5 tips for managing mental health in a pandemic

Written by
Jane Farrell, co-founder and chief executive, EW Group

22 May 2020

22 May 2020 • by Jane Farrell, co-founder and chief executive, EW Group

'Systematic empathy' is crucial when considering the mental health of your workforce, writes Jane Farrell, co-founder and chief executive of EW Group

From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, business leaders have had to make huge decisions to stop, start, slow down, accelerate or recast, at speed. While making these crucial business decisions it is important to think about how change may impact your workforce and customer base and consider mental health at an individual level. We call this ‘systematic empathy’ – really listening to employees, customers or service users and thinking about what can be done to maintain good mental health, not just in Mental Health Awareness Week and in a pandemic, but every day.

More than ever, leaders are having to walk in a vast array of different shoes to ensure their employees’ health and wellbeing is considered. Here are some points to consider:

Communicate your values and purpose

Especially now, change is inevitable. This can lead to uncertainty and increased anxiety, so communicate formally and informally even more than usual. From virtual coffee breaks, happy hours and videos from senior leaders thanking employees for their efforts, to the inevitable Zoom meetings, it is key to help teams feel connected.

Aside from communicating about practicalities, it's important to also remind staff why what your organisation does matters, i.e. the purpose and values. This will help individuals feel connected and feel that their work makes a positive difference.

Weave mental health and wellbeing into all meetings

Addressing mental health, wellbeing and all other diversity and inclusion considerations into meetings will demonstrate a sensitivity to the fact that some employees are impacted more than others during times of stress.

Begin meetings by asking people to share one thing they have enjoyed in the last week and one thing they have found hard. This can provide the opportunity for the emotional impact of Covid-19 to be shared, should people wish to. Through these simple techniques, you can build up a good sense of how your team is coping and have follow up conversations with individuals. 

Create a supportive environment for all

During these uncertain times, ensure your managers are drawing up practical ways of supporting employees who are working far too much, as well as for those who may feel that they are worth less because they have been furloughed or seen a reduction in workload. Contrasts between working too much and being underutilised within a team have been stark and sometimes painful for both groups. 

It is important your managers also identify individuals who are known to be vulnerable to poor mental health, and put in place individual support for them as well as provisions for those who have, or may develop, anxiety or other mental health issues due to pressures brought about by the pandemic. 

Plan a phased recovery

As a leader, you will need to plan a careful, phased recovery for your organisation and the people in it so that all employees are not expected to go from 0-100 miles an hour in a day, as normality returns. 

Everyone is different and everyone has their own individual mental health. A ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work, so it is important to think about the physical and emotional needs of a everyone when creating plans and mechanisms for returning to work. 

Stories help people to focus on the future

Creating storyboards that share both the tough and positive things that have happened during the pandemic and how your organisation’s values and purpose held firm can allow you and your workforce to reflect on what has happened and look towards the future.

Stories are powerful and great leaders create narratives that will support and inspire, well after the crisis has passed. The stories become part of the organisational culture and employees will remember what was done well, and what was not done well, for many years to come.

By putting measures in place and considering employee mental health across the board but also at an individual level, leaders can help to ensure the best outcomes for all concerned. 

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