As the USA experiences a sudden rise in remote work self-isolation and health-related anxiety, this has created a general sense of unease for many people and exacerbated existing mental health issues for many more. Following a surge in anxiety caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, managing and supporting mental health at work has never been more crucial, as research by Pews Research Center shows 73 percent of Americans reported feeling anxious at least a few days a week.
With the whole world facing unprecedented challenges around COVID-19, this is an ideal time for businesses to place a sharper focus on talking about employee mental health, whether teams are working onsite or remotely.
How Businesses Can Support Employee Mental Health Right Now
With some team members working remotely and others off ill, quarantined or self-isolating, it is more important than ever for businesses to retain talent, reduce presenteeism and maintain morale.
Break the culture of silence. There is still a stigma around mental illness that makes employees more likely to suffer in silence than share information with their managers or bosses. Around 82 percent of employees with a diagnosed mental health condition do not confide in management, and 40 percent of employees have given a false reason when taking time off for mental health.
Now is an ideal time for leaders within businesses to talk more openly about mental health and create a culture that encourages conversations around these issues. Taking a mental health day or asking for support should never impact an employee’s reputation or how he or she is perceived.
Keep socializing with one’s teams. Remote working has its perks, but a lot of people are feeling isolated right now. Office banter is missed most about work since lockdown, as a recent study by Vodafone shows 41 percent say they miss the daily jokes.
Environmental psychologist and wellbeing trainer Lee Chambers says dealing with a lack of social connections during the outbreak is a massive challenge for a lot of people. “In these turbulent times, social connection is vital to our wellbeing. Without the ability to go out and socialize in the way we usually would, we have to be more creative and have more intention in our connection with others during this lockdown scenario. In some ways, the enforcement of rules around movement has caused us to slow down. This actually gives us the chance to connect on a deeper level.”
Lead by example. With many employees working remotely, managers need to be more conscious of the challenges different households are facing. Encouraging flexibility, self-care and regular check-ins is key to reducing presenteeism and stress, and ensuring employees facing any issues can be identified and supported. Encourage transparent conversations and put action plans in place for team members who need help.
Introduce team activity and training sessions. With employees using tools like Zoom to connect with the office remotely, now is a great time for businesses to encourage morning catchups, remote Friday drinks, yoga sessions or even company training sessions. Encourage team members to take a class they’ve always wanted to try, or to attend industry-related Webinars. This is a great way to support employees looking to upskill themselves and stay busy.
More work needs to be done to ensure businesses take care of their most valuable assets — their employees. Encourage employees to self-advocate and seek early intervention before their mental health requires more stringent measures, like having to take stress leave or resign.
John Williams is head of marketing at Instant Offices, the only site of its kind to represent the global market, providing a service to FTSE 100, Fortune 500, and SME clients. Founded in 1999, The Instant Group is a workspace innovation company that rethinks workspace on behalf of its clients, injecting flexibility, reducing cost and driving enterprise performance. The Instant Group employs 230 experts and has clients in more than 150 countries. It has recently been included in the 2018 Sunday Times’ HSBC International Track 200.