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New NSC Data Reveal Need for Expanding Workplace Mental Health Services, Support

SAFER initiative report highlights lessons learned from employer COVID-19 response and provides guidance on future pandemic-related workplace safety.

September 22, 2022

SAN DIEGO — A newly released National Safety Council report found that 50% of large employers (those with 250 or more employees) have observed an increase in mental health or impairment-related absences and incidents during the pandemic. The report was conducted by the NSC SAFER initiative, a comprehensive effort aimed at helping employers prioritize workplace safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

NSC findings showed one in four employers with an employee assistance program implemented that program for the first time, and two-thirds expanded their offerings during the pandemic.

“The mental health needs of workers changed, as did many other aspects of life due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The loss of office, outside social interactions and child care support, as well as hybrid work and higher overall stress, made burnout a more prominent threat to U.S. workforces,” said Lorraine Martin, NSC president and CEO. “The impacts to mental health we have seen over the past few years are long term and so too should be employers’ efforts to support their employees.”

Feeling unsafe at work, physically or psychologically, is associated with negative mental health outcomes. NSC found people who felt unsafe at work were two to three times more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders than those who did not. 

Additional findings from SAFER surveys highlight how critical a role employers play in helping their workforce achieve and maintain full vaccination status. Workers surveyed had a higher vaccination rate than the general population, driven in part by employer policies that encourage or require vaccination. Moreover, people who received information about vaccine safety and efficacy from their employers were better at identifying misinformation and more likely to be vaccinated. Vaccine policies, such as paid time off to get the shot, encouraged higher vaccine uptake among those who were not required to be vaccinated. On average, employers with vaccine requirements retained 99% of their workforce.

Findings from the SAFER report informed the Council’s development of recommended actions for employers to prioritize the mental health and wellbeing of workers as well as long-term COVID-19 safety practices. Recommendations include: 

1. Support the mental health and wellbeing of workers through the pandemic and beyond. Consider resources such as the NIOSH Total Worker Health® Workbook when implementing interventions to assess and support worker health at your organization.

2. Periodically re-evaluate control measures for infectious disease protection to future-proof your workplace for new, more contagious variants and future disease outbreaks.

3. Monitor the common method of transmission of new COVID-19 variants and emerging diseases and assess whether the priority of new control measures should be aimed at mitigating airborne or fomite transmission.

4. If vaccine requirements are in place at your organization, routinely update policies as new CDC guidance on booster doses becomes available.

5. Continue to implement policies that encourage vaccination as workers require booster doses to maintain up-to-date vaccination status.

6. Reduce barriers preventing working parents from getting their children vaccinated, such as providing PTO or onsite vaccination for families.

The SAFER report comprised data from surveys and interviews conducted between November 2021 and August 2022 with workers and employers. The data presented in this report are representative of responses from more than 7,000 workers and 1,600 employers.

Get the full report.

About the National Safety Council
The National Safety Council is America’s leading nonprofit safety advocate – and has been for more than 100 years. As a mission-based organization, we work to eliminate the leading causes of preventable death and injury, focusing our efforts on the workplace, roadway and impairment. We create a culture of safety to not only keep people safer at work, but also beyond the workplace so they can live their fullest lives.

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