By Avery Hutcheson


World Mental Health Day couldn’t have come at a better time this year, as our entire lives as we know them are in flux as a result of COVID-19. To make the understatement of the century, the pandemic has been a stressful time for everyone.

With switching to a work-from home-environment, 22 million Americans dealing with job loss, social isolation, and the constant concern for their health and the health of loved ones, mental health has become a more pressing topic than ever before.

All of the uncertainty and isolation has led to increased levels of stress and increased rates of mental health conditions. According to the CDC, 30% of adults reported dealing with symptoms of anxiety and depression as a result of the pandemic. Businesses and leaders should be concerned about this because not only is stress bad for your physical and mental health, but it also contributes to poor performance in the workplace. With the rising levels of mental health-related issues surrounding the pandemic, businesses need to prioritize caring for the mental health of their employees. Creating a workplace culture that supports employee’s mental health is essential during these unprecedented times—and all the time, and here are 4 ways for leaders in the workplace to start.

Not only is stress bad for your physical and mental health, but it also contributes to poor performance in the workplace.

1. Weekly Check-ins

Make weekly check-ins the new norm. Weekly check-ins allow for leaders to make sure they are on the same page as their team right from the beginning of the week. What if they’re not on the same page? Now they can address the inconsistencies and move forward as a united front.

Working as a harmonious team and being clear on what the goals are can alleviate a lot of workplace stress.

Weekly check-ins also make it easier for leaders to notice if someone is having problems with their mental health. With not working alongside one another in the office as is normally done, it can be harder to notice when a team member might be struggling. Weekly check-ins help bridge that gap just a little bit and allow team members to advocate for themselves if they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

At weekly check-ins, leaders need to model vulnerability, so as to create an environment where their team can feel comfortable showing up with vulnerability as well. Five-time bestselling author and leadership researcher Brené Brown wrote about a workplace practice called permission slips in her latest book, Dare to Lead. Permission slips encourage teams to practice vulnerability during weekly check-ins. For the practice, all team members, leaders included, write down something they are giving themselves permission to do or feel during the meeting and then shares it with the team. This helps everyone in the room to better understand where the other members of their team are coming from and allows for team to build empathy for one another.

Permission slips encourage teams to practice vulnerability during weekly check-ins.
Permission slips encourage teams to practice vulnerability during weekly check-ins.

Leaders need to model vulnerability, so as to create an environment where their team can feel comfortable showing up with vulnerability as well

2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Clear, constant, and open communication can help alleviate a lot of stress. Create a workplace environment where communication is not only acceptable, but strongly encouraged.

As much as communication should have been a top priority among teams’ pre-pandemic, it’s even more of a necessity now. Leaders should communicate to their teams about any important organizational changes or updates, as well as clarify what the team should be prioritizing throughout their work week. There is so much that is unknown in the world, effective communication will help to minimize, at least, the unknowns in the workplace.

Remember that communication requires two parts: speaking and listening. The ladder half is often overlooked but is critical in order to build good relationships in the workplace. Leaders should ensure that their teams know that they are there to listen and they aim to listen to understand. Having an empathetic leader to talk to can alleviate a lot of workplace stress and can contribute to an overall better mental health.

Additionally, communicate about resources that are available to them to support their mental health. Team members need to know about resources that are available to them to seek help from. Supporting team members’ mental health can only be taken so far by leadership, so leaders need to communicate with their team about other resources that are available to them.

A collage of employees working from home to represente the importance of communication
There is so much that is unknown in the world, effective communication will help to minimize, at least, the unknowns in the workplace.

Remember that communication requires two parts: speaking and listening.

3. Emphasize the Importance of a Work-Life Balance

It’s no secret that working from home has made the line between work and life especially blurry. From having your dog interrupt your Zoom meeting with his incessant barking in the background to your email notifications blowing up while you’re trying to spend some quality time with the family, it’s easy to feel like you’re always on the clock.

Research shows that while workers feel like there have been many benefits from working from home, such as increased productivity and saving time during the day by not having to commute, the study also found that workers feel like their work-life and personal life are more blended together.

In short, as a means of supporting your team’s mental health, encourage team members to step away from their computers and put their notifications on mute when the workday is over. The constant connectivity is mentally exhausting and, not to mention, bad for productivity. Encourage your team to disconnect.

A father working from home with his dog and his baby son to represent the importance of a healthy work-life balance

Encourage your team to disconnect.

4. Create Opportunities for the Team to Connect

From Zoom happy hours to monthly book-club meetings, teams need opportunities to connect outside of work. With working virtually, it’s the little things, like the smiles and waves that we are missing the most. Even if you don’t realize you miss this, I promise you, you do. Creating space for connection outside of work is the perfect solution, and it’s good for your mental health.

Fostering opportunities outside of work for people to connect will also increase productivity. Relationships with coworkers will increase levels of comfort with one another and allow them to share their ideas and opinions more freely.

According to Harvard researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage, “The people who survive stress the best are the ones who actually increase their social investments in the middle of stress, which is the opposite of what most of us do.” While the instinct during stressful times is to retreat, isolate, and disconnect, connection is actually what helps us make it through these hard times.

Two hands with a glass of wine coming out of their computers cheering to represent connection when social distancing

Relationships with coworkers will increase levels of comfort with one another and allow them to share their ideas and opinions more freely.

At the end of the day, it’s essential for leaders to lead by example.

  • Leaders should exemplify vulnerability themselves during weekly check-ins in order to make their teams feel comfortable doing the same.
  • Leaders should actively over-communicate with their teams in order to build a workplace culture where open communication is the norm.
  • Leaders should be a role model for their teams when it comes to maintaining a work-life balance. Turn off your own Slack notifications when the clock hits 5PM and encourage your team to do the same.
  • Leaders should facilitate opportunities for the team to connect outside of work and emphasize the benefits that social connections have on stress levels and productivity.

When it comes to mental health in the workplace during COVID-19, it’s all about having empathy. Empathy for this unprecedented situation, empathy for one another, and even empathy for ourselves. As leaders there is only so much that is within our control, but by making these for 4 tactics common practice we can create a workplace culture that makes space for mental health.

When it comes to mental health in the workplace during COVID-19, it’s all about having empathy.

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