Even in a pre-pandemic world, mental health in the workplace was a matter that commanded a great deal of significance. But the uncertainty of COVID-19 has resulted in a host of issues that have underlined the importance of mental health support and awareness amongst businesses and their employees.
The sudden changes in our working environment, the blurring of boundaries between office and home, and the need to take care of ourselves and others have all exacerbated anxiety, stress and worry. Now more than ever, there’s a need for leaders to show compassion and support for their employees so that they can alleviate the worry surrounding these less-than-ideal circumstances.
Thankfully, there are numerous resources and methods leaders can use to help their team in times of stress. Here, we’ll look at some of the ways the importance of mental health can be promoted across businesses of all kinds.
Check in with your teamRight now, we’re going through a period where employees are likely to be feeling a lot more isolated than usual. Suddenly being away from the colleagues we’d usually be around all the time can take its toll on us, and some employees are sure to feel that lack of social interaction more than others.
Use this time to check in with your team and support them through email check-ins and video calls, whether they’re one-to-one or as a team, to help everyone feel connected. It’s often the least you can do, but it creates a baseline with which to build on your support going forward. Additionally, the trust it can foster rarely goes unappreciated – by offering to listen, you can see what your next steps might be if employees need further support.
Be clear in your communication
Yes, uncertainty is rampant at the minute, but leaders can alleviate some of the confusion of COVID-19 by communicating frequently about any organisational changes and updates. If work hours have been altered, then be sure to clarify these new arrangements, for instance. Set expectations about workloads too if necessary; employees may feel this is a time to go above and beyond, which can lead to burn out. Instead, prioritise what must be done and acknowledge that productivity isn’t always going to be at pre-pandemic levels.
Additionally, make your team aware of available mental health resources, encouraging them to use them if needed. And if you’ve shared them, share them again; normalising the use of such services has a massive effect on lessening the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
Emphasise mental health educationFollowing on from the above, one of the most important parts of managing our mental health is understanding it. Sometimes, we can enter periods of our lives when we don’t recognise the signs and symptoms, which can make things worse in the long term as a result. Take a pro-active approach in communicating the signs of worsening mental health so that employees can address the issue before it becomes a problem. Certain symptoms to take note of in yourself – and others – include:
Offer flexibilityCOVID-19 has brought with it plenty of change. It’s important for leaders to anticipate this and adapt to situations during times of transition, whether they’re on an individual level or not. If things change, then it’s important to be pro-active in your response to help people create and preserve boundaries. For instance, if there are any challenges employees face with childcare, then offer them a degree of flexibility if it’s realistically possible. We’ve seen news of organisations allowing those with caretaker responsibilities to set their own schedules, allowing for fewer working hours in the process. It takes patience and understanding to let others adapt, but providing flexibility in these ways can lessen their schedules and allow them to flourish.
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Bring in expert help
Employees will feel valued and supported if they know they have expert help to fall back on during times of stress. And not only does that foster a further sense of trust as a team, it can be a hugely beneficial approach in the long term, stopping things before they get any worse.
In taking this approach, you may want to bring in mental health experts (or have them conduct video calls remotely) who can provide practical advice and guidance to those who are feeling certain pressures at the moment. You may even look to bring in experts on mindfulness and meditation, which can allow people to get back in touch with the present moment when things start to get on top of them.
You may also start offering counselling sessions as a work benefit. Talking to a professional can be a massive help to those in need, and as a leader, it shows that your commitment to improving employee mental health isn’t just mere lip service.
If bringing in professionals and experts isn’t feasible right now, then it’s still important to create more of a conversation about mental health resources. If you don’t already, seek out websites, YouTube channels, and other resources online that employees can be made aware of and make use of at any time.
Work together to find the right arrangements
If your employees are concerned about work or deadlines, then encourage them to talk about any challenges they’re struggling with when working from home to find the necessary solutions. This is a new environment that many won’t be used to, and a smaller boundary between office and home can make it hard for certain employees to switch off.
Talk to them about what will work best when it comes to their approaches to work and how many hours they do each day. Even during times like this, it’s important to judge their output. If they’ve struggled with regular hours and their output has faltered as a result, for example, see what can be done to improve their output rather than making them work full days.
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