The global pandemic changed everyday life for people and organizations around the world in ways we are still coming to understand. In the business environment, sweeping stay at home orders forced most companies to shift to a work-from-home model—in many cases, almost overnight. It’s no surprise that more than 42% of employees have been experiencing a decline in mental health, according to Harvard Business Review. What can you do to support your employees when you’re not in the same room? Start by finding out how they’re doing.
Different Home, Different Experience
While working remotely may work well for some people, it’s not always ideal. Any number of factors can impact the work-from-home experience, including the type of work being done, living conditions and available space, and who else is in the home. Working parents whose children are learning remotely have been particularly hard hit. Each employee’s unique experience impacts their personal response to the pandemic—and that can affect their mental health, and their performance.
Mental Health by the Numbers
While it’s a pretty staggering figure, with the CDC reporting that one in five U.S. adults are battling mental illness that will result in a decline in work productivity, efficiency, and resilience. Stress is one of the most common concerns, and something we’re all experiencing. Your employees may not even realize how much stress is taking a toll on them. In addition to being the right thing to do, helping your workforce cope with the added pressures of pandemic working (and living) is also a smart business move. According to the World Health Organization, companies see a $4 return on every $1 they put towards treating common mental health concerns—that’s a 400% ROI. It’s more important than ever to reevaluate your policies and talk to your employees about how you can support them.
Where to Start
If it feels like you’re wading into uncharted territory, don’t worry. Plenty of resources are available to help and educating yourself and your team is always a good first step. A mental health training program can provide an excellent foundation for understanding the basics about well-being and the effects of emotional distress, especially in the workplace. Learning to recognize the warning signs can alert managers and coworkers to a potential underlying problem. And knowing what steps to take, even if that’s as simple as notifying HR or someone further up the chain, will also help prevent managers from reacting punitively or inadvertently making the situation worse.
The Value of Downtime
Everyone needs a break now and then, especially given the mounting pressures of the past year. It’s important for people who work together to notice when a colleague might be under duress, suffering from burnout, or just needing a breather. Small acts of support like preemptively giving an employee (or team) the afternoon off can make a big difference to their emotional state, and their ability to work productively. Try sending out an anonymous survey to ask about the current state of your employees’ mental health and what’s causing the most emotional distress.
Keep Your (Virtual) Door Open
We’ve made great strides towards removing the social stigma of mental health in recent years but it’s still vital to keep your communication lines open. Make sure employees know that the company is there to support them, and not just on a financial level. Executives should talk about emotional well-being and work to build an inclusive, open culture, while modeling healthy behaviors themselves. Managers should make it clear that any team member needing help can reach out.
Vulnerability is a great way to set the tone and also helps employees open up during check-in meetings, which you should conduct more often in today’s climate. Authentic leadership has not only been proven to help open up the conversation about mental health, it also benefits employee engagement, trust, and performance. Normalizing mental health challenges helps managers get the feedback and information they need to support employees individually as well as at a policy level.
Build Mental Health into Your Business Strategy
Mental health is something companies should be thinking about even after the pandemic ends. Your own needs and the needs of your team are constantly changing, so keep an open mind when it comes to offering support and receiving feedback. Change happens all the time. New positions are added. Business hours shift. You might adopt a new technology platform or establish new policies. Whatever’s going on in your organization, flexibility is key to keeping your team on board and engaged. Challenges with child care, a work from home set up, or meeting specific hours are best handled by communicating openly and taking everyone’s needs into account. Work with your employees—don’t just hand out prescriptive solutions.
Employers that take a proactive, flexible approach to supporting employees see improvements in productivity and retention. At the same time, healthcare and disability costs go down as many physical ailments are directly linked to mental health. The most important thing is to connect and communicate. Team-oriented collaboration that puts people first is the way of the future.
Tap into Teamwork
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