In the last blog, I wrote about the NEWLY WOKE EMPLOYEES, those working without long commutes and having rediscovered the joy of time with their families. Today, I want to talk about another issue you may face in the COVID-19 crisis, as employees return to work (or even continue working in current stay-at-home conditions): mental health.
How Will You Help Those Struggling with Mental Health Issues?
Leaders, are you prepared to step up to this “post-crisis crisis”?
How Big is The Mental Health Problem?
Those suffering from mental illnesses like anxiety or depression, like I do, often feel intense fear even with nothing “real” to fear. But this crisis has been very real. No one–not medical experts, politicians, or even Facebook–has definitive answers about how to stay safe from COVID-19. So people who may have looked over their shoulders in the past now have many more reasons to do so.
In addition to those with diagnosed mental health conditions, others may be working in a state of grief. Symptoms of grief can mirror depression, but grief usually has a sudden onset, whereas depression typically is chronic. Think of employees who may have lost friends or family members to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then think of those grieving the loss of control, financial security, safety, or normalcy caused by the pandemic.
Sometimes you know which of your employees or coworkers struggle with mental wellness, because they’ve disclosed it to you. For example, I disclose that I suffer from depression and anxiety mainly to keep people from inviting me to parties. No, actually, I share it to offer hope. It’s my way of saying, “I struggle, but I can still make a difference in the world. So can you.”
Look at just one mental health issue, anxiety, as an example of how many people struggle. The National Institute of Mental Health reports nearly 40 million suffer from an anxiety disorder. That’s the population of California, or twice the population of New York.
Some disclose, but others suffer in silence, afraid to share their struggles. So how do you help both groups?
[If you’d rather watch a video debrief instead of read, here it is…]
1. Look for Signs.
Some with depression or anxiety are like a houseplant that droops when it needs water. When the tone in the workplace is negative, critical, tense, or hostile, they shut down, get distracted, avoid eye contact, and struggle to perform. Educate yourself on what to look for. See the following links for anxiety and depression. Look for people acting out of character.
2. Keep Your Door Open.
While you can’t insist that an employee share personal information with you, by being positive and accepting, you increase the likelihood that an employee will come to you with a problem. Make your office, even if virtual, an oasis for people to “pop in.” Prior to COVID, I found that a strategically placed bowl of individually wrapped chocolate on the corner of the desk usually did the trick! If you can’t do that, find something that breaks the ice and allows others to feel positive and welcome. Start your conversations and meetings with something lighthearted or inspirational to set the tone that you care about their well-being.
3. Show Support with Your Actions.
Even with an “open door,” don’t expect employees to come to you. Ask them how they are doing. Mean it. Listen for their answers, keying in on those showing signs of distress. Offer encouragement and empathy like, “I know how hard this crisis has been on me and my family. If you need to talk, anytime, I’m here and I understand.” And keep your words upbeat and positive to encourage those who might be overwhelmed. Sometimes it take just one positive or negative statement to be a tipping point for the rest of the day.
4. Work with HR on a Plan.
If you offer EAP benefits, don’t just hand an EAP card to an employee at the first sign of trouble. Instead, ask HR how to be supportive while still having appropriate work expectations. Your HR professionals can guide you on any conversation you wish to have so that you are acting in the best interest of the employee and your organization.
Leaders, what are you doing to give employees struggling with mental health issues special care for their emotional well-being?