It’s bittersweet that COVID-19 has brought mental health to the forefront of workplace conversations. On one hand, it’s critical to think about mental health in the workplace as 20% of people are suffering from mental illnesses at any given time. However, the conversation has propelled to the tip of everyone’s tongue because the problem is worsening.
As people try to work through COVID-19, they are dealing with loss, health concerns, general anxiety from the news of a looming recession, and more. This has caused 50% of people to say their mental health has worsened since February, before the pandemic hit, with 41% saying they are dealing with anxiety. A big driver of mental health challenges came from the sudden switch to remote work, which caused additional anxiety as businesses were not adequately prepared and had no choice in the matter. While employees (and entrepreneurs) having mental health challenges is not any one person’s fault, the ramifications of mental health issues will hit companies hard if they are not managed.
Nicole Carns, Director of Health and Wellness at Thorpe Benefits, spoke with the Peerscale community about a simple framework that entrepreneurs can use – even if they are not mental health experts – to support their employees’ (and their own) mental health in a new virtual workplace reality.
A human workplace framework
Leading in a new virtual workplace, in the middle of a pandemic, will take more than the occasional supportive message. Instead, consider the Human Workplace Framework:
Treating someone else with kindness is often a matter of empathy. The more you work to put yourself in their shoes, or to understand where they are coming from, the more kindness you will act with.
Key tactic: Train yourself to look for the signs of mental health distress. This will help you see where employees are coming from, which will help you react with kindness.
Care is kindness in action. As you think about how to care for people, it doesn’t have to be in the familial sense of the word – it can be something professional like helping them conduct research for a project or asking (genuinely) how someone is doing.
Key tactic: Open communication lines. Care is based in action, and communication lines are the best way to identify what actions you can take.
In short: let people know how much they mean to you, to the organization, and to the overall vision of the company. On a fundamental level, all people want to feel they are accepted. At work, they want to feel like their work has a meaning beyond delivering and collecting a paycheque.
Key tactic: Start the conversation. If you like what someone is doing, share that with them. If someone is exhibiting an amazing work ethic, praise that. You don’t have to wait for someone else and you don’t have to wait for others to pick up your queue.
Gratitude is about looking at the good you have and focusing on it. It’s not an ignorance of the bad, nor is it a call to stop trying to improve the bad. Instead, it’s about putting your energy to verbalize and demonstrate what the good means to you.
Key tactic: Acknowledge the bad, but shine a light on the good. That could mean focusing on a small win on its own. It could also mean talking about the strengths and opportunities you have to fix a currently-bad scenario.
The framework can start anywhere and feed onto itself, so each leader should start with the step they feel most equipped or ready for. That could be as simple as consciously appreciating your team (out loud) and asking them to share the people and things they appreciate as well. Or perhaps it’s showing gratitude for the small wins you’ve accomplished. There are many ways to go about it – the key is to simply start.
Taking a human approach
People often skirt around discussions of mental health at work. It’s an uncomfortable topic for many reasons, not the least of which is the history associated with how mental health issues were treated by society.
However, a modern approach does not advocate for an overly sympathetic, near-pity level of ‘care.’ Taking mental health into consideration at work is part of a roster of actions that all good leaders need to make. As you consider what it means to support employee mental health in a virtual workplace, realize that you’re doing this work for everyone’s betterment – and that you’re doing it for humans, not just human resources.