As we adjust to our new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental wellbeing of employees should remain a top priority for employers. Each employee faces a unique set of circumstances that may have negative implications for their mental health. Many employees are juggling childcare or caregiving for a parent while working from home, while others may be worried about their financial stability.
There are several steps you can take to help your employees stay productive and show them that their mental wellbeing is important during this challenging time.
Every business has been impacted by COVID-19 one way or another, and this can create the perfect storm for employees to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Now more than ever, employers should create an environment of empathy and compassion in the workplace.
Outside of professional pressure, some employees may also be facing numerous financial concerns due to potential furloughs. Other employees, especially those in clinical environments, may have concerns about their own health and physical wellbeing on top of their professional responsibilities. It is important that employers take these potential mental health triggers into account when communicating with employees. Even simply checking in on your employees and asking them how they are doing is a great way to show you care about their mental wellbeing.
Set Realistic Expectations
Because many employees are juggling a multitude of new responsibilities, be mindful of what can realistically be accomplished in the workday. Encourage employees to start small and focus on a few tasks a day, rather than tackling a long list of assignments all at once. It is also important to help teams set boundaries—just because many of us live and work in the same environment for the time being does not mean employees should be expected to work around the clock. Those not able to work from home are likely facing added pressure at work and may be stressed about keeping themselves healthy while still meeting professional expectations.
Employees should also be encouraged to continue their normal self-care activities, such as getting enough sleep and exercising. Managers might consider putting time on everyone’s calendar to get outside and take a walk each day, which has proven to increase morale and reduce stress.
Foster an Open Dialogue
Remind your employees that we are all in this together by urging colleagues to use technology to stay connected. Since COVID-19 limits normal face-to-face communication with colleagues, employers should encourage conducting meetings and calls over video chat whenever possible. Connecting frequently via video is a great way to ensure that employees do not feel the lack of human connection and remain productive in this new environment. It is also a useful tool to help managers spot signs of employees seeming withdrawn, agitated or neglecting their self-care so they can engage them in additional conversation and point them toward helpful mental health resources.
Similarly, employers should also consider using technology to foster dialogues about mental health. Think about encouraging one-on-one weekly or monthly “mental health chats” between mentors and mentees to assess employee morale and address any company issues caused by COVID-19. If employees realize that their company values their individual mental wellbeing, they will feel more supported and encouraged to share mental health concerns with their colleagues. Employers may even see a positive impact on work output as a result, as mental health disorders are known to reduce productivity.
Employers might also want to encourage senior leaders to share their own struggles and strategies for managing stress during COVID-19. These leaders often have a platform and the respect of their teams, and their honesty could help destigmatize mental health issues and have a ripple-effect on the entire workforce.
Identify Available Resources
Outside of a typical office environment, employees may be confused about where to turn when they have mental health concerns. It is especially important for employers to promote resources and engage with employees regularly about mental health during the pandemic. For example, employers should make sure their employees are aware of the mental health resources available through their company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and direct workers to the right telehealth services for mental health counseling. Additionally, employees who are interested in starting or continuing a mindfulness practice may like Calm, Headspace or other similar apps, which companies often make available to employees and provide guided meditations and other resources to help manage stress and anxiety.
We have a responsibility to look out for our colleagues all the time, but particularly as we work together to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. By promoting human connection and empathy, encouraging a dialogue about mental health, and promoting available resources, employers can support their employees’ mental wellbeing and help them remain resilient during this challenging time.