gen Z is growing up in that has caused them some stress. On top of that, they grew up with social media, and 48% say social media makes them anxious, sad, or depressed. Why? Well, look at the next statistic. Twenty-seven percent have a negative body issue. But when you have social media and you’ve got people who are altering their photos in order to make them look fabulous in every way, for some reason, people still tend to believe that that’s actually what they look like. Then, also, you have the fear of missing out–FOMO. And so, you have people who are posting photos about all the fabulous places they’re going and with the people they’re with, and if you’re not in that photo, then that causes some anxiety for you. Now, I was guilty of that. The other day, I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw a picture of my friend with some other friends and I went, “Hey, wait a minute, that’s not right. I’m not in that picture.” And I had to remind myself that people can do things without me and with other people, and that’s OK. But, when you’re 57, you can rationalize and process and do all of those types of things that when you’re 13 or 14, you just don’t have those skills yet.


Other things about Gen Z is a lot of them are stressed out because of racism. And it’s not just the current protests and things that are happening right now. I mean, if you grow up with racism, of course, that’s going to have an impact on you. In her article, “Black Kids and Suicide: Why are rates so high and so ignored?” the author said black children had the highest rate of death by suicide in 2016 and 2018, and that experiencing racism is associated with thoughts about suicide for black youth and adults. And then on top of that, black people are not the only ones who experience racism.


So another group of Generation Z are called “Dreamers.” And this is about the 800,000 children and young adults, who were brought into our country, sometimes not knowing that they were undocumented, and discovering that they could be deported. And so, we had DACA–the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals–that provided them with some relief for a while. But, we’ve had some movement around that. And so, people who are of that segment of the population admitted that the feeling of hopelessness because of their documented status caused them to consider suicide. Ironically, because Gen Z is so connected through social media, they are considered the loneliest generation of all the generations, because you know that that connection is not real. That’s one of the things about training through Zoom and through webinars is that sure, you can hear my voice and sometimes you can even see my face, but we’re not here together and it makes a big difference when we’re not actually in the same room. And so, that’s one of the things, is that that electronic connection does not make one feel connected. Sometimes it makes one feel even lonelier. Now, fortunately, young people have a tendency to be more open about their mental health issues. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 62% of people, ages 20 through 37, said they feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work. And that’s great because when you’re uncomfortable about it, it can cause all sorts of problems and you don’t seek help when you need it. Not surprisingly, people my age, only 32% said that they were comfortable. And we are the ones who really need to get comfortable, not only talking about any mental health issues we might have, but talking to employees about their mental health issues. So, hopefully, this webinar will help you do that.


Well, first of all, before we talk about what employers can do to help, let’s talk about the negative impact that work can have on employees’ mental health. Sometimes the reason that employees are experiencing mental health is because of work. Tedious job tasks, job insecurity, inflexible work schedules–can demoralize some employees or lower their motivation. How their supervisors talk to them. Yesterday, I mediated a conflict between a supervisor and employee, and the employee is feeling demoralized by how the supervisor is talking to him, especially in front of other employees. And this is consuming his brain–all he can think about–and it’s difficult for him to perform his job because of how demoralized he is by how his supervisor is communicating to him in front of other people, especially. So, that’s one of the first tips on being a good supervisor. Don’t have conversations in public that you should have in private. And, how you talk to your employees affects them and can affect their mental health. Workplace policies can have an effect on people’s health, how they live their life, and their ability to manage their work and family obligations. And that’s one of the things with a bunch of us going home to work, some people are saying, “I just like to stay here.” And that’s one of the things that some employers are allowing them to do. And that might be a good thing and that might be a bad thing. However, even if work isn’t the cause of mental illness, the workplace will increasingly be affected by it in lost productivity and employee absenteeism. The World Health Organization says that depression and anxiety cost a trillion dollars every year and lost productivity globally because Americans aren’t the only ones suffering from mental health issues–the world is.


There are a variety of things that employers can do to try to help. First of all, promoting a healthy work-life balance. Now, we’ve seen this phrase, “work-life balance.” And, what does that mean? Well, one of the things about the different generations that I frequently talk about, is the fact that Baby Boomers–and these are people born between 1946 and 1964–and during their formative years and early career, there are all of these careers that were available to them. And it wasn’t just a menial job, where you go dig ditches. It’s jobs that are filled with creativity and innovation and all sorts of things. And so, Baby Boomers began to work more and more and more. And typically, 50, 60, 70 hours during the workweek. And one of the things with Boomers is that they tend to think that the more hours you work, the more dedicated you are to the organization and look at people who just want to do eight-to-five jobs as slackers. Well, we got to get rid of that mentality. That’s just not good for anybody. It’s not good if you’re working that many hours because we need to rest. And one of the things that happened with Gen X, who came right after Baby Boomers–Gen X was born between 1965 and 1976–along those lines, they’re the ones who started to say, “You know, I’d like to stay home with my kids. I’d like to raise my children.” They were the children of the Baby Boomers, who are working 70, 80 hours a week, and they saw, “No, this is no good. I don’t want to do it.” And so, younger generations usually are much more in-line with, “Yes, I want to work eight to five and then, I want to have a life.” And those of us who are older need to get behind that because that really is what is going to keep employees healthy. We need to be able to discuss mental health and the workplace, and I’m going to give you a couple of formats for that, in just a moment. No, it doesn’t mean that we need to all the time be going around talking about our mental health issues or asking people, “Hey, what mental illness do you have?” It just means that we can’t be afraid of having the conversations that need to be had.


In addition, we can offer things like free screening tools. The organization, Mental Health America, offers free screening tools that people can access if they’re afraid to go to a doctor, if they don’t have the resources or the money, that they can look into it a little bit more to see if they might be able to self-diagnose.

Contract with an employee assistance program. And if you’re unfamiliar with that, these are usually organizations that, for a low fee, and actually it’s usually $2 or $3 per employee per month, and they will come to your workplace and provide workshops on stress management and financial planning because finances usually cause a lot of stress. They also have counselors that you can send employees to see, who employees can seek out on their own without the employer knowing about it. And so, if you’re not familiar with an employee assistance program, I strongly encourage you to look into it because really it is very cost-effective to have these resources available for your employees.


Prioritize wellness. How can you do that? One of the things that I see a lot when I go out and provide workshops, and if the employer does provide some food, it’s usually junk food. It’s sugar–it’s all sorts of things that employees should not be eating. And so, what does that have to do with our mental health? It has everything to do with our mental health. Our physical health impacts our mental health. And so, when you prioritize wellness, you want to make sure you are showing your employees “we care about your health,” by providing you with healthy snacks. If you’ve got vending machines are available, they’re not just filled with junk. They’re filled with healthy options as well.


That maybe you offer wellness incentive programs. And so, what would that look like? Well, if it were for physical health, and again, remember, physical health and mental health go hand-in-hand, that you are rewarding employees for getting up and taking their breaks, walking around, being at a stand-up desk. One of the things my employer really encourages people to use a stand-up desk. And we have the ability to take our computers from the sitting desk and raise them so that we can stand, and even offered to pay us money if we could stand for so long. I don’t think anybody was able to do it. But that’s prioritizing wellness and trying to help your employees be healthy.


Provide in-service events, such as workshops on stress management. And so, if you have staff meetings, then you can focus on some point of wellness during those staff meetings. And mental health days off. Now, many years ago, I was in a class with other HR professionals and the instructor asked, “How many of you think that employees should be allowed to take a paid mental health day off?” Now, out of this class, I’m sure I was the oldest one. And there was another woman there who was about my age. And when the instructor said, “How many of you think employers should offer this?” Every hand went up except mine and hers. As a Baby Boomer, I was taught you go to work unless you are physically incapable of working. A mental health day? No, I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, Baby Boomers pride themselves on going to work when they’re sick. And that’s one of the things we really got to get away from now, and hopefully, you all have, is that if you are sick, please stay home. But, I have changed my mind about mental health days. And one of the reasons for that is that shortly after that class, some employees in the San Francisco area, who had continued to ask for a day off because he was feeling so stressed out and was not granted that day off, went into his workplace and shot some of his coworkers. And that happens frequently. You know that. And so, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 312 employees were killed on the job by a coworker between 2011 and 2015. And a 2018 study conducted by the FBI said, the shooters typically were experiencing multiple forms of stress. So, if taking some paid time off will help reduce that stress and prevent tragedies like that from happening, I’m all for it.


Reduce the mental health stigma. And how do we do that? Well, one of the things is that we don’t talk about people and mental illness in ways that would make people reluctant to seek help. I mean, that’s one of the things that people talk about, people who are crazy, and they do that little gesture–the finger spinning by their head–people are crazy and all of that kind of stuff. And if we make jokes about it, and if we talk about people in a way that is insulting because they have mental health issues, then people are not going to speak up. So, we’ve got to make sure that we’re not doing that and take one step at a time. I mean, don’t do a complete overhaul on this–this is a lot of work. And so, set a goal for one thing that you might be able to start doing, and when you master that, continue on. Now, if an employee appears to be having some mental health issues because of how it’s affecting their job, then you would want to initiate a conversation with him. Now, make sure that you write down what you’re going to say–don’t try to wing it. And practice on somebody who would be appropriate, such as another supervisor or HR manager or whoever, before you have this conversation, because if you’ve never had it before, you’re going to be uncomfortable. And you want to practice so that you are prepared and it comes across as authentic as possible. When you are talking to somebody about the fact that you think that some issues might be getting in the way of their work performance, of course they’re going to be very defensive. And of course, they’re going to be very sensitive to what you have to say, so you’ve got to handle this conversation carefully.


So, first of all, you state your concern for the employee and it would sound something like this, “Robin, I want to talk to you because I’m concerned about you.” You talk about observable behavior. “You missed several important deadlines over the past two weeks.” Acknowledge the change in the behavior. “That’s just not like you.” Encourage action. “If things in your personal life are affecting you, we have a confidential employee assistance program that you can call.” Or, if your company doesn’t have an EAP, “You might want to talk to a professional about it.” Be sympathetic, but limit the conversation if the employee begins to reveal personal information. Reinforce your concern. “I really want to help you get back on track.” And reinforce the need for performance improvement. “It’s up to you whether you seek professional help or not, but I still need for you to meet your deadlines.”


Now, that might sound harsh to say to an employee, but it’s important for a couple of reasons. Number one, mental disability is protected, so it means that people with mental disabilities simply cannot be fired because they have one or you can’t refuse to hire them. So, they are protected characteristics and you can’t make any employment decisions about people because of knowing that they have a mental disability or thinking that they might. But people with disabilities still have to perform their jobs, with or without a reasonable accommodation. And so, you need to let people know, “You still need to perform your job. I just want to help you be successful in doing that.” And that will lead us to the next conversation.

But before we go to the next slide about that conversation, I do want to say this. As I said at the beginning, I was on, or have been on, both sides of having this conversation. And about 30 years ago, I was on the receiving end of this conversation. I was in my mid-20s. And as happens to a lot of people in their mid-20s, mental illness symptoms begin to show. And I was symptomatic for OCD, and I had a very, very sympathetic employer who had this discussion with me. And what was happening to me health-wise was impacting my behavior at work, and it was problematic. And so, my employer worked with me to try to get myself together. And I am so thankful for her for doing so. Especially at that time, OCD was not well known. And a lot of people talk about, “Oh, my OCD is kicking in” and that kind of stuff and they joke about it, and it’s not that big of a deal. But back then, I didn’t know what was going on with me. Neither did she. We just knew something was. But she really worked with me to help me stay employed and keep on track, and get the help that I needed in order for it to eventually become a non-issue. And thankfully, for the last 30 years, it has essentially been a non-issue. And none of my other employers ever knew about it because it was such a non-issue. You don’t have to tell people about your mental illness if it’s not causing any problems. But if it is causing problems, that’s the time to speak up.


When you need to speak up, it’s usually because you need some type of accommodation, or when an employee speaks up, it’s because of that. Hopefully, you’re well versed on the requirements for employers to provide accommodations to employees who have mental and physical disabilities. And the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide accommodations. As I said before, I’m in California and our law here says that it’s five or more employees. And so, wherever you are in America, your threshold for employee count might be lower than 15 employees. But federally, if you have 15 or more employees and they request an accommodation, you are obligated by law to go through the interactive process with them. And these are the steps to the interactive process.


You look at the essential job duties of the person performing the job. What are the things they absolutely have to be able to do in order to do their job? You look at any job-related limitations the employee has. So, if they are suffering from problems first thing in the morning, that might be a limitation–that they are not capable of fully functioning by a certain time of the day–and how does that impact the job? You identify possible reasonable accommodations, and unfortunately, that was left out of the slide there. So, that is the third thing–identify possible reasonable accommodations. You don’t have to come up with those. You should ask the employee, “Well, what do you think that we could do in order to accommodate you?” Now, you don’t have to do what the employee asks you to do. You can come up with your own accommodation. And let’s talk about what a reasonable accommodation is. It is something that’s not going to provide an undue hardship on you. Sometimes accommodations cost a little bit of money, and if it’s not too much money, then you’re expected to provide for it. But if it’s going to cease work or disrupt work too badly, then that probably would not be reasonable. And then, you implement the appropriate accommodation, if you can. If there is no accommodation that is reasonable, you don’t have to accommodate. But you want to make sure that you are trying to find whatever you can possibly do to try to keep that employee working. And of course, you are going to document all of that information. Now, if you have never had this conversation with an employee, don’t think you’re qualified to have it, based upon this information I’ve just given you. If you are a client of Vensure or one of our business partners, you have people there who can do those conversations for you, or can walk you through them.


And I encourage you to take care of yourself. One of the things that has happened as a result of the pandemic, and because of the racial strife and the self-isolation, everything else, is that we are grieving. Now, if you’re like me, when you first had to start staying in your home, at the end of the day, when you’re able to get yourself through the day, you might have had yourself a nice little cry at the end of the day. And that’s what I did for just about every day for a while. And I couldn’t really understand why I was getting so upset. I am incredibly lucky. I have a great job that continues in my home. I’ve got a great home. I’ve got a great husband, who is a great isolation partner for me. I mean, I don’t know how many times I can say great. I’m incredibly lucky. So, why am I doing this little pity party every night at the end of the night? And I watched a video by a psychologist that was incredibly helpful, and she said, “We are all grieving at this point. It is a collective grief that we are going through.” And if you have ever heard about the stages of grief, then it probably seems like it’s linear, that you go through first, “No, it’s not happening,” and then, “I’m mad about it,” and then I try to bargain, and then, I finally get over it, etc. And grief just doesn’t work that way. We don’t go through the stages in a linear fashion. We go back and forth and back and forth depending upon what’s happening, especially when everything’s a roller coaster ride like it is. We’re open, now we’re not open, etc. So, we’re grieving and that is OK. Don’t feel guilty if you feel tremendously sad and you can’t really pinpoint a reason for it. Sure, there’s a pandemic happening, but I’m still employed. Sure, all of the same stuff is happening, but I’m still OK. We’re not OK, and it’s OK for us to acknowledge that. And it’s a good thing for us to acknowledge that.


One of the things that I encourage you to do is to not put so much effort into trying to protect yourself from pain. I am reading a fabulous book right now. It’s called “Welcoming the Unwelcome,” and it’s the perfect time to be reading this book. And it talks about the fact that we try to protect ourselves from pain, like grief, so much, and all of that resistance only makes us unhappy. But when we’re OK to just sit with the unhappiness and the sadness, and really feel it, we’re connecting ourselves to the rest of humanity because we’re all feeling it. And doing that can help us feel better. So, don’t try to protect yourself from pain. Allow yourself to feel it. Emotion has motion. We need to flow through the motion that we are experiencing, and that is the way we’ll get through it. Just trying to guard ourselves from it is just going to cause us more anxiety. Resist polarization. And that’s one of the things that’s adding to our anxiety as well. If you wear a mask, then you have these political philosophies. If you don’t wear a mask, you have these political philosophies. And all that does is cause us more harm.


And so, our next webinar next week is “Becoming Culturally Competent,” and we’ll talk more about that next week. But in the meantime, between here and there, when you see someone who looks different from you because you’re wearing a mask and they’re not, or vice versa, instead of having a judgment about them, which automatically causes an “us against them” mentality and feeling, just have compassion in your heart for that person. I know this doesn’t sound very businesslike, but this is one of the things that’s going to help our mental health. We can’t just focus on how much money we’re making or how much business we’re generating. We’ve got to focus on helping ourselves be human so that we can interact with other human beings.


One of the techniques in the book that I’m reading is a breathing technique. And I’m sure everybody has heard about breathing techniques, especially if you take yoga classes. But this breathing technique is a little bit different. It’s when you breathe in, you breathe in all of the pain of what everybody’s feeling. And when you breathe out, you breathe out love and compassion. And so, why do I want to breathe in people’s pain? It’s connecting me to humanity. And when I breathe out love and compassion, then that’s my wish for humanity. It’s a great way to make yourself go to sleep at night. And so, that nice little breathing technique and connecting yourself with all of humanity helps us feel better connected and well-rested. Don’t avoid or postpone seeking help. Please don’t be afraid of a stigma. To me, it is ridiculous when people don’t seek help when it’s available to them. And if finances are a problem, then counties usually provide mental health services free of charge or for a very reduced rate. And mostly when you’re sad about what’s happening in your life, focus on helping other people. That’s what really brings joy to us. When the focus is on making somebody else’s day a better day, then that helps us get through that day. And that’s really what we’re supposed to do as HR practitioners, right, is to help other people. Hopefully, the information that I have given you can help you do that–take care of other people and take care of yourself. And now it’s time for some questions.


Lizz Morse OK, so to submit a question, please enter it in the dropdown section titled, “Questions.” If you are a current client, please indicate this by typing “client” in your question. If your question is not answered or you have additional questions after this discussion has concluded, please feel free to send them to webinarhrhelp@vensure.com. So, the first question that we have is, must applicants and employees reveal that they have a mental illness?


Robin Paggi They do not, no. As I said, most of my employers never knew that I have OCD because it was a non-issue. It did not affect my work performance. So, there was no need to talk about it. And also, you cannot ask applicants when they are applying for a job if they have mental health issues. And you don’t want to ask employees whether they do or not, also. If you feel that their work is disrupted by what might be a mental health issue, again, follow the format that I gave here earlier. You’re going to talk about their work behavior and the fact that something is affecting it, and perhaps they might seek help for it. So, you don’t want to go in and say, “Do you have a mental health issue? And is that something that’s impacting your performance?” That’s not the way to do it.


Lizz Morse The next question is, if employees are on medication for a mental illness, do they have to reveal that to their employer?


Robin Paggi Not unless it impacts their ability to do their job. So, again, a lot of people are on a lot of prescription drugs and you don’t have to reveal that to your employer unless it is something that could affect your driving ability or handling heavy equipment or something like that.


Lizz Morse OK, may employers require employees to seek counseling?


Robin Paggi Well, what they can do is if they have an employee assistance program–that’s one of the benefits of having that–is that employers may tell employees, “You need to go to the employee assistance program.” That is one of the things they can do. Now, if they don’t have an employee assistance program, employers can’t require an employee to seek assistance. They can suggest that maybe they do, but they can’t require it. What they can require is for employees to do their jobs. And that’s what you have to do. Whether you have a mental or physical disability or any other type of illness, you still have to be able to perform your job. It’s just with or without a reasonable accommodation.


Lizz Morse What was the name of the organization that offers free screening?


Robin Paggi It is Mental Health America.


Lizz Morse One last question that we have is, what do you suggest for people that are anxious about COVID and being in an office environment again?


Robin Paggi Yeah, that does cause a lot of anxiety for a lot of people and I completely understand that. I found out that I was exposed to someone who has COVID two days ago. And so, that caused me a little anxiety. Just be extra precautious. So, wear your mask and make sure you’re standing at least six feet away from people. So, when I have gone into the office or to a client’s, I make sure that we are way far away from each other and that as I’m entering the workplace and exiting and in common areas and all of that, I’ve got the mask on. I’m much more cognizant now about making sure after I wash my hands that I take the paper towel with me to open doors and that type of thing. And so, I know that people suffer from more anxiety about COVID than I do to a certain degree, and that all of those things might sound frivolous and things that you’ve heard a million times, and that doesn’t help. So, maybe this will help.


There are all sorts of illnesses constantly that we are subjected to and right now, this is the one that we’re focusing on. But here, where I live, we’ve got a problem with something called Valley Fever. And every time you go outside of your house or home here, you’re exposed to Valley Fever because of the things that are in the air. I read in this morning’s newspaper that now we’ve got to worry about mosquitoes again and Malaria. I mean, it’s just if you worry about all of the things that could kill you, you will never leave your bed. And your bed can kill you, too, because it has bedbugs in it. So, just one of the things is to understand that there is a huge focus on COVID right now, as there should be. But when we practice the hygiene suggestions that have been given to us, we really do help ourselves stay safe. And so, just be very stringent on making sure that you are practicing them and that you are having the people around you practice them as well. Don’t be afraid to tell somebody, “Could you back up a little bit, please? You’re within six feet of space.” You know, develop some jokes about it and just really take care of yourself and you probably will be fine. And that’s the mindset that you have to have as well. Let’s take care of ourselves, let’s take care of each other, and hope for the best. And that might sound like not significant advice, but it’s really about the best that we can do.


After I had my COVID scare, I went and got tested. First of all, how I was exposed to somebody with COVID is that I took an exercise class and it only had three other people in it, but one of them tested positive for COVID. And so I immediately alerted everybody that I had been in contact with to let them know. I was able to get tested immediately because we do have the facility in the town that I live that can provide immediate results for a nice little fee. Immediately got tested, fortunately negative, but much more cognizant of making sure that mask is on all the time and I’m standing away from people and all of that kind of stuff, because it is a scary situation when you find out that you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive.


Lizz Morse One more that just came in says, “Could you talk a little more about changing the mentality from good worker and the slacking worker based on the amount of hours they put on a week?”


Robin Paggi Well, one of the things I suggest that people really focus on results. So unfortunately, with the way that we pay people, we have exempt, we have nonexempt. Nonexempt employees get paid for the hours that they work. And as a result of that, the focus sometimes tends to be put on the hours or what’s important. And if you’re not putting in the hours, then you’re not doing a good job. I suggest we really focus more on results. Now, I don’t think that we’re going to change the Fair Labor Standards Act and say, you know, don’t pay people by the hour, pay them for the results. I don’t think that’s going to happen. But if you really focus on the results that people need to provide and whether they are providing them, why does it matter how many hours they’re working? And so one of the things that, I think, is that younger people because they have a better grasp on how to use technology than older people do, sometimes get the work done much quicker, as a result of that. I struggle with technology. It takes me longer to do things as a result of that. And so should I be applauded because it’s taking me longer to do things when actually I could be more efficient? And so how do you change the mentality? Well, that’s going to be a tough one for people who are stuck with the more hours you work, the more dedicated you are to your job. The good news is that the people who have that mentality usually are older and they’re retiring. So, workplace is going to look a lot different when more and more younger people are in it. And that’s just one of the things that we’ll have to count on.


Lizz Morse One more is, “Should we be worried about public transportation?”


Robin Paggi Yeah, of course. Any time we’re inside, what the experts are saying is that, outside is better than inside. Fewer people is better than more people. And so, sure, we need to be worried any time we’re in enclosed space with people. So you just try to take the same precautions as you possibly can as far as distancing yourself from them, making sure you’re wearing your mask, putting gloves on if you want to. That’s one of the things, women used to wear gloves all the time, I think that’s probably going to come back to a certain degree. But we’ve got to be careful, but we’ve got to live our lives. And that’s one of the things that after I got a negative response test result, my COVID test, my husband, who always sees the glass half empty, reminded me that there are false negatives and that I could actually be positive, but the test just said negative. And I said, you know, I encountered the person who had COVID 10 days ago, I have a negative test result, I am going to go out into the world. I am going to have my mask on. I’m going to keep my distance. But you’ve got to continue to live your life while you’re taking precautions. I traveled 30 minutes yesterday to go see a client, and while I’m worried about COVID, I could have easily been in a car accident. So that’s one of the things, is that the world is full of things that can hurt us. And if we are just so focused on those things, then we will fail to live our lives.


Lizz Morse So, thank you so much for everyone who attended and to our panelist, Robin.


Robin Paggi I would like to say I am a certified professional coach and frequently coach people one on one, not about their mental health issues, but about the challenges they face and being successful. And if that is something that you think you would benefit from or someone else, please contact me.


Lizz Morse Thank you so much, Robin. Have a great rest of your day, everyone.

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