Remote work, endless video conferences, online team building activities, and social distancing in public are all part of today’s “new normal.”
The new normal is also a perpetual state of anxiety, uncertainty, and stress that has varying effects on everyone’s mental health.
The repercussions of the pandemic on mental health are considerable, and they will persist when employees return to the workplace.
Therefore, businesses must prioritize the mental health of their employees as they prepare to welcome them back to their shared workplaces.
Employers seeking to improve their workforce’s mental health and well-being have a critical role to play in ensuring everyone has access to health care and support during this difficult time.
Here are some specific actions to help you better respond to your employees’ needs throughout this transition and emerge with a healthier, more resilient workforce.
1. Show Empathy and Gratitude
Approach return-to-work discussions with a positive tone that displays both positive leadership and compassion. To effectively demonstrate empathy, it’s essential to acknowledge the personal and professional challenges your employees are facing and communicate your efforts to provide flexibility during the shift back to on-site work.
Reinforce this message by letting your team know how much you respect and value their contributions while emphasizing a shared goal that unifies all team members. Over time, you may bolster this message by openly recognizing and rewarding employees for their excellent work and for meeting goals even under challenging conditions.
2. Communicate Clearly and Constantly
Tirelessly communicate even more than you think is necessary. According to a Qualtrics study, employees who believed their leaders were poor at communicating were 23% more likely than others to develop mental health problems since the pandemic started.
To improve employee experience, keep your team up to date on any organizational changes. Employees must know what to expect upon their return to work. Clarify any adjustments to work hours, settings, and procedures. Eliminate as much stress as possible by setting clear expectations, prioritizing what to do, and identifying what to delegate. All these can help alleviate any uncertainty and reassure employees that you have their best interests in mind.
3. Provide Access to Mental Health and Wellness Resources
Employers must make mental health resources readily available to employees who require them. This may be in the form of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a referral to other groups that offer crisis intervention, counseling, or other services. Ease of access and effective promotion of a company’s EAP can help provide many useful options—and not simply mental health care—to employees in need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also spurred an increase in the use of telehealth, which includes remote and virtual interactions between patients and healthcare professionals. Access to telehealth can be a crucial component of an effective strategy to support employee wellness post-COVID-19. Telehealth can serve as an effective alternative to physical and mental health appointments and in-person rehabilitation.
Make sure your workforce is aware of the mental health and wellness resources available to them, and encourage them to use them. Also, be mindful that shame and stigma may prevent many employees from seeking treatment. You can encourage employees to seek support by normalizing these services.
4. Offer Flexible Work Arrangements
Expect the situation, your team’s needs, and your personal needs to continue to evolve.
Check in frequently, especially during transition points. Don’t make assumptions about what your direct reports require as they will likely have differing needs at different times.
Take a tailored strategy to address stressors, including difficulties with child care. Be as generous and realistic as possible while proactively offering flexibility.
Consider flexible work arrangements, such as reduced hours, compressed work weeks, or working from home whenever possible. These may be necessary during reintegration to relieve stress for employees struggling with personal and family concerns, such as caring for loved ones.
In addition, you may need to re-evaluate your policies on paid time off, sick leave, leaves of absence, disability, and bereavement in light of specific situations your employees face. Keep the lines of communication open once employees return to work to help address obstacles and identify solutions.
Being flexible and accommodating does not necessarily mean compromising your standards.
Remember that you can only do your best to accommodate and still this may not work for some staff.
However flexibility can help your team achieve success amid persistent uncertainty.
5. Build a Culture of Social Connection
Whether it’s a 15-minute coffee chat or a virtual happy hour, organizing online social activities can influence the tone and direction of your employees’ days—and improve their mood!
Keep in mind that the home life of your employees may vary greatly. Some employees may not have family members with whom to discuss their stress and anxiety, while other employees may be feeling overwhelmed with family and work commitments.
Moreover, note that many people in the new remote work environment may be experiencing a significant work-life imbalance. You can help ease some of these stressors and create a sense of normalcy by offering your employees fun and stress-free opportunities to connect with each other.
Make Mental Health a Priority
Two years into this unprecedented global health crisis, organizations continue to make every effort to adapt to these extraordinary circumstances.
The pandemic’s mental health ramifications are real, and they can impact employees’ chances of successfully returning to work.
However, by recognizing the unique challenges your employees face and making their mental wellness a priority, you can provide the support they need to thrive while they transition to a new normal at work. It can be difficult to support staff so ensure that you are looking after your own mental health in the process.
At Vision, we offer a range of services, from counseling and well-being services to Employee Assistance Programs. For more information and resources to support your employees’ mental health in the new normal, contact us today.