Monday, May 4, 2020

Coronavirus Update 5-4-2020: Handling employee mental-health issues in a world and workplace changed by coronavirus

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is as good a time as any to bring up an issue that has been weighing heavily on my mind — the looming mental health crisis that our employees are facing and will continue to face in a world and workplace changed by coronavirus.

Coronavirus has altered all of our lives, and all employees are dealing with stress, anxiety, and isolation.

Social distance has robbed us of the human contact we need from our family and friends, and work-from-home of the connections with our co-workers.

Some have fallen ill with coronavirus. Most of us know someone who has. And sadly there are those of us who have dealt with the loss, unable to properly grieve because of social distancing rules.

We’ve all missed celebrating milestones such as graduations, birthdays, and weddings.

Many of us have dealt with the stress of layoffs, furloughs, lost income, or closed businesses, and the stress that flows from figuring out how to pay the bills and feed our families.

Parents are balancing the new job of homeschooling (or at least assistant homeschooling) their kids with the old job of their actual paying job.

We’ve all lived with the everyday stress of just stepping out into the world. The simple task of grocery shopping has transformed into a life-and-death game of six-foot distance, anti-bacterial wipes, and face coverings. Even the simplest of daily tasks such as walking the dog has transformed into a game of social distancing chicken — which of us is going to move off the sidewalk first.

And when society starts to return to some semblance of normal, some of your employees will return to work with mental health issues of varying degrees caused by all of this stress, change, and loss. Some will be dealing with the exacerbation of pre-existing mental health issues, and some will have what I am calling coronavirus PTSD.

The easy part is understanding that coronavirus has caused these mental health issues. The harder part is figuring out what we as employers can do and should do to help employees identify and manage these serious issues.

For starters, Ohio has created a free COVID Careline for people to talk to someone about their concerns. It’s available 24/7 at 1-800-720-9616.

Other than letting employees know about this state-provided resource, what else can employers do to help ensure that employees have the support and resources they need now and in the future? I have five suggestions.

1/ Check the benefits available to your employees. Do you have an Employee Assitance Plan and are its mental health and counseling services are up to date? Are your health insurance plan’s mental health benefits easy to access and affordable?

2/ Revisit paid-time-off policies and consider providing employees the time they need to take care of themselves and their families. And understand that everyone’s situation at home is different. Some only have themselves to worry about, while others have children to tend to during the workday. None of this is ideal, but for some, it’s less ideal than for others, depending on how much non-work responsibilities are on one’s plate.

3/ Consider holding town hall or all-employee meetings that focus on mental health awareness. If senior leadership encourages education and communication around mental health issues, your employees will be more likely to access care if and when they need it.

4/ Just because many are working remotely does not mean that employees have to be separated. You can use technology to foster togetherness and a sense of community. Virtual get-togethers, mindfulness breaks, and online team-building events all help ease the sense of aloneness and isolation that many are feeling.

5/ Small gestures of kindness can go a long way. An extra day paid day off, a gift certificate for takeout meals or grocery deliveries, or a surprise delivery of a mid-day snack can help employees feel appreciated and connected instead of overwhelmed and stressed.

A business is only as strong (or as weak) as its employees. Those that are considerate, flexible, and kind will be in the best position to come out of this on the other side with as vibrant a workforce as possible.

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I’ll leave everyone with a song. Today, my daughter’s band (Fake ID) released their first-ever single, appropriately called Good Times (something we could all use more of these days).

It’s available on all streaming platforms, including—

Give it a listen, and please share with your networks. I know the kids are really proud of this song and would love for as many people to hear it as possible.