How Leaders Can Help Their People Through the Stress and Mental Challenges of COVID - Glassdoor for Employers

How Leaders Can Help Their People Through the Stress and Mental Challenges of COVID

Coronavirus continues to cause major health problems for people across the country, but the effects aren't limited to those who get the virus. Mental health problems are on the rise from seclusion, fear of the virus, financial stress, and general sadness from a loss of a way of life.

We recognize now, the sudden change in people's work environments also hit many hard.

We recently conducted a survey of people across the country to see how the pandemic has affected their experience at work. Nearly half (48%) said their work had a greater impact on their mental well-being during the pandemic. The top three reasons included: change in the work environment (21%), uncertainty about employment (19%), and lack of connection with co-workers (18%). A slight majority (54%) said their employers addressed their mental health needs, compared to 46% who said they did not.

To those companies who are meeting their people's needs, we applaud you. For those who feel a little less sure, the pandemic is far from over, and you still have a great opportunity to proactively address the mental health needs of your people. Here's how.

Learn to recognize signs

It all starts with knowing there's a problem. CHG Healthcare is fortunate to have onsite health clinics at several of our offices. I reached out to our mental health counselors to learn how leaders can recognize when an employee is experiencing a mental health challenge.

They told me if someone is stressed, or silently battling a mental health challenge, their work is likely to be impacted. Seventy percent of communication is nonverbal. An employee who is struggling may have mood swings, hold themselves differently, show frustration or adjust their facial expressions in a way that reveals their unhappiness.

You may also hear employees vocalize some changes in their lives - they haven't been able to sleep or eat, they've been drinking more, they are stressed out. These are all warning signs.

[Related: How Managers Can Support Employee Mental Health]

Ask questions

Don't be afraid to ask your people how they are feeling - even if you're not seeing these signs. Not only does this help you understand the precise challenges your people are experiencing, but it also shows your people you care. Do you have a mom who is working remotely and homeschooling her children too? Do you have a team member who's sharing space with three roommates and a bad WiFi signal? Is there a colleague caring for a family member?

Show empathy and tell that employee you understand their challenges and you are here to help. Then be proactive and demonstrate your support. Help will look differently for team members, but for that mom, maybe help means reducing meetings so she can focus on doing her work. For others, there might be a project that could be passed to another team member with more capacity. Or it could be adjusting some people's schedule to help them to work when it works best for them. Flexibility is the core of effective leadership.

[Related: The Resilience of Teams: Why Supporting your Staff Achieves Greatness]

Kindly offer help

Mental health counselors suggest a leader check in with team members regularly to be a listening ear. Sometimes people just need to vent their frustrations for some relief. If you have an employee who is hesitant to disclose their feelings to you, start the conversation by showing your vulnerability and sharing a personal struggle you are experiencing now. If you get the sense that someone is severely struggling with their mental health, kindly advise them to seek professional help.

Be mindful in your conversations with your people and make sure to respond in a non-judgmental way. You are here to help, not to anger or add more stress to your employees' lives. Always have these personal conversations in private.

[Related: How to Showcase Employee Health Benefits and Recruit Top Talent]

Don't be afraid to talk about mental health at your company

It's important to destigmatize mental health at your organization and put programs in place that support a healthy lifestyle. We host lunch-and-learn sessions about mindfulness, self-care and mental health. We also host roundtables about what challenges our people are feeling and encourage them to reach out to one another for support. Burnout and depression don't need to be taboo topics - they affect many of us in this busy world we've created.

Encourage people to practice self-care and make the most of the benefits your company offers. Exercise is a big part of our culture. We have free gyms at many of our offices and offer gym reimbursements. We all know regular exercise can positively impact mental health, relieve stress, and help you sleep better. Everything we need right now!

We also offer a robust PTO plan and leaders encourage their people to use all their time off. Our people have access to marriage counseling through our insurance, free mental health counseling, and access to mindfulness apps.

Whatever services your company offers, make sure your people know they're available and how to use them.

Put one of these tips into practice to start better managing mental health

Look, the pesky coronavirus has no immediate end in sight. Cases keep climbing and so does all our stress. Learning to care for our mental health is the most important thing we can do - for ourselves and those we lead - to get through this current crisis now and better prepare us for any challenges that may come our way in the future.

[Related: 10 Easy Wellness Program Ideas for Remote Workers]

Your people will remember how you supported them during COVID-19. To get involved in the conversation on Glassdoor and start managing and promoting your employer brand reputation, unlock your Free Employer Profile today.

Kevin Ricklefs is Sr. Vice President of Talent Management at CHG Healthcare.