Managing Employee Mental Health During Pandemic
To understand why the pandemic is affecting mental health, look at how people are working today. They are putting in longer hours, with research showing employees working 2 to 2.5 hours more a day than before the pandemic. Hiring freezes force existing employees to take on more work, and remote work makes it difficult for people to know if they are taking on too much or not enough compared with their coworkers.
As many employees struggle with anxiety, depression, burnout, or trauma, companies and their leaders are taking action to help their employees manage their mental health issues.
Modelling Healthy Behaviors
One silver lining of the pandemic is that it is normalizing mental health challenges. When managers describe their challenges, whether mental-health-related or not, it makes them appear human, relatable, and brave. Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort, and people in power sharing their experiences encourages all employees to prioritize their mental health.
Building a Culture of Connection
Regularly and intentionally checking in with direct reports, particularly at key transition points, is more critical than ever – especially since it can be hard to notice the signs that someone is struggling when people are working from home. Managers can help problem-solve any issues that come up only if they know what’s happening. These managers go beyond a simple “How are you?” and ask specific questions about what supports would be helpful. They wait for the complete answer, listen, and encourage questions and concerns. They also are careful not to be intrusive or micromanaging.
Proactively Offering Flexibility
Companies are expecting that the current situation and their employee’s needs will continue to change. These companies understand that different employees will need different ways to manage stress at different times, such as challenges with childcare or feeling the pressure to work all the time. By proactively offering flexibility, being as generous and realistic as possible, and not making assumptions about what employees need, companies are taking a customized approach to address their employee’s mental health.
Communicating, Again and Again
Companies are regularly informing employees and teams about any organizational changes or updates, such as modified work hours and new mental health resources. By
communicating expectations about workloads, prioritizing what must get done, and acknowledging what can be delayed if necessary, companies reduce employee stress.
Investing in Training
Companies are prioritizing proactive and preventive workplace mental health training for their leaders, managers, and employees. If companies do not have the budget to invest in training, local mental health associations and non-profits can provide low-cost ways to increase mental health awareness and offer support.
Modifying Policies and Practices
Companies are evaluating rules and norms around flexible hours, paid time off, email and other communications, and paid and unpaid leave. Performance reviews are treated as opportunities for compassionate feedback and learning, not evaluations against rigid targets. Incremental changes are also happening: No meetings longer than 45 minutes, no meetings during lunch on Fridays, and employees encouraged to go on walks during meetings and listen by audio-only.
Want more suggestions for managing employee’s mental health? Last summer, insurance company Unum surveyed employers about specific plans or offerings addressing the mental health needs of their employees during COVID. Responses included:
- Flexible work schedules
- Reduced work hours
- Flexibility to work from home
- On-site space for kids to learn
- Counselling/Well-Being Services
- On-site counselling services/therapy
- Access to clergy
- Reimbursement for outside services
- Group classes/webinar/support groups
- Employee Assistance Programs
- Meditation rooms, relaxation spaces
- Workout rooms
- Comfortable workspaces
- Increased paid time off
- Increased breaks
- Expanded health, life, disability and wellness benefit
- Telemedicine benefits
- Emergency financial assistance
- Increased pay/bonus
- Targeted assistance, e.g., meal delivery, improved internet access for home workers
- Management communications and manager training
- Periodic health and wellness check-ins/employee hotline
- Morale boosting efforts
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