Over the last few months, government officials all across the United States have made difficult judgment calls to keep the population physically healthy and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Unfortunately, one of the unintended consequences of stay-at-home orders and social distancing is its negative impact on mental health. If we want a healthy, engaged workforce, business owners and leaders need to take an active role in helping ease the mental and emotional burdens our “new normal” places on our employees.
New Generations, New Needs
Even before our current public health crisis, employers began paying closer attention to employees’ mental health needs. In part, this was due to federal legislation requiring mental health parity, but it also reflected changing perceptions and expectations of new generations entering the workforce. For example, Millennials seems especially impacted by anxiety and depression. Social isolation exacerbates these existing issues by limiting access to support networks and stress-reducing activities.
In addition to the stress of avoiding illness while carrying out essential activities during a pandemic, many Millennials are now juggling three major jobs – parent, teacher, and employee – at once. Meanwhile, Generation X caregivers worry about the heightened risk for their aging parents.
With this in mind, leaders should be asking themselves, “How we can alleviate some of the burden of this stress while still maintaining production?”
According to the World Health Organization, actions taken to promote mental health at work can improve productivity. When we equip our employees with the tools needed to address these concerns, they can focus on their work. So, where to begin?
The first step is having a corporate culture that values the mental health of employees. Here are a few ways to make your workplace more empathetic about mental health issues:
- Provide specific training on mental health awareness.
- Focus on the positives of employees in their work.
- Have a zero-tolerance harassment and bullying policy.
- Address factors that harm the mental health of employees.
- Provide a safe working space.
- Brush up on listening skills; listen to hear and not to respond.
- Make employees a part of the company processes that affect them.
Doing What We Can
Because some 20% of the population suffers from mental health issues, it’s not something we can glaze over and hope it all works out. While business owners are not licensed therapists or psychologists, they can still do their part by prioritizing the well-being of their employees, both physically and mentally, and by adapting their corporate culture to fit the needs of all.