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How to care for your employees' mental health during a pandemic

Today's marks the beginning of Mental Health Week. As the current unprecedented times continue, during the COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders should continue to put their employees' mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of their agendas. The so-called new normal has umpteen different meanings and thus different ways it will play out for each organisation and their individual employees. For some, being forced to work from home is not conducive to productivity, family circumstances and emotional wellbeing, whereas for others, it may be like a dream come true. It's critical to remember that Corona Virus has shaken everyone, nobody has been unaffected in one way or another, so the big question is, how can organisations care for their employees' mental health during a pandemic or challenging times?

With the current Covid-19 pandemic we find ourselves in, there will of course be a lot more stress, fears and anxieties for one and all. Be it about catching the virus, losing a loved one, fears about finances and what will happen to jobs and the future way of working. More so than before, it is critical to focus on your employees’ wellbeing and give them the necessary tools they need to feel better equipped to deal with their feelings and insecurities and to best support them in whatever way possible. With social distancing and many people working from home, access to mental health support may look different to the traditional ways of helping.

Communication is key
Regular clear communication with all teams is critical. Now more so than before, managers need to have a figurative open-door policy where employees are encouraged and feel comfortable enough to talk to their superiors about how they are feeling, how they have been impacted and their ongoing concerns. This is not business as usual but just at home. There has been a very deep-rooted psychological impact on everyone so boundaries, expectations and requirements need to be adapted and adjusted accordingly, and this needs to be communicated clearly. Communications need to be calm, clear, unambiguous and timely. It needs to answer the why's, how's and what's which employees are asking. This will create physiological safety for employees and leaders alike, as a a secure and compassionate communicative forum will put a lot of anxieties and concerns at bay.

Offer an EAP

Companies can show a duty of care to their employees by offering an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). This will give employees access to 24/7 confidential help and advice when they most need it. If employees are experiencing any work-related or personal difficulties during this challenging time, this can severely affect their working capacity and can increase absenteeism. Employee morale will be down and this can impact the whole culture like wildfire, especially while the workforce is dispersed and less motivated as it is. An EAP service can include everything from telephone helplines, structured telephone counselling, post trauma support, GP Call back and medical advice, commercial legal advice for HR, online Health Portal, online Health Assessments, online Personal Coaching Tools… to name a few. 

Shift from authoritative to collaborative management style
If a manager is usually a decisive, authoritative leader, it may be time, even temporarily, to incorporate some collaborative elements into how they manage their team. This approach may help with employees' mental health as it will create a more two-way relationship where employees will feel comfortable and not judged, or that their job is in jeopardy for speaking up about how they are feeling. There's always a time and place for strict rules, policies and boundaries in order to continue as normal as possible. However, management should try a gentler approach as many are (very) vulnerable. Vulnerabilities show up in many different ways. Leaders may feel vulnerable using a different communicative approach, employees may feel vulnerable about the uncertainties and fears they are experiencing. These vulnerabilities may bring up previous mental health issues which were never disclosed to the employer, so management need to err with caution and act with extra respect and trust. 

Recognition, praise and thanks!
All of us (employers and employees alike) need recognition, recognition that a job has been done well, or a simple thank you - this is a basic human need. And this is even more true when working from home, or a team is not coherently working together and are dispersed. When receiving a well done or public acknowledgment in front of the team (be it on Zoom or MS Teams), there is nothing better to boost morale and make one feel valued. The ramifications of this are huge, where commitment, motivation and passion can soar. Whether you decide to recognise and reward informally, or by implementing a full scale reward and recognition programme, this is an area where time and efforts should be allocated. This has a significant impact on mental health and wellbeing. 

Work-life balance
A work-life balance is absolutely crucial for all employees and their wellbeing. It is very easy to blur the lines between personal and work times when working at home. It's easy to take less breaks, you speak to less people and often work extended hours. Encourage your team to work an 8 hour day (even with some flexibility if needs be) and not more, to try not check emails late at night or over the weekend, or limit the over hours if tasks permit. Ensuring your team feel they are able to have this balance will do wonders for this mental wellbeing. When your team are overworked and overstretched, they are not working to their optimum so it’s a lose-lose situation all round. Let your team do suitable hours, attend appointments and take the necessary time they need to get the help they may need. Sometimes this speaks louder than words and can assist in reducing unnecessary stress, increasing productivity and reducing staff sickness. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year. Fortunately more and more businesses are starting to take initiative to introduce means to tackle this subject within the workplace, some very costly and other about working smartly and offering more flexibility.

Wellbeing and wellness initiatives
A longer term solution to tackling mental health (potentially when things stabilize and return some kind of normal) can be to introduce ongoing healthy benefits and perks for employees. There are many ways to do this, be it giving the team some time out to focus on themselves, regular Yoga classes at work / online, a meditation room, or some boot camp classes at the local park. Why not introduce a healthy snack station or a smoothie bar in the office? More so, encourage your teams to take time away from their screens, have a walk around, stretch their legs and get away from the grind. A healthy body can aid in a healthy mind, so lead the way to a healthier workspace which can most definitely tackle mental health and alleviate any additional stressors.

So, is mental health a priority in your business? Do you think it should be such a hot topic? Has your approach changed during COVID-19? And what initiatives have you seen or heard during this Mental Health Week that you think will make a difference?

If you'd like to find out how Xexec can help your employees' wellbeing, why not get in touch today?

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