How to help your team overcome mental health issues during the pandemic

For almost a year we are going through what psychologists call collective trauma, which makes us live in fear and uncertainty. Hundreds of thousands of people lost someone they loved, millions got sick, and even more lost their job. The majority of those who are lucky enough to still be here and have a job are most probably working from home, doing the same thing every day, locked between four walls, with the same people. All of these are taking a significant toll on their psychical stability and are generating many mental health issues. 

Even though stress affects people in different ways and on different levels, one thing is certain: employees experiencing high stress levels are unhappier, less productive, and more prone to burnout. Even before the global pandemic, stress-related mental health issues cost the global economy an estimated $343 billion

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, 5 out of 10 employees working from home say their mental health has declined. If last year only 6.8 percent of workers suffered from disabling anxiety, this year 26.6 percent claim they are extremely challenged, up to the point of nonfunctional. The main reasons for such a dramatic increase in mental health issues among employees working from home are anxiety, stress, concerns regarding unemployment, and the challenges of working from home.  

So, besides the direct effects of COVID-19 on the work environment, leaders should also focus on mental health issues. There are many ways to break the mental health paradigm at work. Let’s find out what you can do to help your team. 

Transparency is key

Over 14 percent of the employees working from home are worried about the possibility of losing their job in the near future. In the current economical climate, that is a genuine concern that only leaders have the power to put to rest.

If you’re not planning layoffs any time soon, you should reassure your people. If you are planning on making changes, have the courtesy of communicating about this in a transparent manner. Take measures to ease any transition and give your employees enough time to prepare for what is coming.

Set expectations

Employees that receive incomplete instructions and have an unclear understanding of what is expected of them are 30 percent less productive and 47 percent more worried about losing their job. Also, they are 75 percent more likely to plan on quitting their jobs than those who receive clear instructions and know exactly what their managers are expecting of them. 

Therefore, it is crucial to make sure your people understand their tasks and deadlines. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they know what they have to do just because they are experienced in their field or they worked a long time in the same positions. Stress and anxiety can foster doubt and decreased power of concentration even in the strongest and best-trained professionals. 

Encourage bonding

The biggest mental health challenge reported by people working from home is social isolation. Over 75 percent of them are feeling more socially isolated than they did before the pandemic, and that is increasing their stress and anxiety levels. While a part of these people face the challenges of juggling family and work in the same space, at the same time, there are also those who live alone and are the most affected by isolation. 

The best way to overcome this challenge is by encouraging social interaction and bonding within your team. Use your team communication app to set up topics for fun and laughter, where people can engage in friendly conversation. Set up a safe space where they can share their concerns without being judged, plan online social activities, such as games or a movie night.

People who are going through traumatizing experiences together form stronger bonds, learn how to collaborate, become loyal to each other and better team players. 

Think outside the box

It is the time, more than ever before, to ditch the old paradigms and adopt new practices that encourage your employees to do more than work. Put together some guides for stress management, make yourself available for one-on-one meetings not only for work-related matters, or even consider covering the costs for therapy when needed.

Some companies go as far as providing online yoga classes or team exercising. Having your team do squats during a meeting may be unconventional, but what isn’t these days?! 🙂 Besides the happy chemicals released by the brain while exercising, this can also be a great bonding opportunity that would light up the mood and lift the spirits. 

Take personal action

This is the moment in history when you get the opportunity to show your true leadership abilities and be more than a boss to your people. In dark times people need someone to give them reassurance and something to hold on to and maintain hope. 

Many companies haven’t reached out to their employees in this period to ask about their health. No less than 38 percent of employees have never been contacted by their managers to ask how they were holding up, and these are also the workers more likely to experience a decline in mental health.

People need to know that those in charge care about them. Over 57 percent of employees feel comfortable sharing their mental health issues with their managers. Most of them claim that the most effective way to check in is a direct phone call from the manager. 

“Leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example.”

Cory Booker

So pick up the phone, write emails, open private chats – put some effort into showing people that you care about them. People who feel their manager supports them are less likely to worry about losing their jobs or think about quitting. 

Remember yourself

Last but not least, make sure you don’t forget to apply all of the above to your own person. As a leader, you have a responsibility to your people, but that cannot be fulfilled if you are not doing well yourself.

Make sure you bond with your team on a personal level and in a meaningful way that also brings you joy and satisfaction. Remember that you are valued and people look up to you. Only by keeping your faith and the hope of a better future you can spread it to others.

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