How leaders can protect Employees Mental Health during COVID-19

CATEGORY:  

15 min read

COVID-19, a pandemic is of an intensity that none of us have ever witnessed in our lifetime. Due to the risk of person-to-person transmission, the governments across the globe announced “lockdowns”, which led most corporates and IT companies to ask their employees to work-from-home. 

Initially, work-from-home might sound like an exciting idea and it does have many advantages like:

  • Flexible work timings, freedom to take as many breaks as required
  • No hassle of traveling
  • Your own customized environment (e.g., temperature, noise, light, etc.)
  • Freedom to be in cozy clothes
  • More time to do household chores

However, given the current situation of uncertainty and social distancing, WFH can actually have a more negative impact on the employee’s emotional and mental well-being. For most people, it has actually increased the workload with children staying at home, old parents to be taken care of, no domestic help and pressure from office. Stress due to coronavirus has also increased anxiety levels which can highly affect productivity.

No matter the hassle of reaching the office or meeting certain “annoying” people, office is still buzzing with energy and there are always these colleagues who can act as stress busters. You can also use and recommend Wysa for managing any stress that one may be experiencing.

Small “coffee breaks”, office gossips, ventilation, “dressing-up” for office, making plans with colleagues for the Friday-night party. All of this helps break the monotony of life and keep the morale of the employee high. Some more  disadvantages of WFH are:

  • Difficulty sticking to a routine, which makes it all the more difficult to complete work and meet the deadline
  • Flexible schedules can actually lead to productive hours lost and bad lifestyle – for example, spending more time watching Netflix and then staying up at night to work
  • Isolation and Boredom especially in the current situation, where you can’t meet anyone or go out anywhere. 
  • Loneliness for individuals staying away from family: Due to sudden lockdown, many people either were not able to travel back home or didn’t want to due to logistic reasons (e.g., poor wi-fi). They have always found solace in friends and colleagues, which is impossible right now. You can also always talk to Wysa when you are feeling lonely.
  • Being stuck: At times, the employee may want an immediate solution to a bottleneck, and not getting that may delay the entire work
  • Motivation: After a point, one loses the motivation to work. Usually, working together can throw in challenges (e.g., he/she has already gotten so many clients) and can motivate the employee to work more efficiently. WFH does not give the opportunity to compare progress and therefore stay motivated.  

Why Should The Organization Look After Employees?

Human beings are social animals, we need a sense of connectedness to survive and thrive. Emil Durkheim, a famous sociologist living in the 19th century postulated that a lack of connectedness or social integration creates a sense of anomie or meaninglessness, that can lead an individual to take the extreme step of harming themselves or committing suicide[1]

In the era of globalization, where we spent most of our waking hours in offices/doing professional work, our sense of belongingness stems more from the organization we work in, the friends and colleagues in the office – they become our “families”. Dr. Brene Brown defines connectedness as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued…”[2]. And this connection becomes all the more vital in times of stress and uncertainty. 

Apart from usual mental health issues and anxieties related to the COVID-19 illness, some of the other issues that employees working in the private sector may face:

  • Stress and loneliness
  • Quarantine depression
  • Concern regarding pay-cuts, lay-offs and cancellation of holidays
  • Anxiety-related to recession and unemployment
  • Increased work-load once the office restarts

Thus, it becomes imperative for the organization to ensure the physical and mental well-being of their employees. 

work and mental health during covi

Tips for leaders to take care of the Mental Health of employees

HR is entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of the employees. A small gesture of empathy and understanding can go a long way. Some of the steps that the HR team can take for the well-being of their employees are:

  • Being available to listen to concerns, offer solutions and provide reassurances
  • Issuing a formal letter assuring employees of continued support from the organization 
  • Creating a blog or community intranet page wherein people can share healthy recipes, and tips for managing a healthy work/life balance while working remotely
  • Providing digital resources – managing stress, taking care of your mental health, dealing with young children, taking care of older adults, life-work balance, etc. 
  • Sending SMS/WhatsApp to enquire about the well-being of the employee and their families
  • Sending SMS/WhatsApp reminders to stay active and positive (e.g., encouraging exercise at home, cultivating a hobby, taking a time-out, etc.)
  • Start a workweek by sending weekly care tips, a motivational message or a quote
  • Encourage teams to meet on video-conferencing (skype, zoom, JoinMe, etc.) at least once a week or as often as required
  • Create a space for employees where they can reach out in case of need (e.g., if there is increased anxiety, someone is not well at home etc.)
  • Have psychologist (s) or counselor (s) on-board who can take webinars on stress management and can provide online sessions on a one-to-one basis
  • Create clear, but flexible guidelines that set designated working hours, schedules break. Communicate to them that “deliverables” are important, but that doesn’t mean that they need to be working all the time. 
  • Encourage online training course – find courses that may be relevant to the employee and encourage them to enroll
  • Be wary of any signs that the person may be struggling with personal issues and offer help
  • Be sure that the Health Care Policies and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is in place. Confirm the availability of EAP services and coordinate with the employees, providing them with relevant links and contact details. 

Suggested Readings

  1. Durkheim, E (2013 [1987]). Suicide: A Study in Sociology. Snowball Publishing, UK.
  2. Brene Brown (2017). “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and The
    Courage to Stand Alone.” Random House Publishing, UK
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