With a multitude of employees transitioning to work from home this year, businesses have been pushed to learn flexibility. However, this change has made it easier to blur work and life balance and forget to unplug from one’s job while off the clock.

Over 50 percent of people have reported worse mental health at work since COVID-19 started, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation.

This is just a sample of the awareness and advice presented by five speakers at a recent Zoom session revolving around workplace wellbeing.

It was the first virtual event offered to Douglas County and surrounding communities by United Way with the goals of educating people and staying connected.

The mission of United Way is to fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community, so this series was started with the tagline, “Zooming in on what matters most.”

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Kesha Anderson with Region 4 South Mental Health Consortium was the first presenter.

“If you have a brain, then you have mental health,” Anderson said.

She simplified stages of mental health into four categories: healthy, reacting, injured and ill. At least some time in the last calendar year, Anderson guessed almost everyone moved somewhere into the reacting or injured categories. She said that prioritizing mental health in the workplace would help improve both productivity and communication.

She emphasized that a lack of collaboration in online forums and misunderstandings found in emails or texts are much more common occurrences than issues that may arise during face-to-face communication.

Julie Wymore with Lutheran Social Services discussed how to protect and build resilience with employee mental health.

“Everyone experiences changes in it, and we want to be sensitive to each employee’s unique experience,” she said. “Isolation is going to be our enemy right now.”

At Lutheran Social Services, Wymore said the staff holds weekly, virtual check-ins to discuss the work environment and encourage employees to talk about any personal updates, experiences or self-care plans.

“We really want to make sure we’re taking care of each other and watching out for each other,” Wymore said.

Kristin Goracke with The Village Family Service Center told the employers attending Zoom that they should make an extra effort to set an example of maintaining and promoting a positive outlook.

She highlighted four areas of wellbeing specifically impacted by COVID-19: physical, social, emotional and mental.

For tending to physical wellbeing, Goracke recommended checking out the YMCA’s virtual resources, allowing workplace pauses, hosting walking Zoom meetings and taking breathing breaks. She had everyone attending the session try the last option.

“When you’re ready, we’ll come back together,” Goracke said, asking everyone to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths. “I liked that.”

To boost social wellbeing, she suggested creating spaces to share personal details and things unrelated to work, separating time for a “water cooler” break of sorts with coworkers, sharing photos or having fun, activity-oriented meetings.

Regarding emotional wellbeing, Goracke said workplaces should set specific structure and boundaries as well as call out appreciative moments, no matter how small.

As for financial wellbeing, she said individuals should avoid overspending, and employers should keep their communication as clear and consistent as possible about the status of the workplace.

Especially this time of year, she said encouraging others to use their paid time off is crucial.

“Grief and stress are typical during the holidays, and this year is just exacerbated,” Goracke said.

Amy Reineke with Horizon Public Health said that this session was designed to call attention to the importance of maintaining good mental health.

“While we’re living through the pandemic, it’s the pandemic itself that’s causing us to feel stressful,” she said, noting how hard it is to sift through and keep up to date with current information. “We need even those at the highest level of our industries to promote self-care. It’s OK to not be OK, too.”

COVID-19 cases climbed rapidly in November, but Reineke encouraged listeners to avoid screening fatigue.

In order to refrain from becoming overwhelmed by the quantity of COVID-19 updates and resources, she recommended employers focus on three primary actions: protect, promote and provide. If resources aren’t readily available in the workplace, she said to start looking for ways to expand them.

Each speaker mentioned websites and contacts people may access to start a conversation about mental health in their workplace.

Two websites listed were makeitok.org and workplacementalhealth.org, which provide resources to normalize mental health.

Another mentioned was Wellness in the Woods. On its website, a peer-to-peer phone support line is open from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. when conventional support lines aren’t available.

Online support group opportunities can be found at namimn.org, and a free COVID coach app can be downloaded that focuses on equipping employees with coping skills.

“We couldn’t have offered a session like this without the presenters,” said Jen Jabas, executive director of United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties. “It’s hard to fit into one hour.”

Kesha Anderson with Region 4 South Mental Health Consortium discusses two illustrations outlining mental health statistics during the workplace wellbeing session on Zoom. By increasing employee awareness of mental health and providing staff members with the resources they need, Anderson said both productivity and communication could improve. (Jasmine Johnson / Echo Press)
Kesha Anderson with Region 4 South Mental Health Consortium discusses two illustrations outlining mental health statistics during the workplace wellbeing session on Zoom. By increasing employee awareness of mental health and providing staff members with the resources they need, Anderson said both productivity and communication could improve. (Jasmine Johnson / Echo Press)