Now that the dust of 2020 has settled, employers are faced with managing the ‘after shock’ and sustained disruptions resulting from COVID. Employees are likely to be experiencing a variety of emotions as they come to terms with this ‘new normal’. Adrenaline levels have decreased and many of us are faced with a variety of feelings such as grief, loss and fear of the future.
Some of the common challenges employees may be experiencing include managing conflicts between work and home, adjusting to feelings of loneliness and isolation after long periods working away from the office and battling the fears and uncertainty about the future. Employers have a duty of care to prioritise the mental health of employees and ensure that they are having open and honest discussions and educating leaders about the signs that an employee might be suffering from emotional distress or ‘burn-out’.
Here are our top 10 strategies and questions leaders can ask to build a mentally safe workplace:
- Leadership – it starts at the top. Open and honest leadership and ‘walking the walk’ is crucial to developing a culture that prioritises well-being and mental health. Are you setting the right example for your team by taking care of your own well-being?
- Workload management – make sure employees’ tasks are achievable and that they have the resources to complete them. Focus on outcomes not time. Check in regularly and ask for feedback.
- Work/life balance – encourage employees to take breaks and offer opportunities to balance their personal and working lives. Set clear boundaries about expectations while working from home and don’t be afraid to set limits for them (i.e. no checking emails after 8pm and have at least 1 hour of technology free time before bed).
- Mental health support – do your employees have access to EAPs or other mental health services when needed? Do you have an accredited Mental Health First Aid Officer who is trained to help identify signs of employee stress and burn-out? 7 in 10 professionals are suffering from burnout in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Manage expectations. As individuals, we all have different preferences for the frequency and mode of communication outside of the workplace. Do you know the communication preferences of your employees? Equip your teams with the skills necessary to ensure boundary management and have respect for the communication preferences of their colleagues.
- Don’t forget about employee development! While opportunities for face-to-face training and coaching may be limited, it’s important not to put development on the backburner. What creative ways can you implement to ensure the continued development of your teams? There are many online training resources now available that deliver a wide range of functionality and suit many budgets (Go to Meetings, ZOOM, Microsoft Teams, online Learning Management System – LMS).
- Encourage well-being initiatives with your employees such as diet, exercise, mindfulness and good quality sleep. Remind them to schedule lunch breaks and space for movement throughout their working day. It’s easy to forget the basics when the to do list is growing and we are managing that fine balance between home and work.
- Communication is crucial – stay in touch with your employees regularly! Consider setting up weekly or bi-weekly mental health bulletins. Newsletters are still a great way to share regular updates on project outcomes, recognising wins and milestones. 2-way feedback is more important now than ever so consider asking your employees for contributions to regular organisational comms.
- Show compassion. Many of us are facing obstacles as a result of the current situation and we all handle and respond to stress differently. Remember to offer compassion and empathy to ourselves and each other and utilise active listening techniques to maintain harmonious working relationships.
- Hit the reset button. Change is not always bad! While we didn’t have much time to prepare for the impacts of COVID, we are now presented with a wonderful opportunity to reconsider and redesign our workplace practices. Change can result in a number of positive benefits and is fundamental to continued organisational success.
Did you know that workplaces who prioritise mental health and employee well-being are significantly ‘safer’ workplaces and experience much lower instances of workplace bullying and harassment? For more information on how to assess the well-being of your workplace, reach out today and ask us for information about our employee well-being survey.