We’ve spent nearly a year dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine, and the emotional wellbeing of employees is as important as ever. The stress of contracting the illness and passing it on to others has caused fear and anxiety for many. Isolation from family and friends has also been a trigger for depression and other forms of mental illness. Not to mention, being furloughed from work, fear of losing a job, or being an essential employee all have stresses of their own. Employers who show empathy and encourage self-care can help create a comfortable space for employees trying to make sense of all the uncertainty.
The incidence of anxiety and depression has tripled since 2019, and some demographics carry a greater burden. Generally, the Black (30-34%) and Latino (26-32%) communities are hardest hit due to socioeconomic circumstances. Be aware that these groups of people could need additional support.
People react to stressful situations in different ways. According to The American Psychiatric Association, signs of behavioral and psychological responses to the pandemic are common and include increased tobacco and alcohol use, insomnia, lack of energy and motivation, and scapegoating. Other symptoms include feelings of loneliness, distress, and anxious thoughts.
Employers can support the mental health of their employees by displaying great leadership and communication on the matter.
Leaders do not need to have all the answers. By expressing that they also have concerns and questions about what we are dealing with regarding COVID-19, they can create an open environment for conversation. This is unfamiliar territory that we have entered, and employees want to know that they are not alone in the way they are coping.
Listen to employees and show empathy for their concerns. Advise managers to do weekly check-ins with staff about work and home life. People are more stressed and distracted during this time. Making it a priority to check in with employees shows that they are supported.
Be a person of trust
There is conflicting information about the pandemic from different forms of media. Check reliable sources to get the latest updates on policies and practices in the workplace. Share those sources with your employees to make certain they know the facts rather than reacting to sensationalized news or social media.
Encourage the use of self-care. If an employee needs a mental break from work to take care of themself or their family, offer various forms of support. The same applies to employers. Self-care is just as important for those in leadership to be able to care for others. They need to set a positive example.
Adapt to change
It is understandable that work needs to get done. When possible, allow for more flexible deadlines, work schedules, and leave policies. It is necessary to evolve as health and safety situations change.
Ask how you can be supportive
Sometimes managers do not know what their employees need to feel supported. Some employees are looking for encouragement, while others may want help with a project or inundated tasks.
The ICU Program from the Center for Workplace Mental Health is a resource designed to create a productive workplace culture that supports mental health. Their acronym ICU translates to “I See You.” Their short video, emphasizes how a physical ailment, such as a broken arm, is easily recognizable. However, a mental illness or psychological distress is not seen but can be noticeable to those who pay attention. ICU stands for Identify, Connect, Understand.
Identify the signs
Someone experiencing emotional distress may show different behavior than usual. Some of this behavior may be irritability, isolation from the team, or signs of exhaustion.
Connect with the person
Talk with the person individually and non-intrusively. Let them know you have noticed that they are not their usual self. Ask if something is wrong and if there is any way you can help.
Understand the way forward together
Employees may need someone just to listen to them. Additionally, you might find that they need help from the work organization or even professional help. Create a list of resources to have on hand.
This is the time to talk openly about mental health and how depression and anxiety are on the rise. Willingness to be vulnerable and flexible can be helpful to someone who needs it. If you notice that an employee may be struggling, take effective actions in providing resources. Employers, leadership, and management may also, unknowingly, need to seek professional help. By allowing for open communication and providing resources to identify the signs, employers and employees can work together to reinforce positive mental health in the workplace.
For more resources, including the Disaster Distress Helpline and National Suicide Prevention Hotline, visit CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C. (2020, November). Things to Know about the COVID-19
Employee Mental Health & Well-being During & Beyond COVID-19. http://workplacementalhealth.org/Employer-Resources/Employee-Mental-Health-Well-being-During-Beyon
Morganstein, J., M.D. (2020, February). Coronavirus and Mental Health: Taking Care of Ourselves During Infectious Disease Outbreaks. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2020/02/coronavirus-and-mental-health-taking-care-of-ourselves-during-infectious-disease-outbreaks
Morton, B. (2020). COVID-19: One More Reason to Take Mental Health Seriously. https://www.assp.org/docs/default-source/psj-articles/vpmorton_1020.pdf?sfvrsn=2d72b747_2