How to Help Employees Cope with Mental Health Issues During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way we live and work. Businesses are operating on a different level than what most employees are used to. Many employees have transitioned to remote work, while others are having to cope with balancing work, family, and children. It is important that organizations help employees cope with mental health issues during the pandemic to prevent burnout, anxiety, and stress.

Mind Share Partners found in a recent study that 42% of participants have noticed a decline in their mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many employees are concerned about several things related to work. For instance, employees are increasingly concerned about the risk of being exposed to the virus. Some are struggling to juggle work and personal needs. Other employees now have to deal with a different workload. One that requires a different set of skills that can facilitate remote work and collaboration, and to better perform their jobs.

The overwhelming stress and pressure can lead to many mental health concerns and issues. Often, employees do not speak up or seek resolutions to the mental health issues they are facing. They do not have the tools or means to navigate these uncertain times. And they definitely lack support to tackle mental health issues on their own.

Mental health is an important part of overall health and wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It may also affect how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices during an emergency. – cdc.gov website

Signs of Declining Mental Health in Employees

Mental health issues do not always surface as we expect them to. Many people who suffer from mental health issues come across normal and happy. Many of them are able to smile and have normal conversations. It is not always easy to tell if an employee is suffering or on the verge of a breakdown.

Many times, it catches management or leaders off-guard when an employee resigns, or work quality is compromised. We miss important signs that could have helped prevent chronic health illnesses or mental health diseases.

Adjusting to work during the pandemic leads to high stress, anger, and frustration. This can quickly manifest into depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), guilt, and even grief. Being able to spot signs of an employee’s declining mental health is key to providing help early.

There are many signs of declining mental health. Here are a few signs that are often missed, yet important to watch out for among employees.

  • Inability to concentrate or focus during video or conference calls
  • Lack of enthusiasm for projects and tasks
  • Constantly worrying about getting sick
  • Easily frustrated over small matters
  • Quick or hot temperaments when dealing with co-workers or clients
  • Fear of not completing tasks on time
  • Sadness or a general unhappiness about work and related tasks
  • Missing meetings
  • Forgetting deadlines
  • Forgetting important information or details
  • Overall stress when deadlines are near or projects are due
  • Exhaustion or easily tired through the workweek

What Can Your Organization Do?

As the pandemic continues to rattle the future of the workplace, organizations can take a proactive role to help employees cope with mental health issues. A company only thrives when its employees are at their optimum productivity. Employees can only perform well when they are healthy, and their mental health is not compromised.

When employees experience mental health issues, their productivity is low. Also, there are many other issues that arise when an employee’s mental health is not well. Depression, stress, anger, and anxiety are just a few of the many concerns that employees are facing during this pandemic. Along with that, the stress they face can cause other health problems such as sleep disorders, problems concentrating, and chronic health ailments. In the long term, an employee with debilitating mental health issues can suffer from grave illnesses and diseases.

There are many ways your organization can help employees cope with mental health issues during the pandemic. It is not only important but also helps to boost overall performance among employees and for the company.

Here are several cost-effective ways that you can start implementing right away.

1. Listen and communicate

The best way to know if any employee is struggling with mental health issues is to communicate. Employees may not voice their struggles from fear of retaliation or from coming across as incapable. Regular check-ins let employees know that the organization values them. They are more inclined to tell you if something is wrong. And it is easier for management to sense an issue arising and resolve it before it gets out of proportion. The last thing you want is for your employees to burnout.

And forget those emails! Nothing beats a sincere phone conversation, even if it is a quick one. Emails can be impersonal and lose their sincerity. Have a chat, not a long-drawn conversation. Ask how their day is and how the family is coping with the pandemic. Simple questions can show how you can relate to your employees.

The long-term benefits of listening intently to what your employees have to say, and communicating regularly with them, can help foster the relationship. It also increases job satisfaction to feel like they belong and are important to the organization.

2. Leave the virtual office door open

For many, the work-from-home transition might be permanent. And, without the normal daily interactions with your employees, it can be difficult to tell if something is wrong. The lack of pantry and lunchtime chats, the occasional “hey, how are you?” and the ability to waltz into an office can create an atmosphere of isolation.

Employees are constantly having to juggle multiple priorities, especially those with children or elders in the home. No in-office time also equals no getting away from the daily grind that comes with being at home. Let your employees know that your door is always open. The virtual office door that is.

Make it clear that you care for their well being and that they are more than welcome to “pop in” when they need to. Open up communication channels. Take initiative on starting conversations about their mental health. And leave the door open without judgment or prejudice.

3. Provide options for mental health services

We often think that employees can cope or deal with mental health issues on their own. There is a misconception that everyone is knowledgeable on the subject and know when to seek help. However, this is not always the case.

Many are unaware of the various mental health services that have been introduced to the workplace since COVID-19 started. Employees who have never struggled with mental health issues might not even know that they need to seek help.

Help employees cope with mental health issues during the pandemic by offering a list of available mental health services in their area or online. Telehealth services are easily accessible and available round the clock. Company insurance policies may have mental health services in place if referrals are needed. Online resources offer a discreet way of understanding mental health issues and learning about how to cope with them.

List these options out to remind your employees that there is help available should they require it. Make it easy for them to seek help.

4. Evaluate and update policies accordingly

The existing policies your organization has followed prior to the pandemic might not apply anymore. With COVID-19 changing the workforce, evaluate policies, and agreements on a regular basis. Review when necessary. And of course, updated as needed.

There are several things to look out for when evaluating policies. For instance, many employees require online tools that enhance and support remote work. As such, policies regarding communication will need to be updated.

Also, policies should state the expected goals and objectives required from employees working from home. Tell employees when they need to check-in and if so, how. Being upfront on expectations can help employees understand priorities and requirements. It also shows that the organization is aware of the changing times and is pivoting when needed. When employees have clear direction from management, they are able to adjust and meet expectations easier.

5. Be flexible

Times are different. It is difficult for many employees to transition through the pandemic. Everything is changing before our very eyes. It pays to remain flexible especially in these tough times.

This is especially true with remote teams. You are not able to gauge how any of your employees are feeling through a computer screen or over email. Many are struggling to cope with rising levels of stress and anxiety. Some may be close to a burnout.

Be flexible with your employees. If someone needs to talk, be open to a conversation or a phone call. If an employee is struggling to meet a deadline, look into why and how you can help increase productivity. Whenever possible, remain flexible. Have flexibility in the way things are approached and how things are done. Some things do not need to be turned in this very minute. Other things can be done easily through email instead of a long video conference.

Look at things from a different perspective and be flexible.

6. Educate and invest in training

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there are many online courses, webinars, and talks on coping with mental health issues. The pandemic is causing more stress, anxiety, and other critical mental health issues than we can imagine. Educating your employees and management about prevailing mental health issues is critical today.

While we may think that everyone should be aware of mental health issues, many are not. Investing in education and training to cope with mental health issues can go a long way. Education in this area can help employees detect signs of a breakdown or burnout in the early stages before it actually happens. Education can also provide methods and means of coping with mental health issues should they arise.

7. Show empathy

The health and well being of your employees should be your priority in these uncertain times. A great leader and manager have the ability to show empathy towards employees, regardless of title or status. And encouraging employees to have compassion towards one another begins from the top down.

A work culture that is caring and empathetic encourages stronger work relationships within the organization. It also puts your employees’ well being first and shows that you are genuinely concerned. To foster healthy work relationships and encourage optimal productivity, it is important to have empathy towards employees.

First, try to understand the demands that are pulling them in different directions. Consider the various factors different employees have to face through their workday, whether it is from home or in the office. No two employees are alike. And not all employees are dealing with the same problems or concerns.

Everyone is dealing with some kind of struggle that we might not be aware of. Seeing things from a different perspective and taking all factors into consideration can help encourage empathy among employees and managers. Be kind when dealing with employees who are showing signs of stress or depression. Listen while they speak. Show concern by asking how they are coping.

A Healthy Workforce is a Productive Workforce

No one is sure what the future holds. We cannot be sure how the pandemic will mold the workplace in the next six months. Neither can we be certain how even the strongest of employees will cope with the continued stress and pressure from every area of their lives.

What we can do is prioritize the health and well-being of our employees. Ensuring everyone is healthy and thriving in these uncertain times can help provide better work-life balance. It can also encourage better working relationships. Last but not least, it can ensure that your organization continues to thrive in a volatile market.

Kindness goes a long way. Helping your employees cope with mental health issues during the pandemic is a top priority today. Looking out for and taking care of every employee is necessary. Only then can we be certain that business will continue to not just survive but also thrive in today’s COVID-19 workplace.


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