You know from experience that distracted workers are less safe, and the coronavirus pandemic may have your workers unusually distracted.
Among the concerns that could be weighing on their minds – the security of their jobs, the health of family members and managing the schoolwork of their children. And they may be uncomfortable talking about these issues out loud.
COVID-19 has caused “unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and fear,” plus an increase in self-medicating substance use, and many employers have had to pivot and create employee support systems as a result, said Rachael Cooper, senior program manager for the mental health sub-group of the National Safety Council (NSC) Safe Actions For Employee Returns initiative.
Cooper noted that research shows one in five Americans that survive being ill with COVID-19 develop a mental illness.
Mary Draves, the vice-president and chief sustainability officer of materials science company Dow, said during an NSC “State of Response and Future World of Work” Virtual Summit that it’s a good idea for employers to make mental health awareness part of their COVID crisis response.
Not only should the physical safety of employees be a priority right now, she said, “but also our mental and psychological safety. So we’ve spent quite a bit of time … upping our game in that area.”
Besides an employee assistance program for workers and their families, Dow has made related training and other resources available “to make sure we’re meeting their needs,” Draves said.
Cummins Inc., a manufacturer of engines and power generation and filtration equipment, launched an “It’s OK” employee wellness campaign to de-stigmatize mental and behavioral healthcare and encourage seeking support when it’s needed.
According to Michelle Garner-Janna, Cummins’ executive director of corporate health, safety and environment, leadership got involved in reminding employees “to be thoughtful and self-aware of what they’re going through and what their struggles may be. It’s OK to admit you’re stressed and that you’re having issues coping.”
Cooper suggested posting mental health support links on the company intranet and holding informal “brown bag” education sessions for workers and managers on topics like:
- recognizing symptoms of mental health distress in others and themselves
- relaxation, and
- stress management.
Employer mental health resources from the NSC, including webinars, checklists and guidance, can be found here.
Tips from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for staying resilient during the pandemic at work and at home can be found here.
If it seems like there would need to be an organizational culture shift to start addressing employee mental health and self-care, make it a team effort by brainstorming ideas with HR, leadership and department managers.
“A company talking about these topics more has been well received by the workforce, as a general rule,” Cooper said.
Also, “clear communication has been critical, especially with the deluge of new information that has challenged us all. Having a clear understanding about workplace rules and regulations, as well as a central, trusted source for other information, has helped workforces stay mentally stable.”
During a time when your workers may be struggling with depression or feelings of loneliness, social connectedness while remaining at least six feet apart can have a positive impact on their wellbeing. Some examples of virtual co-worker interaction that, according to the NSC, have been successful:
- team happy hours
- team cooking classes, and
- team/companywide fitness classes.
Other measures to try are increasing supervisor check-ins with individual team members, employee perception surveys that reveal if their needs are being met and flexible working arrangements that enable employees to re-balance their lives by connecting with family and friends.
“Mental health is health. Employees must be allowed to bring their full selves to work, now more than ever, and must feel safe to communicate with their supervisors, with their colleagues and with others when they’re not doing well and need support,” Cooper said.