The world is hurting. Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, many Americans have reported a significant and sustained increase of symptoms related to depression, anxiety, and fear. In the UK, psychiatrists and psychologists are calling for urgent research on how to help the most vulnerable sections of society from the escalating risk of depression and self-harm. The United Nations recently urged nations to do more to protect their citizens against the heightened threat of mental illness during and after the pandemic.
But while the pandemic has turned the world upside down, it has also provided a unique opportunity for founders, leaders, and managers to create a deeper connection with their team amidst a difficult and emotional time.
The key to achieving this: ensuring that your team’s mental health needs are well taken care of, now more than ever.
Why mental health is important in the workplace
The mental health of your employees has a huge impact on your company’s bottom line. Making sure that the mental well-being of your employees is taken care of, and helping them stay resilient in the face of emotional distress, has a positive influence on individual motivations and overall productivity.
But caring for your team’s mental well-being is extra challenging in these times. Not only is the pandemic aggravating the psychological effects of social isolation and anxieties about the future, you are also limited by having to manage your team through virtual channels.
How can you support mental health in a virtual workplace?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), work-related risks to mental health include:
- Inadequate health and safety policies
- Poor communication and management practices
- Limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work
- Low levels of support for employees
- Inflexible working hours
- Unclear tasks or organisational objectives
Here are 5 things you can do to address these risks, and support your team’s mental health and well-being in a virtual workspace.
1. Invest in the right digital tools
Ensuring that your team has the right tools to communicate, conference, and co-ordinate is one of the most powerful things you can do to make remote work productive for your team.
But digital tools have another important role: they help your team overcome fragmentation and stay connected. Teamwork builds morale, so ensure that your team continues to collaborate effectively through the right project management tools, online document managers, virtual conferencing platforms, and instant messaging apps.
2. Champion social interaction
Remote work can be lonely. And without colleagues to joke with over lunch or go on a coffee run with, your team could be hurting from the effects of isolation. Help them overcome this by scheduling some online social time.
Share motivational or funny content on the company’s instant messaging apps. Use your online conference tools to conduct teambuilding activities like morning yoga classes, Friday pub-quiz nights, or an at-home HIIT challenge (exercise has an added bonus of alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety!). Even having a virtual lunch together counts as valuable bonding time.
But while you encourage your team to make use of the company’s virtual channels for relationship-building, make sure these tools don’t end up getting abused – which brings us to our next point.
3. Set healthy boundaries
You can’t leave the office when your office is your home. This lack of work-life separation can escalate the risk of employee burnout – it’s easy to take for granted that working from home means you are on call 24/7.
So while it’s important to use virtual channels to help your team stay connected, be sure to also set some ground rules so that people don’t end up contacting each other at all hours of the day about work. Make sure weekends stay sacred. Don’t micromanage how long it takes someone to respond to a message or email. Don’t confuse online presence with actual productivity.
- Being results-driven instead of presence-driven
- Implementing clear and enforceable WFH rules
- Adapting your management style to suit the circumstances
4. Level up on engagement during virtual meetings
Face-to-face time is important, but don’t make it a drag, especially during large-scale conferences and meetings where it’s easy for people to get distracted. Make sure that these virtual events are as engaging and interactive as possible to lift the mood and boost morale.
Try opening with an icebreaker or fun poll like Two Truths One Lie or Never Have I Ever. Schedule a mid-game break and get everyone to do some collective stretching. Show appreciation and celebrate the small wins.
You can even use live polls and surveys for employees to vote on next steps or give feedback on the company’s direction – it will give them a chance to participate in decision-making and exercise more control over the work they do.
5. Communicate openly that mental health is important to you
As a founder, leader, or manager, it’s important that you take the lead in promoting mental health in the workplace. You can:
- Show empathy and communicate your support and availability as a listening ear
- Speak to each member of your team privately about how they’re coping and invite suggestions to improve
- Provide avenues for employees to seek anonymised external counselling if necessary
- Find company insurance plans that provide support for employee mental health issues
Some people are more comfortable asking for help anonymously, so allow them to submit concerns and struggles using an online Q&A platform can help encourage the more vulnerable members of your team to speak up and seek help.
These are unprecedented times, as we’ve been told. But while the coronavirus pandemic has exposed many flaws in the way we’ve done things, it’s also given us the chance to make changes in the right direction – and the companies that will come out stronger than before are the ones who see problems not as things that have to be fixed, but as opportunities to be embraced.
Building an inclusive workplace can play a big part in employees' mental health. To learn more on how to create a safe and inclusive workplace for all, download our whitepaper: "Diversity fails without inclusion".