How COVID-19 is Affecting Employee Mental Health

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), lives across the globe have changed dramatically. Shops and restaurants have closed, small businesses shut down, children are being homeschooled and employees are ordered to work from home. This has presented us all with new and unique challenges that affect employee mental health and well-being. 

For many employees, this is their first time teleworking, which presents its own challenges, but this isn’t the only thing that plagues employees at this time. Being isolated from friends and family is one of the main difficulties for many. In addition, our daily routines have also been affected, which leads us to be more susceptible to increased anxiety, stress and panic. Although it is quite common for employers to support physical health with, for instance, office gym memberships, the mental health of employees is often overlooked.

Supporting employees in their current situations should now be at the top of employers’ lists of priorities. Today we will discuss the strategies employers can take to support their workers whilst in quarantine and beyond. 

Working from home during COVID-19

Across Europe and America employees are required to work from home during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This is as a result of the global effort to stop the spread of the virus, with the hope of returning to normality as soon as possible. Yet, this presents a range of problems itself, as employees find themselves having to quickly adapt to unknown situations and new emotions. Some of the main struggles employees are currently facing include:

Disruption to their Normal Routine

Now more than ever, the normal way of life, of everyone on earth, has been rocked. Many will find this a difficult time to adjust to. Employees may lack structure in their day to day lives and may not be able to keep to their usual routine. This could include waking up late, eating at irregular intervals, loss of exercise and self-care. It’s important to encourage employees to keep a regular routine, despite the unusual circumstances.

Managing Childcare

Seeing as schools are currently closed, parents will now be forced to manage child care on their own, while homeschooling their kids as well. All of this, on top of trying to work their job too. It’s important that employers understand that the work schedules of these individuals will need to be adapted to accommodate the new situation. If not, their productivity could take a nasty turn for the worst and affect the completion of daily tasks.

Technological Limitations

Some workers may encounter technological problems at home. For example, their internet may be slower than in the office. They may also have trouble with the signal when connecting to meetings. Offices are much better equipped than the average person’s living room. As such, employees may be slower at completing their normal tasks. Luckily, there are a number of free online tools and resources to assist staff in working from home. 

Let’s Address Mental Health 

Of course, it is difficult for people to adapt to these new changes in their daily lives. Not only that, but the isolation they are now government-ordered to experience, is likely to take its toll on their mental health. Employees may begin to feel loneliness as a result of social isolation, particularly if they live alone. As a result, they may start to feel anxious or depressed. Their sleeping patterns may become irregular, as they may not be getting enough fresh air or exercise. What’s more, diets among those who are experiencing anxiety, may suffer, resulting in skipping meals or eating fast food. If they’re smokers, they may start heavily smoking or they may begin to consume larger amounts of alcohol. 

Ultimately, the effect of prolonged confinement has been proven to have a massive impact on employee mental health. In turn, situations like these easily affect employee’s productivity when the right support isn’t provided. Now, we’re not talking about offering up a counselor to your employees, that’s not what they need. Let’s dive into some strategies you can apply to better support them.

Employee Mental Health: Strategies for Supporting Employees 

Let’s be honest, the talk on the town is all about how Coronavirus is affecting not only the physical health of people but is crippling companies of their financial backbone. Yes, these both are two very important things to talk about, but what are the most important things that keep your company running? If an employee is emotionally and mentally fatigued, they will be unable to perform their job to the capacity they were before. It’s for this reason, that it’s incredibly important to support your employees during times of crisis. 

In order to support your employees while they are working from home, you can implement the following strategies to assist during this difficult time.

1. Communication 

It’s important to note that social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. Therefore, it is essential to encourage staff to keep in regular communication with other colleagues, as well as loved ones. This could be done by scheduling regular meetings or conference calls to check in with team members face-to-face. And, let’s remember that, asking everyone how they’re doing should be a daily practice. Just as you would greet your colleagues every morning in the office and ask them how they are, you should continue to do the same even though everyone is remote.

2. Positive workspace

Stress the importance to create a positive workspace. One that is clean, light, spacious and away from the television or other distractions. This will help with creating an atmosphere that is conducive to working. It is also useful to encourage workers to dedicate one room to work and another to relax. This will separate the working space from the leisure space at home.  

3. Maintain a solid routine 

Set up daily meetings for 9 am in order to make sure employees are up and ready for the working day. Similarly, setting specific times for breaks and lunchtime pushes staff to take regular pauses. The aim of this is to instill some sense of routine and normality into the employees day to day life. Be sure to encourage staff to maintain these healthy boundaries. Now, in the case that your company has flexible working hours, you can continue to maintain this; however, it’s advisable to let people know when you clock in, head for lunch, and are out for the day. 

4. Understanding the home environment 

In the office, it’s not necessary for an employer to take much interest in the personal lives of employees. Yet, with employees working from home, employers must understand their living circumstances and be sympathetic towards them. For example, workers may have children or other dependents at home during this time. It is vital that this is understood and accepted. 

5. Encourage disconnection 

One strategy for taking care of mental health could be to suggest staff disconnect. Meditating, reading, yoga, and painting are all great examples of things employees could do outside of work. Colleagues could set up an online book club or yoga class to socialize outside of work hours.  Not only will this keep mental health in check, but it will also boost productivity.

The Future of Workplace Mental Health 

These strategies are great during extenuating circumstances, such as during this coronavirus pandemic. However, it will be a good idea for employers to continue to address employee mental health in normal working conditions too. Mental health is a growing cause of concern across society today. People face more pressure than ever before in the workplace, within families, their relationships and on social media. 

Therefore, now more than ever, the conversation around mental health issues, emotional wellbeing, and physical health, should all be prioritized equally. Not only will it lead to a happier society, but it will improve productivity and output within the workplace. 

Contributed by Charlotte Stace; Edited by Tanya Lesiuk

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