Will we ever get back to normal? Whatever the new normal is, we can still find ways to be mentally healthy when it finally arrives.
Everyone wants to be mentally healthy, but if you are like me, you may have had it with this pandemic. So much lost, so much frustration, so many people hurting. I’m sure you have had to make tough decisions and have seen your staff struggle right in front of you. You want to help and support your people, but what can you do? This is new territory for all of us. There is no playbook.
When the economy goes south, there are impacts far greater than just the financial loss, as if that wasn’t enough. It has been clearly documented that times of economic recession are associated with increased mental health problems, including common mental disorders, substance abuse, illness, and even suicidal behavior.
This increase in mental health issues is often tied to unemployment or underemployment. Our identities have increasingly become intricately tied to our jobs, especially in western culture, and the loss of a job has a powerful negative effect on our psychological well-being. When someone loses their job, they often report increased anxiety, depression, and unexplained medical issues. Our career can be a source of prestige, social status, security, and a basis for our self-worth.
Under normal circumstances, the negative effects of unemployment can mostly be reversed by reemployment. But what if the odds of reemployment are low and are compounded with the fear and uncertainty of a global pandemic? Being unable to work, stuck at home, unable to pay bills, unable to socialize with family and friends, attend school, or go to sporting events. Coping with such a tectonic shift in the stability and normalcy of our lives can be a herculean feat.
You have your company and your own health and well being to consider of course, but what can you do to make sure your team is mentally healthy? Here are some practical suggestions to encourage your employees:
Mentally Healthy Resources
Just about everyone is now using some sort of online collaboration or conferencing tool. Your employees are probably already using these tools to keep in touch with family and friends. You may have even implemented online tools for communicating with your employees and many may be working from home. This connectivity in and of itself can have a positive effect on employee well-being, but there is more.
Provide resources that your employees can utilize to support their health. There are a variety of mental health programs, such as on-call licensed counselors, crisis hotlines, meditation platforms, and virtual education for employees to learn coping mechanisms and stress management.
Employee Benefits Plan
Does your company’s benefit plan prioritize employees’ entire well-being, including physical, mental, and financial health? Do employees know what is available to them? Increased levels of stress lead to more doctor’s visits, which means increased healthcare costs to employees and employers. By making the complete well-being of your staff a top priority, you can ensure they emerge healthier and more united as an organization after this crisis. The current shutdown is a great opportunity to review current benefits and educate employees on their availability.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Most people have been isolated at least partially for months. The lack of even the most pedestrian conversation can have a profoundly negative impact on one’s well-being. Humans need regular interaction with other humans.
It’s often difficult, mostly because it requires time, but taking a moment to greet and chat with an employee can increase their sense of wellness and give them confidence that everything is going to be ok. If your employees are still under lockdown, send a note or a card to let them know that you are thinking about them and they are a valued part of your organization. For smaller groups or as you begin to ramp up to reopen, schedule online video conferences for your employees. This is an excellent way to update employees on what to expect when returning to work and gauge how they are handling the stress.
This is also a great opportunity to identify mental health and well-being resources that employees can utilize. Provide them with a list of local and online sources for counseling and support that will not only help with the well-being of your employees but also for the company’s health long-term.
Leadership with Empathy
You undoubtedly have experienced significant difficulties just like everyone else, but your team needs a leader and one that understands what they are going through. Everyone is feeling a sense of uncertainty and heightened stress right now. They fear the virus and how it may affect their health or the health of someone they love. They are rightly concerned about their job and financial security. Their relationships may be suffering and they are concerned about their children. They need to see confidence, understanding, and hope from their leaders. That’s you!
Those in leadership who show compassion to individual employees and support their mental health right now can help boost morale. Management should check in with their team on a daily basis and ask about things other than work. Video conferencing is, again, a great way to keep up employee morale and keep the conversation going. Encourage employees to take frequent breaks, exercise regularly, get outside to enjoy the weather, and participate in other non-work-related activities that reduce anxiety and make them feel mentally healthy.
You may have noted that there are many voices with a great deal of conflicting information on best practices during the pandemic. Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. Go outside, stay inside. 6 feet apart, 30 feet apart. Open the economy, keep it shut down. It can be absolutely overwhelming. If you are on social media, it’s even worse!
The good news is that there are sources of reliable information. No one has this thing totally figured out, but science-based, well-reasoned information is better than crack-pot conspiracy theories, biased opinions, and purely fabricated nonsense. Help out your team by providing links to valid sources of information like the Center for Disease Control, your local hospital, city, or state pandemic response website. You could also add updates and links to your company website and make sure to post your companies rules and requirements for working safely during the pandemic. Employees will feel less stressed with reliable information and the sense that your organization is looking out for them.
Some say that we will never get back to the ‘normal’ we knew before the pandemic and I suppose they may be right, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be mentally healthy in whatever the new normal is. Mankind has been doing this since the dawn of time through countless disasters far greater than anything we are currently experiencing.
The current challenges employees are facing won’t instantly go away when the crisis ends. That is why it’s important to maintain communication about mental well-being even after we return to the “new normal.”
In this time of uncertainty and stress, we need to prioritize individual health and well-being more than ever, and your organization can help your employees by creating a caring and empathetic work culture. It is essential to encourage your employees and keep them mentally healthy throughout and after this pandemic. Owners and managers who show compassion and make employees’ well-being a priority during this time will see their workforce continue to be healthy and productive.