How can you help your employees "flatten the curve" of emotional distress during Wave 3 of the pandemic? We have some tips.
In general, the last year has been challenging for everyone's mental health, in many different ways. Experts predict it's likely to get worse during Wave 3.
Social isolation, work and childcare demands, fear of contracting COVID-19, and other pressures have left many people feeling anxious and/or depressed.
WSPS Mental Health Consultant Danielle Stewart says workplaces and managers can do much to help employees, starting now. "It's all about building trust," says Danielle. Employees need to have confidence that the workplace is doing all it can to support their COVID-related physical and emotional well-being. "If there's a silver-lining to COVID, it's the opportunity for organizations to maintain or regain trust, which is the backbone of a strong organizational culture."
Danielle recommends these practices to help boost trust, ease fears and worries, and support your employees' mental health during COVID.
1. Mitigate the risk of COVID spread in the workplace. Have strong protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID - screening, disinfecting, social distancing, masks, physical barriers, etc. Make sure everyone understands the why's and how's of policies and procedures being used to protect their health and safety.
2. Reduce stigma. Bring COVID-related and other mental health issues out into the open. Let compassion, vulnerability and flexibility be your watchwords. Provide employees with advice from mental health experts, and means of support. Most importantly, "Make sure staff members feel they can talk about it comfortably and confidentially with their manager or with HR."
3. Communicate all COVID-related information in an open, honest and transparent manner. Use Q&As or webinars, suggests Danielle. And make sure communication runs both ways. For example, invite employees to share their tips for reducing anxiety and stress in their own lives. Take time to listen to the needs or concerns of staff and respond in a timely manner with reasonable solutions or compromises that might help reduce stress and anxiety.
4. Be clear about expectations, for health and safety as well as work/life balance. If employees are having trouble meeting expectations, do they have the tools and resources they need to get the job done? Do your expectations need re-thinking?
5. Keep a pulse on public health notifications and mandatory workplace rules. Adjust your policies accordingly, and advise employees of the changes. "Send the message that the workplace is on top of things," says Danielle. "This helps embed trust."
6. Be flexible with work/life balance, and lead by example. Have guidelines in place for working at home that reflect a good work/life balance, but be flexible even within those guidelines. "Flexibility might mean trusting that if there’s an hour during the day when an employee may not be at their desk - perhaps they are dealing with kids' homework - and the hour will come back later in the day." If guidelines say the workday ends at 4:45, don't confuse the message by sending emails or expecting work to be done after hours.
7. Check in regularly. If employees are working from home, have email, phone or online conversations. Encourage everyone to use his or her laptop cameras. "Face to face time is important. We need human interaction, and to read facial expressions and body language." This can provide the visual cues we normally observe in the workplace. Do employees appear stressed, anxious or overwhelmed? If so, be prepared to make schedule changes or job accommodations, and provide support and resources, such as those available through the organization's employee and family assistance program (EFAP). Employees who work alone may experience greater mental distress, so checking in with them is particularly vital.
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