May is Mental Health Month, so there’s no better time to make a plan to support your team through this time of post-pandemic transition. As we know, mental health issues have sprung up during the pandemic; worsening psychological wellness is common in upsetting periods like this one, says the National Institute of Mental Health.
“In the immediate wake of a traumatic experience, large numbers of affected people report distress, including new or worsening symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia,” writes Joshua Gordon. Specifically, in a June 2020 CDC study, 31 percent of survey respondents noted that they felt increased anxiety and depression, while another 26 percent mentioned that they had more stress than before.
While these increased mental health concerns are worrying, a positive outcome of the pandemic has been how workplaces are responding to their employees’ mental health crises. Employees are also learning to take better care of their mental states while they work from home. But according to Fisher Phillips, this COVID-19 response has been a long-time coming, and that employees’ mental health concerns aren’t only pandemic-related. “The current public health crisis has only exasperated [sic] the issue of employee mental health, leaving employers with no choice but to address this separate, but equally concerning, pandemic,” they write. What’s more, a recent survey noted that more than three-fourths of workers said that their companies should be doing more to improve employee mental health.
It’s important that employers don’t think that once the pandemic ends that their employees’ mental health will instantly bounce back as well. While COVID-19 may have worsened psychological distress, some of your employees may have had mental health concerns prior to the pandemic that they never reported.
How to Support Your Team’s Mental Health
Connect with your team to see what programs would benefit them.
Build a mental health safety plan for your workplace. Rather than developing a top-down approach, construct the program with feedback from your employees through “surveys, roundtable discussions, or one-on-one meetings.”
After that, start developing policies and training that employees can use. Changes may include creating a mental health safety policy, which defines mental health, considers what factors exacerbate psychological problems in the office, and outlines policies the company will take to resolve these issues.
Consider if your leadership style is part of the problem.
Kevin Kelloway, an occupational health psychologist, suggests that certain leadership and management styles can influence the pressure employees feel in the workplace. Specifically, unfair or hostile leaders can negatively influence mental health.
If you’re concerned that you may respond to your employees in a negative way, Kelloway notes that transformational leadership training not only positively affected teams’ mental health but managers’ psychological outlooks, as well.
Learn to ask questions and listen to your team members.
You should ensure that your team feels comfortable connecting with you on an individual level about their mental health challenges. This means learning to ask open-ended questions about their psychological states and empathizing with them if they are struggling.
One of the key factors here is that psychological struggles are stigmatized in the American workplace. Employees first need to know that their concerns are validated and will be taken seriously. Keep this in mind by reassuring them that anything they tell you will not affect your perception of their workplace performance.
What’s more, make sure they understand that you will act on their concerns. Consider communicating with them about your own struggles, or responding with suggestions to minimize their stress. These are just a few effective ways to let them know you will act on their behalf.
Spot signs of workplace stress – but don’t overstep.
If an employee is facing an issue at work, you should step in and connect with that employee or aim to moderate the stressor. For instance, if one of your colleagues is being disrespected by another, you should mitigate the issue, rather than ignoring it. If an employee is overworking themselves to the point of fatigue, you should connect with them and find ways for them to decrease their workload.
At the same time, you can’t ask about an employee’s mental health; that can lead to legal repercussions. Instead, be proactive in making your workplace a safe and productive space for employees. Also, be knowledgeable about referral services and company-wide policies if a team member does report their struggles to you.
Mental Health is a Smart Investment
You may think that employees’ mental health issues are their own concerns. However, a recent WHO study noted that anxiety and depression cost American companies more than a $1 trillion in lost productivity. What’s more, companies that work to improve their employees’ mental states see an increase in employee efficiency which, in turn, leads to economic benefits.
Use Mental Health Month and pandemic momentum to make changes that make your employees healthier and happier at work.