Working in a pandemic can be stressful, to say the least. This is particularly true for individuals who ply their trade in environments that pose risks to their health, be they contractors, healthcare staff, cleaning professionals, or anyone who lacks the option of working from home.
Over time, the weight of those risks can wear anyone down. Fears can rise. Tempers can flare. And the day-to-day anxieties of working in potentially hazardous environments can take their toll. That’s why, in addition to focusing on physical health and safety, employers must also take steps to protect their teams’ mental health.
Ahead are some strategies for making mental health a priority:
Make a plan: When mental health issues arise, you want to have a plan. Consider working with mental health experts and your internal teams to create a mental health action plan that will give leaders/managers the tools, resources, and contacts they need to respond to mental health concerns the moment they come to light. There are ample resources online to help build this plan (e.g., tool kits, webinars, guidebooks), and organizations like the Mental Health Commission of Canada can offer further guidance.
Appoint mental health leaders: It can be tough to spot signs of mental health issues on the job. To help, consider appointing team leaders who can work with leadership to identify and address signs that employees require support (e.g., mood changes, lack of energy, irritability, excessive fears, etc.).
Eliminate the stigma: Mental health challenges can only be addressed if employees feel empowered to share their experiences without fear of repercussions or being seen as “weak” by their peers. Herein, organizational leaders must promote a culture of awareness and acceptance around mental health issues. That means discussing mental health issues in the open, communicating the company’s support, and creating channels through which employees can feel safe expressing their personal challenges. More importantly, building a positive mental health culture means consistently demonstrating that the organization takes mental health issues seriously and is ready and willing to help.
Review your process: Collaborate with your teams to explore ways in which their jobs can be done easier or more efficiently. For example, cleaning crews may benefit from adapting their routines or implementing new equipment, tools, and personal protective equipment that help them get the job done faster and with greater confidence.
Take a break: Consider planning fun activities for teams in between their work. These can include informal social events, games, outdoor activities, or anything that helps connect to their peers and blow off a little steam. Granted, not everyone will feel comfortable being social, but the goal is to provide activities outside of work that helps them recharge.
Gift the gift of silence: If possible, establish spaces in your workplace that employees can use to recoup, recharge, and participate in simple activities that can boost their mood.
Remember the little things: You’d be surprised how far a simple greeting or words of encouragement can go in promoting positive mental health. Don’t forget to do the “little things” that boost morale.
There’s no cookie-cutter strategy for addressing mental health in the workplace. Neither is it something that employers can afford to ignore. In the days of escalating fears and anxiety, providing genuine and consistent support will go a long way towards keeping teams safe, engaged, and ready to come to work.