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How employers can provide mental health support during the pandemic

Jun 18, 2020

How employers can provide mental health support during the pandemicAfter three months of pandemic-related restrictions and physical distancing, many day-to-day tasks are more difficult now than at the start of the pandemic. Employees may feel they're less productive or they're operating in a less than efficient environment. They may be anxious about their jobs, or having trouble balancing work responsibilities with looking after family members.

"As a senior leader, a manager or a supervisor, you're probably feeling their stress too," says WSPS Workplace Mental Health Consultant Janet Carr. "When we're working in a period of disruption, or without the benefits of regular, in-person contact, it's hard for anyone to gauge exactly how team members may be doing." She suggests managers can be proactive by taking the following steps.

7 steps leaders can take

  • let employees know what's going on within the organization. "People want to feel in the loop," says Janet. "Let them know the current status of the organization, what changes are occurring, and how they will affect staff."
  • be flexible in setting expectations of what the organization and employees can accomplish under the circumstances.
  • reassure employees that the organization is behind them and supports them in every way possible. Thank them often for their efforts and commitment.
  • invite input from front line employees who may be experiencing challenges, either working remotely, or as an essential service provider. Encourage suggestions and comments so that employees feel they're being consulted, and that you’re acting in their best interest to identify solutions.
  • provide employees with all the tools needed to do their work efficiently, safely, and with as little stress as possible.
  • empathize with employees who are trying to juggle personal responsibilities as well as work demands.
  • be a good role model in making your own self-care needs a priority.

7 proactive steps managers and supervisors can take

Reach out to your team members - collectively and individually - on a more tactical level. "This is an opportunity to engage team members individually on how they’re doing and what their particular needs may be," says Janet. "It could be as simple as saying, 'Are you okay? Are things going as well as they could, given the circumstances?'" In your communications,

  • ensure team members have the training and resources needed to work under current circumstances, whether they’re part of an essential service or working from home.
  • set realistic workload expectations and encourage people to take breaks. Where possible, reduce stress through job rotation.
  • let team members know they're important to you as people, not just employees. Encourage them to reach out at any point if the need arises.
  • provide information on available mental health resources, such as an employee assistance program or community resources. Remember, you're not responsible for solving employees' personal problems. However, it's within the workplace's sphere of control to prevent mental harm at work and to ensure employees know what resources are available to them so they can get assistance and support.
  • encourage team members to look after themselves. "When people are feeling stressed, it can take a toll on their physical health and decrease their immune function. We want them to look after themselves, to eat properly, get enough sleep, and try to get in some physical activity. We also want people to think about self-care measures for their mental health and the importance of social connections."
  • show team members how you are prioritizing your self-care. Invite them to do the same.
  • set up a buddy system so that employees are in touch with each other on a regular basis - checking in on how they're doing, and how well they’re managing under the circumstances.

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