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Mental Health At Work: Helping Employees Cope During COVID-19 and Beyond with These Five Tips

With May being National Mental Health Awareness Month, it is a great time to consider how to help employees cope with the recent disruptions. As human resource managers, we are seeing an increase in loneliness, depression, job loss, and trying to balance work from home with kids and additional family members taking a toll on the mental health of employees.

Here are 5 ways business leaders can reduce stress and uncertainty for their employees during this difficult time:

1. Communicate. And Then Communicate Some More.

One of the main causes of anxiety is uncertainty. So, having a solid communication strategy can go a long way. As your organization makes hard decisions, be transparent and upfront. Nothing is worse than blindsiding your employees. Give them time to make decisions for themselves and their families. That is one thing they will absolutely appreciate. OptimizeHR Tip: Determine a communication cadence and stick with it! Will it be daily or weekly?

2. Be Wary of Employee Burnout

If your employees find themselves overwhelmed between health concerns, family issues and workloads, employee burnout will increase among your ranks. So, give them permission to disconnect and unplug. Encourage employees to:

  • Take intermittent breaks throughout the day. Go for a walk, exercise, read or watch a show.

  • Cut down on nonessential meetings.

  • Spend less time on social media where negativity and misinformation is often spread. Put a limit on how much time they invest in watching the news as well.

  • Suggest that they connect with family and friends via phone or facetime. Isolation for long periods of time can increase anxiety and even lead to symptoms of PTSD.

OptimizeHR Tip: Train your managers to look for these warning signs of employee burnout: irritability, cynicism and the inability to concentrate or remember important things or details.

3. Encourage Employees to Be Open and Honest.

There are many reasons why—even now—employees aren’t forward in disclosing their mental health. First, mental health is still fairly taboo. Secondly, during the crisis, employees don’t want to give employers a reason to doubt their productivity. OptimizeHR Tip: Let your employees know that you understand they may have some anxiety and confusion. If they’re looking for help or support, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it.

4. Be Flexible with Schedules and Sick Leave

One of the biggest stressors during this crisis is caring for children and loved ones. With school closures, employees working from home are not only stressed about their everyday work, they’re also concerned about at-home schooling, making meals and keeping their children healthy and safe. To support employees, try:

  • Implementing flexible work schedules and sick leave

  • Conducting virtual 1:1 check-ins, so employees can address personal concerns in private

  • Show more compassion, kindness and time for listening

OptimizeHR Tip: During this difficult time, the human element of your workforce needs to be a top priority.

5. Listen and Train Managers

Solid two-way communication starts with the leaders at your organization. Managers need to listen to workers and be trained to identify or recognize the symptoms of stress, burnout and depression. If you’re looking for a place to start, here are some recommendations from the CDC to help reduce the stress of employees:

  • Increase awareness of mental health with e-brochures, online seminars and trainings

  • Provide free mental health self-assessment tools

  • Offer health insurance with no or low co-pays for mental health treatment

OptimizeHR Tip: Your managers and leaders are likely feeling the stress of COVID-19 as well. Be sure to provide them with outlets and resources too.

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