COVID-19 Brain Strain: How Employers Can Cultivate a Brain Healthy Workplace

By |Published On: August 3rd, 2023|

We are all somewhat familiar with the “mind-body” connection and have probably heard the cliché, “mind over matter,” yet ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been increasing buzz surrounding the influence of body on mind and vice-versa. 

Safe to say, it’s clear that mental health and physical health are intricately connected, and taking care of the body and brain are essential for lifelong health and happiness. Surely physical health problems increase the risk of developing mental health issues, and mental health issues often come with physical symptoms.  Whichever comes first often results in a spin out of the second, and regardless of the order in which these symptoms present themselves they can make activities of daily living, including work, difficult.  

Now more than ever, people are focused on well-being in the workplace including how stress at work impacts their home life and how challenges outside of work may impact workplace productivity. By providing resources and opportunities to optimize brain health, employers can play a key role in helping their staff take charge of their mental health. Keep reading to find out the importance of brain health, how it impacts employers and employees and solutions that employers can implement to help their employees live happier, healthier lives while positively impacting their bottom line.  

What is Brain Health?

First, let’s start with defining brain health. Brain health refers to the state of brain functioning across multiple areas – cognitive, social-emotional, behavioral and motor. Social determinants of health related to our environment, physical health, social connectivity, safety and quality of life impact how our brains develop over the life course and our ability to adapt and respond to life changes and challenges. A key component of optimizing brain health is addressing these determinants and how they influence our lives day-to-day and long term.  

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body, controlling our actions and choices, and influencing our outlook on life, which is why optimal brain health is essential to promoting overall health. 

Mental Health in the Workplace

1 in 5 Americans are living with some form of mental illness that impacts their day-to-day life (NAMI). Mental health issues – including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse – impact more than just mood and outlook on life. Poor mental health and stress affect the rest of the body, leading to poor physical health, decreased work productivity and increased isolation and loneliness. All of this was exacerbated by the social, financial and occupational hardships that many people experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which deeply affected brain health and cognitive performance, and the lasting mental health effects are notable among employees across all professions. 

Across industries, office environments and workplace policies have changed drastically along the course of the onset and after-effects of the pandemic. Remote positions and hybrid schedules have become more commonplace, which has had varying effects on workers’ productivity and communication. Workplace stress is not a new concept, but these rapid changes have blurred work-life boundaries and introduced new challenges to finding balance between work and home life.  

Employers are well-positioned to support their employees in strengthening their brain power and improving their emotional and mental health. Providing further support and resources for employees to learn skills and techniques for coping with day-to-day stressors, improving mental health, and optimizing brain health, is beneficial for both employees and employers. 

Understanding the Mind-Body Connection

Understanding the mind-body connection and whole person health is critical to truly understand the impact of mental and brain health on overall health. Poor mental health and ongoing stress can cause or worsen numerous chronic health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. People with depression are 40% more likely to develop cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the rest of the population. In 2021, in the height of the pandemic, it was found that 33.5% of US adults (19.4 million) with a mental illness also experienced a substance use disorder (NAMI).  

Treatment for mental illness is not always easily accessible; with less than half of Americans with a mental illness connecting with the resources that they need to manage their condition (NAMI). Health insurance may not cover necessary services, leaving individuals struggling to manage high costs of continued care. Those with busy families and demanding jobs may not be able to prioritize their health. Opportunities to strengthen our brain power, practice mindfulness and improve self-care behaviors need to be more readily available and widespread. 

COVID-19 Brain Strain

In the past few years, workplace mental health has caught the attention of employers. According to a 2021 report from Mind Share Partners, the most common workplace factors that negatively impact mental health among employees include emotionally draining work, challenges with work-life balance, and lack of recognition. Half of full-time workers report having left roles largely due to mental health reasons, and 76% report experiencing symptoms of burnout, depression and anxiety in 2021.  

At GoMo Health, we call this COVID-19 brain strain, and it can be difficult to navigate for both employers and employees. Poor mental health in the workplace also has financial ramifications. Missed work and unplanned absences are estimated to cost the US economy over $47 billion each year in lost productivity (Gallup). Companies can end up spending as much as $15,000 per year on each employee experiencing mental health problems (NSC).  

Untreated mental illnesses in the workplace can lead to: 

  • Reduced work productivity 
  • Unsafe working conditions  
  • Higher turnover rates 

Supporting Employees with Mental Health Management

Addressing mental health issues including brain health in the workplace promotes inclusion, social connectiveness and improved communication and can reduce employer costs. Resources such as mental health self-assessments, screenings and workshops/seminars should be readily available and easily accessible to all employees. Health insurance plans need to include coverage for mental health services with no or low out-of-pocket costs, and supervisors should be mindful of employees’ ability to attend related appointments and treatment during the work week. Several workplace mental health calculators, like those from Pathways and the National Safety Council, are helpful for employers to calculate approximate costs of mental health challenges among employees. 

Since the pandemic, many companies have made greater efforts to improve organizational culture and make mental health a priority. Day-to-day support, such as extended breaks and improved communication among all levels of staff, along with resources such as increased paid time off and mental health training have grown within companies across the US (MSP). Significant and meaningful change in workplace mental health requires action from employers and employees alike. As organizational leaders, employers are in a unique position to provide opportunities to promote transparency about mental health strain and advocate for healthy work practices that promote a positive work environment. Employees should feel empowered to advocate for their mental health and utilize available resources that are set up to support them. 

A New Era of Brain Health and Well-Being in the Workplace

Fueled by the effects of COVID-19, GoMo Health collaborated with the Center for Brain Health to develop the Employee Brain Health Personal Concierge program applying the GoMo Health evidence-based science of engagement and the Center’s strategies and techniques for enhancing brain health and fostering resiliency. This program is designed to guide people of all ages using cognitive and behavioral approaches to improve individuals’ health journeys, addressing  mental and emotional needs with personalized guidance and support.  

Customized to fit the growing needs of the workplace environment, the Employee Brain Health program empowers employees to engage in brain fitness by practicing brain health techniques to manage stress and anxiety and enhance cognition and flexibility of thinking. The program is designed to unlock employee brain power to boost productivity, enhance social relationships, and manage stressors to foster a positive outlook. Providing these unique opportunities to empower employees to take charge of their own health, and in turn, improve their overall health, well-being and productivity is a new way to create real change in the culture of a company.  

To learn more about workplace brain health and how you or your employer can benefit from implementing a customized employee focused program, watch our latest webinar where GoMo Health CEO, Bob Gold, presents in collaboration with the Health Care Administrators Association (HCAA) on the power of brain fitness. 

Watch our latest webinar here!


  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). [Internet] Mental Health By the Numbers. Accessed on 7/19/2023. 
  2. The White House. [Internet] Reducing the Economic Burden of Unmet Mental Health Needs. Accessed on 7/19/2023. 
  3. Mind Share Partners. [Internet] Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report. Accessed on 7/19/2023. 
  4. Gallup. [Internet] The Economic Cost of Employee Mental Health. Accessed on 7/19/2023.  
  5. National Safety Council (NSC). New Mental Health Cost Calculator Shows Why Investing in Mental Health is Good for Business. Accessed on 7/19/2023. 
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