The 18-month-long pandemic upheaved American society in a way that the nation hasn’t seen for over 100 years — schools shut down, parents balanced homeschooling and working remotely. Other Americans lost their jobs and more still worked on the front lines.

For Marie Story, corporate well-being consultant and team leader at Walsh Duffield, balancing new motherhood and her job this year came with flooding emotions of guilt and anxiety. 

“It’s just hard to be all things to everyone all the time,” she said. 

Story isn’t alone. 

About 9 in 10 employees say their workplace stress impacts their mental health and nearly 1 in 4 employees showed the most extreme signs of burnout like cynicism and reduced professional effectiveness, according to the 2021 Mental Health America Mind The Workplace report. 

Mental Health Advocates of Western New York (MHAWNY) launched their free Mindset initiative to help train employers on mental health best practices five years ago.

Throughout the pandemic, the organization saw an increase in companies signing up for this program and a change in American corporate culture. 

“COVID has caused so many shifts in our culture,” said Melinda DuBois, the executive director of MHAWNY. “What I have been hearing is that workplaces that don’t value mental health, that don’t actually look at this work-life balance are the ones that are really hurting.”

The Mindset program is offered both in-person and through Zoom beyond the eight counties of Western New York. 

The Buffalo-based insurance company Walsh Duffield participated in the Mindset program this summer including Story, a mother of two little girls. 

Everyone has struggled with this pandemic in their own ways, she said.  

For those who live alone, this pandemic has been incredibly isolating and for parents of young children like herself who balanced homeschooling and work.

One in three mothers has considered leaving or downshifting their careers because of pandemic-related stressors, according to the sixth annual Women in the Workplace study,  

“There’s definitely a lot of anxiety and sometimes when you have children, there’s some guilt that really makes you feel bad because you feel because you can’t be the best at everything all the time, and so it’s very easy to feel anxious and it’s easy to feel stressed out and just that feeling of guilt,” Story said. 

But companies can do things that address this crisis and even get in front of it by incorporating self-care strategies in the workplace, like giving people breaks, starting meetings with deep breathing techniques and making sure employees know what mental health benefits are offered to them, said DuBois.

In addition to Walsh Duffield’s employees participating in the program, about 40 of their clients also participated in the program, which highlights the importance of cultural changes like using sick days for mental health.

“Sometimes that’s really all somebody needs is a day off to disconnect, to rest, especially if they’ve been working 40, 50, 60 hours,” Story said. “That’s really setting up that culture that mental health is on par with physical health.” 

To learn more about Mental Health Advocates of Western New York’s Mindset program or their other resources, visit their website or call (716) 886-1242.