Let’s Talk About Mental Health in the Workplace During COVID-19

Everyone can agree that the Coronavirus pandemic has enormously affected most workplaces. From businesses that went under to employees switching to working from home, things are far different from what they were a year ago. But amidst the many health concerns and changes in routine, there’s not nearly enough talk about mental health in the workplace.

For organizations whose aim is to nurture the wellbeing of their employees, emphasizing mental health during this time is going to be vital. Unfortunately, though, addressing issues can be difficult when the situation is as novel as the one we’re facing.

So, if you’re looking for ways to improve your team’s emotional wellbeing during COVID-19, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Educate Yourself About Prevalent Issues

The first thing to pay attention to when addressing mental health in the workplace is that you stay informed.

Naturally, you’re going to become familiar with the epidemiological situation and the measures it necessitates. But, don’t forget to look out for information about psychological wellbeing as well.

The World Health Organization has an array of mental health resources on their official website. You can use these to model your response. Of course, don’t forget to also check for more local trends.

For example, the Philippines had a surge of hotline calls regarding depression during lockdown. As people’s financial and emotional stability suffered, so did their mental health. For employers in the region, this is a clear signal. They need to ensure they’re providing workers with adequate mental health support.

Naturally, getting started can be a challenge – but do your best to have a response ready.

First and foremost, practice open, honest communication with your employees. Ask questions and listen to their feedback. Even more, seek out ways to better support them. If you notice any warning signs regarding emotional wellbeing, such as those pointing to burnout, act swiftly.

Remember, the COVID-19 pandemic comes with numerous stressors. In addition to a heightened state of worry about their health, people are also facing financial pressure and uncertainty. Sometimes, these feelings will even affect employee performance. So do your best to support your team. Yes, it’s a new situation, but making sure you’re responding in the right way will promote employee health, happiness, and productivity.

Predict and Meet Changing Needs

As you take steps to address mental health in the workplace during COVID-19, think about the problems your employees may be facing during these times. As always, you can’t predict the future. However, you can make educated guesses and prepare for the challenges ahead.

If your team is working from home, they may not have access to a quiet workspace. Or, they may have to share it with household members. Some may even need to take care of children or family while working.

All of these challenges make for distractions, which could be preventing productivity. So, try to keep them in mind when assigning tasks and setting deadlines. With just a bit of foresight, you’re far more likely to create schedules that support a healthy approach to work during these times.

Then, there will be those companies that have had to return to their offices. In these cases, employees may face different types of stress. Do they share their working space with many colleagues? Do they have to take public transport to get to work?

As a business leader, you should do your best to predict the difficulties your team may be facing. While you may not be able to make the conditions ideal, you might manage to remove some obstacles.

For example, providing employees with the required PPE at work is a given. So is making sure that they have all the necessary technology if working from home. But, you could also go a step further.

If your workers commute by public transportation, you may give them more flexibility with their hours. Think about it: the average 45-minute commute means as much as 30 minutes less sleep per night. Now, imagine how exhausted your employees might be if they’re waking up earlier than usual to avoid rush hour for safety reasons. Allowing them to start 60 minutes later, or even work remotely once or twice a week could give them the time needed to make it to work without sacrificing rest (and, of course, productivity).

Encourage Self-Care

Finally, as a business leader, you need to understand that it’s not entirely up to you to keep your employees healthy and happy. Yes, you have to provide them with the required resources, but you cannot go checking how they spend every minute of their time at the office.

Instead of trying to control their wellbeing, find ways to encourage self-care. Offer mental health days they can use to practice stress relief. Make sure everyone has enough vacation time. Provide care packages, or even introduce emotional support at the office.

Furthermore, do your best to keep employee motivation and morale high. Something as simple as a socially distanced team building activity could help your team relax together and stay connected during these trying times.

Approach These Challenges as a Leader

Unfortunately, business leaders can’t avoid the mental health consequences of COVID-19 affecting the workplace. However, with the right approach, they can help employees deal with the new challenges.

In finding the best solution for your organization’s needs, make sure that you seek out the latest information. Moreover, make it your goal to communicate more openly with your team. Keep them up to date on any developments and check in more frequently.

Yes, the situation will require you to put in more effort. But, in the end, as a great business leader, you will want to be a source of support for your team. And, most of the time, that means going the extra mile.

Sarah Kaminski
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