"Feelings of social isolation, fear of risk as it relates to contracting COVID-19 and now in many instances financial concerns — these feelings of anxiety and fear are certainly on the rise," says Lori Cassleman, President and Chief Revenue Officer at Wello Virtual Healthcare
Statistics show a significant percentage of the global population have developed mental health concerns as a result of COVID-19. As businesses reopen, those issues are translating into workplace — and employer — concerns that may only be exacerbated by the uncertainty of the new normal.
“Feelings of social isolation, fear of risk as it relates to contracting COVID-19 and now in many instances financial concerns — these feelings of anxiety and fear are certainly on the rise,” says Lori Cassleman, President and Chief Revenue Officer at Wello Virtual Healthcare.
According to a recent IPSOS poll, nearly 60% of Canadians report some form of mental health concern during the course of the global pandemic. Younger Canadians in the 18-34 and 35-54 age groups report being harder hit (62% and 65% respectively) compared to those over 55 (43%).
On top of that nearly four in 10 (38%) of workers still do not feel safe returning to their regular workplace, according to Statistics Canada, with employees in Ontario and Quebec the most concerned (46% and 42% respectively) compared to the rest of the country (the Atlantic provinces sit at 27%, the Prairies at 25% and British Columbia at 21%).
Beyond the basics of ensuring a physically safe workplace — there are excellent public resources to help employers understand what best practice looks like “given this is a relatively new challenge and environment,” Casselman says — there are things employers can do to help their employees navigate an uncertain time.
She recommends making sure employees know which steps are being taken to keep everyone safe, and that they are being taken on a daily basis. Employers can also empower their workforce and give them a sense of control by letting them know how to do their part in mitigating the risk.
Implement a strategy
“Implement first and foremost a really strong and focused communication strategy,” Casselman says, adding employees should ideally be advised on a weekly if not day-to-day basis of what’s happening with their organization and how policies and practices are changing.
More vital as time goes on is providing resources to those employees who have questions or need someone to speak to. That could be an EAP provider or access to an internal leader in the human resources department, for example, who is involved in building out the COVID-19 return-to-workplace strategy.
Despite employers’ best efforts, employees may still find their fears or concerns overwhelming. Casselman recommends employees be made aware of resources that are in place to support them if they need to speak to a therapist or receive counselling to help manage their anxiety.
A tool released by Wello in July can help alleviate stress on both sides of the employer/employee relationship. The Return to Workplace tool “enables employers from across the country to navigate the complexities of determining the eligibility of their employees to return safely to work. It can be tailored to the needs of each organization and provides management teams with an accurate snapshot of the overall health of their workforce to allow for effective long and short term planning while reducing illness related risk in the workplace.”
“What we’ve done is effectively built the requirements to screen individuals coming back into the workplace into our platform, so an employer who wants to add screening tools can easily add them to the core services,” Casselman says.
Employees go through a series of step-by-step questions, all available on their mobile device with the Wello app, and receive an email that either gives them approval or explains their ineligibility based on their responses. If they are not cleared, they have the opportunity to request an appointment with a clinician who can support them in appropriate next steps.
Employers receive aggregate reporting of all results that can be broken down by manager, a key feature that allows leaders to ensure adequate back up and replacements, or get work accommodations in place to make sure affected employees can work remotely.
It’s been very well received, Casselman notes, because it’s highly valuable for the employer to have insight and real-time information to plan their day-to-day work productivity and support their workforce. From an employee perspective, there’s peace of mind knowing not only are they personally going through the screening protocol but their coworkers are as well.
The future path
Casselman says Wello saw a marked increase in the demand for virtual care services across the country starting in March as a result of COVID-19. While the services offer access to clinical guidance and support around symptoms of COVID-19, they can be used for all health-related concerns — and not having to go into a physician’s office or a walk-in clinic for run-of-the-mill complaints or regular appointments has become incredibly important in the pandemic environment.
“The growth in our business has been dramatic, the demand has been incredible,” she says, noting the feedback has been “enormously positive.”
Wello is there to support new clients, whether it’s for core virtual health care services or return to work support, and the launch and registration processes have been modified so employers can give their employees access to these tools within 48 hours.
“We have a highly responsive protocol in place specifically to support employers through COVID-19 and return-to-workplace steps,” Casselman says.
“From our perspective it has felt very positive to have such a timely, relevant solution throughout this period to be able to support Canadians.”