The 'No-Playbook' Playbook on Pandemic Mental Health Support
How leaders can support their employees through uncertain times
What do you do when the mental health strategies you’ve brought to life in your organization no longer apply? That’s the question our team at MindBeacon has been asked again and again in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, as businesses and organizations valiantly try to adapt in real-time to an unpredictable situation – one that’s affecting the mental health of their employees in ways no one could have foreseen.
In short, the challenges ahead are immense; we already know the staggering costs associated with mental illness – how it affects workplace productivity, employee turnover, and disability management. But these concerns in the past perhaps felt like a slow burn. Now, we’re facing a new set of challenges that will require us to be compassionate, creative, and communicative in entirely new ways.
And so, when so many of our go-to approaches now seem to be ineffective or maladaptive, instead of writing a new playbook, we recommend embracing the following principles now more than ever.
Shift the narrative for the new normal
Until now, the mental health narrative we’ve all focused on has been about the one-in-five who have a diagnosable issue. Today, however, everyone is dealing with a reality that’s seemingly changed overnight. Between working from home, parenting through school and daycare closures, feeling financial stress, and losing social connections, we’re all struggling in different ways. All employees’ mental health is at risk and can benefit from new skills to cope. Organizations need to find ways to support ALL employees’ mental health with effective programs and not only focus on a segment.
Adaptivity is key
The emotional wellbeing challenges your employees are dealing with today are likely not the same as those from weeks ago, and will change again as the environment keeps changing. This is a time to embrace adaptivity and creative problem-solving. When our team developed Stronger Minds by BEACON as a valuable and free service in response to the mental health risks exacerbated by COVID-19, our guiding principle was that the program content would not be pre-determined. We knew we had to listen well and responsive to the evolving needs of our participants, just as we would advise people leaders to be.
Compassion is our new currency
“But how are you really feeling,” is probably a question many Canadians are hearing daily right now. This is a good thing; it’s a time for open, honest, and empathetic communication, and managers are in an opportune position to let compassion and authenticity lead these conversations. However an employee might be struggling, asking the right kinds of questions can help you unpack how they’re actually doing so your organization’s support can be led by their insightful voice.
Questions that can gain you more authentic insight include:
- On a scale of 1-10, how are you doing?
- What are your challenges with this new normal?
- Is there anything I, or the organization, could help with to make your work situation easier during this transition?
Digital supports are especially valuable now
As we continue to shift through societal changes, your employees will need support (Health Canada estimates – based on their experience of SARS in 2003 – that 11 million Canadians will experience high levels of stress, and 2 million will experience traumatic levels of stress). While digital supports have always been desirable in helping to overcome stigma and other barriers to accessing mental health care – in the age of physical distancing and an even more dispersed workforce, digital support as an option for employees will become even more valuable. By bringing an evidence-based therapy provider with a proven track record of successfully treating the most common mental health concerns, you can offer employees safe and viable alternatives to the traditional face-to-face approach.
How things in our environment will continue to shift and change is impossible to predict. What we do know, however, is that as leaders, we are capable of creating positive change at a time when our employees need real, meaningful help. It’s the actions we take now that will define our leadership in a post-COVID world. This is our opportunity for us to write that new playbook and embrace stronger mental health for all.