Supporting your team’s mental health during COVID

Much has been said about the economic shockwaves of COVID-19 – but what about the psychological impact on staff mental health?

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Robert Half 

As many people have had to work from home, either full or part-time, over recent months, leaders would do well to help their team take care of their mental health and wellbeing at home.

Unprecedented risks to workers’ mental health

Encouraging resilience, adaptability and collaboration should be key priorities for avoiding the potential adverse consequences of a decline in staff mental health. A recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak,  highlights the specific negative impacts isolation can have on our mental health such as a heightened state of stress, anxiety, anger and agitation. It’s not surprising that all these consequences can erode our ability to work effectively and cope with daily pressures.

In the short-term, mental wellbeing is crucial to work performance;  the WHO reveal that poor mental health already costs the global economy US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity. Implementing an employee wellbeing strategy today can help ensure employees stay fit, and ready to transition back to ‘normality’, and for a potential spike in workload when the time comes to return to the office.

So here are a few things you can do to help improve your workers’ mental health at home.

Be supportive and inclusive

Leaders need to bring out the best in their employees by nurturing employee relationships. Falling foul of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach – even if it’s subconscious – will be one of your worst enemies as a leader in the current situation. Always keep communication lines open with your team members through email, telephone, live chat tools and video calls.

Managing your delivery carefully is also key. Use a tone that not only shows you are a calm voice of reason, but also a highly approachable leader who can reassure staff and properly address any employee questions or concerns.

Having two-way conversations with employees about your own experiences working remotely could also help foster loyalty and strong employee relationships – and also be mindful of what people are NOT saying. Creating and emphasising an inclusive environment in the current situation will help to instil an ongoing sense of comfort and trust whenit comes to sharing issues, and facing challenges, long into the future.

Inject some social time (virtually)

The unspoken social element of working physically alongside people plays a vital part in maintaining our mental health at home. So, don’t let this go astray during COVID-19.

Team leaders should think of ways to use digital technology to inject a fun, social element into the working week. Some ideas might include virtual coffees or Friday drinks, online group games, themed dress competitions, and virtually celebrating birthdays and achievements. Setting up a WhatsApp group, or using video conferencing software, can also be a great way to generate a continuing feeling of presence among colleagues. 

All these ideas should be included as part of a comprehensive employee wellbeing strategy to maintain connection and cohesiveness to ensure that colleagues don’t feel as though they’ve lost touch, or that they need to build relationships from scratch when the time comes to return to the office.

Be adaptable and accommodating

Until now, the ability to work from home, by itself, has been associated with the type of increased workplace flexibility and adaptability that helps to improve mental health and wellbeing. Now, organisations must go a step further by ensuring everyone has the flexibility they need to make their new routines work well.

One of the biggest reasons you might need to offer a little extra flexibility throughout the week is that many parents are having to deal with home schooling and all-day childcare. Allowing your staff to work alternative hours, or even a condensed working week, could help them eliminate a few of their additional stresses in the current situation.

Set non work-related goals

According to the leading mental health organisation, Mind, keeping up physical exercise, and other activities you enjoy, is essential for maintaining good mental health. So, it could be time to, temporarily, add some action items which are not directly linked to the usual work-related goals and priorities – not only to promote better mental wellbeing now, but also to encourage a healthier work-life balance in the long term, which could improve productivity.

For example, establish some physical exercises your employees could do during the day such as walking, cycling, or even using a home gym. Your employee wellbeing strategy could also include encouraging staff to pursue some other personal goals such as learning a language, practising music or engaging in the arts.

Offer a varied routine

Human beings are naturally routine-oriented creatures, which means one of the biggest challenges of working from home five-days-a-week is not being able to tell apart one day from the next.

To stop each day from feeling the same, try to shift your management style to ensure everyone in your team has variation throughout their working week. For example, this could be the ideal time to focus on professional development and multi-skilling by giving people time to collaborate with others on new projects.

Promote organisational resources (if available)

If available, make sure you remind your employees of the resources that they might have access to as part of their employment, such as counsellors or a support hotline. If you’re not sure what resources are available, ask HR to help you identify the most appropriate support for your staff under current circumstances.

Not all managers can provide the mental health support that some employees might need. In this case, it’s important for leaders to be able to recognise their limitations and know what alternative course of action to take. This approach will help to ensure staff have the means of keeping on top of their mental health now, and through the transition period back to the office.

Mental health at home, a priority

Working remotely doesn’t mean you can’t engage a hands-on approach to helping your team maintain their mental health at home. While it’s always necessary to maintain balance, and a sense of autonomy, implementing an employee wellbeing strategy during this time could help staff keep up productivity while positioning them well to bounce back.

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