I was talking to a friend the other day about the COVID-19 crisis and he mentioned that many of his co-workers are stressed out. Some folks are worried they’re being misinformed, some are uncomfortable working from home indefinitely and some are concerned about losing their jobs if the economy continues its downswing.

My friend is worried about the strain this crisis is putting on his colleagues’ mental health. And he should be!

According to the World Health Organization, “Almost all people affected by emergencies will experience psychological distress, which for most people will improve over time…The prevalence of common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety is expected to more than double in a humanitarian crisis.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many concerns, including fear of personal safety, low trust in information and resources, and feelings of isolation.

Here’s the good news: There are many actions we can take to care for our own mental health, as well as our co-workers’ well-being. Follow these four strategies to improve mental health in the workplace:

1. Provide employees with helpful information

One of the major reasons for uneasiness during a crisis is a lack of information. That’s why it’s critical to provide clear, easy-to-understand resources that employees can access quickly. To do so, create a dedicated landing page on your intranet with links to reputable sources in these key categories:

Updates on the COVID-19 crisis itself

  • The latest world, national and regional government updates
  • Your company’s response to the crisis (both for customers and employees)
  • Service or product changes your company makes to manage the crisis
  • Your business strategy for successfully weathering the storm
  • Updates on organizational changes, such as layoffs or paid leave programs

How to work remotely

  • Tips on using digital tools for web meetings and collaboration
  • Advice for staying connected while isolated
  • Troubleshooting tricks for technical issues
  • Access to IT support

Employee Assistance Program details

  • Medical and behavioral
  • Financial and legal
  • Family care

Outside mental health resources

  • Contact information for non-profit mental illness organizations that provide assistance
  • Crisis hotlines
  • How to find a mental health doctor or specialist (perhaps via health insurance providers)

2. Help leaders lead compassionately

In times of confusion, employees turn to their leaders for clarity. A recent report from public relations firm Edelman shows that employees believe coronavirus information from their employers more than from the government, health companies and traditional media.

That’s why it’s critical for leaders to make themselves as visible as possible. Leaders need to demonstrate that they’re knowledgeable about the situation and are taking a proactive approach to managing issues. With frequent and open communication, leaders can build employees’ confidence and calm anxieties.

Support leaders to:

  • Provide frequent updates. Employees are eager for the latest intel, so explain what’s happening every time an important decision is made.
  • Reassure employees with readiness plans. Employees want to know the company has thought through all the angles. Share your process for making key decisions, putting employees’ safety first while attending to customers’ needs.
  • Be transparent. Don’t downplay the severity of any situation—employees will see through the sugarcoating and trust will be lost. Instead, candidly share what information you have.
  • Set an example. Start the conversation about stress at the top of the organization and the rank and file will be more likely to join in. Let employees know that their well-being is important to leadership.

3. Build community

I’m finding personally that connecting with co-workers is the most important factor for managing my mental health while staying home. Companies should do everything they can to facilitate employee networking during this time. Here are some ideas:

  • Encourage web meetings with video so speakers can see each other’s faces, read body language and feel more connected.
  • Schedule virtual hangouts, such as group lunches or exercise programs, to help employees blow off steam while building community.
  • Promote online chats and sharing forums using tools like Yammer, Slack, Chatter or Jive so colleagues can share knowledge, answer each others’ questions and spark conversations over the web.
  • Set up a charitable giving activity to help employees give back, which is proven to make people feel happier.

4. Ask for input

Don’t forget to ask employees what they want and need. Run a quick five-question survey or conduct two or three fast focus groups to learn what types of information and resources your workforce would find helpful during this time. Then be sure to deliver!

Follow this advice and you’ll be well on your way toward reinforcing mental health, so your workforce is calmer, happier and more productive.

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