Supporting the Mental Health of Employees during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. People have experienced financial hardship, additional challenges with childcare and school cancellations, job loss, reduced hours, sickness, and grief. The future is uncertain, and the present is extra stressful. And to make matters worse, many of the networks and practices that people use to support their mental health are currently unavailable due to social distancing.
In this environment, where people are increasingly anxious and may be socially isolated, it’s even more important that managers support the mental health of their team members — both those who are coming into the workplace and those working from home. High stress can quickly destroy trust, inhibit empathy, and break down teams — each of which makes it more difficult for people to do their jobs. Fortunately, employers can provide some support. Here are some things employers can do to help employees manage stress and tend to their mental health:
When possible, give employees a little extra time to slow down and rest
Employees may need a moment to breathe or a day to regain their peace of mind, and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for time to take care of themselves. The ability to occasionally function at a medium (or even slow) pace should be built into performance expectations so that employees can avoid burnout or breakdown.
Offer PTO, mental health benefits, and flexible schedules if appropriate
In some cases, employees who want to get the mental health care they need can’t afford it. Losing pay from a missed work shift might be too great a hardship, and effective treatments might be financially out of reach. These financial hindrances can exacerbate conditions like anxiety and depression. In other cases, employees can afford the time off and the treatments, but they can’t make regular appointments work with their schedules. If you can offer paid time off, health insurance benefits, or flexible schedules, these can help employees get the care they need.
Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
An EAP gives employees access to expert, confidential assistance for substance abuse issues, relationship troubles, financial problems, and mental health conditions. These services are offered through an outside provider that connects employees with the appropriate resources and professionals. These programs enable you to provide professional assistance to employees while allowing them confidentiality at work. EAPs are also inexpensive, costing between just 75 cents and 2 dollars per employee per month.
Make reasonable accommodations when possible
If an employee informs you that they have anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, and they request an accommodation, you should begin the interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodation(s) you can provide in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies when an employer has 15 or more employees, but many states have similar laws that require employers to make accommodations at an even lower employee count.
Create digital spaces for friendships to grow
Loneliness in the workplace can be a serious issue, with significant negative effects on both employees and the workplace. Right now, with many employees working from home, it’s harder to spot signs of it. Employers can facilitate friendships and connections between employees by setting up virtual chat programs and video conferencing apps.
Employees also need to be reassured that it’s fine for them to take a little time during the workday to reach out to others about non-work matters and participate in virtual games and other fun group activities. Managers can set the tone by participating in fun chats and activities and encouraging employees to join in. Helping employees foster friendships is not only the right thing to do, it can also reduce turnover and increase engagement.
Promote good mental (and physical) health in the workplace
Healthy habits are important for everyone to practice. Consider setting time aside during the week or month for employees to participate in activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness that develop and strengthen these habits. If you aren’t familiar with these practices, solicit the help of your employees. One or more of them may know a lot about these activities and be able to assist you in setting up a workplace program or modifying a program for employees currently working from home.
Make use of additional resources
During this time, employees might benefit from this three-page list of several virtual recovery resources from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and this COVID-19 resource and information guide from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.