How leaders can demonstrate their commitment to employees’ mental health

Reach out.
Reach out.
Image: REUTERS/Brian Snyde
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The Covid-19 pandemic is more than a physical health issue—it’s a mental-health matter fueled by people’s concern for themselves, their families, their jobs, and the world at large.

Research conducted by Deloitte Global prior to the pandemic reveals a large percentage of workers already were highly stressed before “coronavirus” became a household word. Fear, uncertainty, and nonstop media coverage in the weeks since have put many into anxiety overdrive.

Sudden changes in lifestyle, including a widespread transition to remote work, bring challenges from a mental health perspective. Some people are suffering from isolation and loneliness, while others are overwhelmed by the need to care for others. And just about everyone is struggling to define the boundaries between work, family affairs, and personal time.

As leaders, we have always had an obligation to demonstrate compassion and make time for our people when they need it. Now is the time to make good on it. Small steps taken today to support employees’ mental and physical health will not only help individuals, but also strengthen our teams and deepen our sense of community.

Here are a few simple steps leaders can take today to connect more meaningfully to team members during these extraordinary times:

Keep in touch. Some colleagues may be feeling isolated and anxious during this period of social distancing. We need to check in and ensure they understand there is help available. A quick email or instant message—or better yet, an old-fashioned phone call—will help people feel connected. Also, promote social interaction by having regular, virtual catchups, either one-on-one or as a team.

Collaborate to find working arrangements that work. Stress and anxiety from the unknowns we are facing can be made worse by concerns over work and deadlines. So, encourage team members to talk about the challenges they face when working from home and collaborate to find solutions. Learn what will work best for them when it comes to the ways and hours they work, and remember the importance of judging on output, not on being present or “online.”

Take a step back. Fear can narrow our field of vision, making it harder to see the bigger picture or available options, including the positive possibilities in front of us. Acknowledge the anxieties your colleagues may be feeling, reassure them their feelings are OK, and take time to explore options and positive outcomes of the current situation—like having more family time or saving money on gas.

Raise awareness of resources. Be clear on what resources your organization provides for its people and be proactive in communicating it. Whether it is tips on remote working or information about an employee-assistance program, make sure colleagues know how to find relevant resources should they need them.

Ask “Are you OK?” These three words can make all the difference to someone who may be struggling.

The case for action

In November 2019, Deloitte Canada published a blueprint for workplace mental-health programs titled, “The ROI in workplace mental health programs: Good for people, good for business.” That report was followed by one published by Deloitte UK in January 2020 called, “Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment.”

Both reports are packed with helpful advice for leaders everywhere, and together they make a strong business case for improving mental health care in the workplace. But, the human case for action is even more compelling. Achieving positive mental well-being is challenging in normal times. Our people are now dealing with unprecedented circumstances, and most are doing it without the face-to-face interactions they crave.

We need to remind them that we care. That help is available. And most of all, that they’re not alone. This is what’s needed from leadership now. And the best leaders will still be doing it long after the crisis has passed.