Return to the Workplace Series – Supporting Employee Mental Health

This One’s A Biggie…  

“Mental health” has become a generational buzzword. Don’t get me wrong, if anything, that’s a good thing. We live in a time where it’s accepted and even encouraged to talk about our individual mental health. In the past, doing so would result in being shamed or worse – that was the part that was accepted, which resulted in the bottling up of these negative emotions. This was both backward and frankly dangerous. 

Mental health is at the forefront of so many conversations nowadays, and from an employer’s perspective; it needs to be, especially given the current global crisis. The short-term focus with COVID-19 is of course our physical health, but the long-term focus ought to be around the mental health fallout it causes. How companies manage their employees’ mental health during and after the pandemic, will be critical. 

Depending on the level of isolation staff were submitted to during the last several months, there could be some adverse effects that are returning to the workplace along with the employees. So how can organizations support this process? We have some ideas. 

Nip it in the Bud 

This might be a difficult undertaking, but employees should be engaged shortly after their return to the workplace (ideally this has been happening already regardless). With Rhonda, we have been checking in with our staff on a daily basis to monitor their wellbeing. When it’s time to return to the office, employers should take it one step further, and set up brief one-on-ones with individuals to gauge their wellbeing and general state of mind. 

This serves two purposes: First, from the employer’s perspective, it acts as a level of screening for overall workplace health and safety. Furthermore, it shows the employees you care.  

This conversation should be private and personable – leave the job out of it as much as possible. The objective is simple: “How do you feel about the current state of affairs? How do you feel about going back to the office?”. This will hopefully lead to some constructive conversation and ideally, lay some things out on the table. The last thing you want is employees returning to work in a fragile, reluctant state of mind that might lead to a decline in their mental health over time. 

Access to Support 

Employees often don’t associate the workplace with a source for mental health support. If anything, it can be the exact opposite. The capability of employees to be able to speak with someone about what’s going on in their life should be readily available. This doesn’t mean every business needs a certified psychotherapist, but there should be a point of contact within the HR department where people can have those off-the-record conversations. Often times, just knowing that option is there is enough. 

Furthermore, if there was ever a time to make it known that you have an employee assistance program (EAP) available, it’s now. These programs provide staff with a direct line to free resources and professionals that can help with all things related to mental health.  

 Be Transparent 

The current world is filled with mixed messages and false information. Determining what’s right and what’s real can be such a challenge at times. Throw a global pandemic (the likes of which the modern world has never seen) into the mix and that just makes things even more challenging. From an employee’s perspective, there are few things as stressful as feeling excluded and unsure. 

Employers should take this opportunity to break down silos and provide information to all its staff related to organizational status both from a business standpoint, but also that external perspective in terms of how the company is handling the current pandemic.  

Establishing that transparency equates to an increased level of trust and camaraderie. After all, we’re all in this together. 

The transition back to the workplace is going to be a delicate one. There are so many factors to consider with this virus that the mental wellbeing of employees can easily be placed on the backburner. Instead, it should be one and the same. Keep your business safe and happy by keeping employees safe and happy. 

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