Supporting Employees’ Mental Health during COVID-19

Employees mental health

With all the changes and uncertainty in the world, we’re facing new challenges at work and at home. At work there are extra cleaning protocols, reduced hours and closures, and anxious customers and coworkers. At home there are financial concerns, isolation, and worry for the health of ourselves and our loved ones. All this can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety and have a significant impact on mental health.

All employers in BC have had to create COVID-19 safety plans to limit the risk of transmission, but not all employers have addressed the psychological impacts of the pandemic. Now is a critical time to focus on the mental well-being of your team. The current situation won’t go away over night, and if fear and stress become chronic, it can begin to impact home and work life.

So, what can you do to support the mental health of employees during this time? 

1. Know how to spot the signs

Make sure you know how to spot the signs that employees are struggling. The stigma associated with mental health issues can lead to silent suffering and reluctance to seek support. Knowing how to recognize the signs will allow for early intervention. Especially with the increase in remote work, it’s more important than ever to check in with your employees on a regular basis. These changes in behaviour aren’t always obvious, so be sure to reach out and ask how employees are doing.

2. Be empathetic and sensitive  

Does your workplace culture offer a safe space for conversation around mental health? Do employees feel comfortable sharing their struggles? Focus on building a culture of openness and compassion. Be sensitive and empathetic when employees do choose to open up about their mental health. Even if you can’t relate to their fears, remember that everyone is facing different and unique challenges. Making them feel validated and understood will build a foundation for continued support.   

3. Communicate often and openly

Whether employees are on-site or remote, or on temporary layoffs or leaves, make sure you communicate often. In the absence of information, people can assume the worst, which only increases anxiety. Communicate openly and proactively about organizational changes and challenges. Be clear about the “new normal” in the workplace and any changes to schedules or workload. Above all, be transparent; whether you have the answer or you don’t, transparent communication helps build trust.  

4. Be flexible and accommodating

It’s not business as usual. In addition to the everyday stresses of life, employees are now faced with added financial and health concerns. Expect that the needs of your employees will be changing during this time, and be patient and understanding if their performance is impacted because of it. Whether it’s childcare challenges, new school schedules, caretaking responsibilities, or the need for a personal day off, now is the time to be flexible and accommodating if you can be.

5. Provide resources and supports

Provide resources and supports to give employees the tools to look after their mental health. If your organization has an Employee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP), ensure that employees understand the services provided and how to access them. Post the contact details so that they are readily available without having to ask for it. If your benefits provider covers counselling or psychology, make sure employees are aware. If your organization doesn’t have an EFAP or extended health coverage, there is a wealth of information and supports online, including the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together Canada program.

Your Engaged Assignment: When is the last time you checked in with your employees? Take the time to reach out and ask how they’re doing. Listen with empathy and understanding, share any new business updates, and make sure they know what resources and supports are available to them if they ever need it.