The coronavirus pandemic has had serious consequences for mental health.
At their worst, national lockdowns resulted in rates of depression so high it was predicted that over half of the entire adult population was affected by the condition. In the United Kingdom, the use of antidepressants rose to nearly 10% of the population, while in the USA, prescriptions were up by 34%.
What the evidence demonstrates is that we aren’t just talking about people feeling a little lower than usual – we’re talking about serious and clinically defined depression. The sort that can be disabling enough to prevent being able to work at all. If you have a staff member with depression or anxiety and they are unable to work, you might want to suggest to them that they search for something like “long term disability insurance”. With disability insurance, they have one less thing to worry about as a portion of their wages will be paid to them for the duration of their depression by their insurer. As a responsible employer, it is your duty to ensure you do everything you can to help your staff, not just so that you can have an effective workforce, but for their own wellbeing.
As the pandemic has gone on, we can now understand how the threat of COVID-19 goes far beyond the direct impact of the virus, national closures and changes to working life. Productivity declines caused by mental health problems are no joke. Before COVID-19, WHO estimated depression cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity, and even minor cases of depression can fuel revenue loss. With COVID-19 having such a major impact, the risk of lockdown-related mental health issues is not something any business should take lightly.
But what can businesses do to protect their employees when they’re working from home?
There are lots of very obvious options that your HR department may have already started to deploy. We’re talking about activities that help with isolation, such as online chats and get-togethers. There’s also the provision of mental health counselling and promoting wellness through practices like yoga, meditation and regular outdoor exercise. Yet these all rely on your employees actively engaging in opportunities – you can’t force people to go to counselling sessions or do yoga.
You do have other options though, options that require no effort from your employees yet can have a significant impact on mood and energy.
You can send your remote working staff plants for their home-work stations.
Plants & Stress
Plants have the power to ease stress and anxiety.
It’s a difficult measurement to calculate and quantify – the percentage at which something can reduce stress levels – but The Greenlife Industry gave it a very good go. It determined that work environments with plants can reduce feelings of stress by up to 37% compared to those without.
This is a significant and exciting figure.
How plants achieve a reduction in stress is not exactly clear, but the physiological responses are definable and measurable. In the presence of plant life:
- The brain produces more serotonin (the feel-good chemical).
- There is a reduction in muscle tension and rigidity.
- The heart rate lowers.
- There is a positive change in electrical activity in the brain.
Yet the mechanism behind these changes still alludes researchers.
One study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology suggests the changes are due to respiratory contact to microbes in plant soil, as well as touching and smelling real plant life. While this may be a factor, other research has uncovered that artificial plants can also reduce stress without the presence of natural biochemicals and microbes.
The most widely believed theory is that our relationship with plants is often associated with freedom and leisure. The most stressful aspects of modern lifestyles are often conducted inside, from tough days at the office and chores at home to hospital visits and crowded shopping trips.
In these situations, there is little in the way of plant life.
By contrast, relaxation and leisure time – walks outside, picnics in the park, morning jogs, holidays abroad, outdoor sports, summers in the garden, etc. – is more commonly associated with plant life.
Our brain creates a connection between the two, which induces a more relaxed state of mind. It’s a powerful, subconscious reaction, and it’s one that you can take advantage of to aid your employees and help them through this difficult time.
By simply investing in some indoor planters for your employees’ home office setups, you can provide them with that all-important 37% reduction in stress and anxiety. Plants are not a magic bullet for depression – they won’t solve all problems related to COVID-19 stress – but they have proven benefits and should not be underestimated when attempting to support remote-worker wellbeing, particularly for those that struggle to engage with other opportunities.