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Mental Health

COVID-19: The Employer’s Guide to Mental Health Awareness

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With the current state of affairs, and most recently the continued additional safety and travel measures issued from the Canadian Federal Government to help flatten the curve of COVID-19, remote work has become a very prevalent topic across all media platforms. Remote work can create obvious disruptions, and adjustments to the day to day business of organizations across Canada, and as an employer, you can't forget to pay attention to the mental health, and the well-being of your employees.

Mental health has become more talked about in recent years, but something that needs to continue to be top of mind as we navigate the fluid waters of the current Canadian landscape.

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The workplace has traditionally been identified as one space that affects employees’ mental health, but now with the majority of organizations moving to full time remote working for the time being, we need to address that the home has now become the workplace for a lot of Canadians. Which means, we need to continue to educate about how to ensure that your home is a safe, healthy working environment.

The Invisible Illness

For a long time, discussing mental health was taboo in the workplace. Social attitudes led to a culture of silence, but over the past few years we as a society have started to do a better job of shifting attitudes towards understanding and supporting mental illness which has opened up a space where employees feel more comfortable discussing more openly. 

As an employer it is time to provide powerful resources to your team leaders, and employees where they can learn and educate themselves on how they may be feeling. If your company has already established an EAP program which includes support for mental health, be sure to share the links with your team. Communicating pertinent details to your team is valuable when teams are physically disconnected. Continue to take notice and look for team members that may be quietly reaching out for support. Your employees are your single most important asset. When they feel their best, they perform their best and help your company succeed.

Create a Schedule

With the home office now becoming both a work and personal space, the need to be able to work through the daily tasks is important to the mental health of your team. Recommend your employees to create a schedule that allows them to separate work from personal activities:

  • Keep good habits around excercising.
  • Create flexible working hours. Allow your employees to be flexible during the day, some may have children, some may work later into the evenings.
  • Promote finishing or starting a project or puzzle that may have been put off.
  • Spend time reading
  • Schedule a call with a colleague

This is a time of learning and support and adaptation. 

Physical Distancing vs. Social Distancing

When it comes to social distancing, the goal is clear. Taking steps to limit the number of people you come into contact within order to help flatten the curve of those affected by COVID-19. But there is a difference between social distancing and isolation. Which is why it is important to change the way your team may be thinking about social distancing.

Social distancing doesn't mean disconnect from others within the organization. It doesn't mean isolating yourself to your home. It means limiting physical contact. As a leader, it is important to set up weekly huddles, promote your employees to video call when having meetings versus chatting on skype, or slack. And remember to encourage emotional awareness. A great way to balance social distancing, physical distancing and even emotional distancing.

Establishing a Safe Environment - Check In

If possible, create a touch point with each team member,  or between each team lead and their team over the next week. Check-in and see how they are reacting to the changes in their work structure. See if they have chatted with anyone else from the team, if they are having any challenges, they need help with, and most important how they are feeling overall. This touch point can be the safe environment your employees might need to discuss their concerns about mental health but understand they may not want to speak to you specifically. It is important to provide additional personnel that they can speak to if they wish. Whether it is with another manager, human resources staff, or even company medical personnel.

For those that will be speaking to individuals within the company, policies about confidentiality need to be in place,  and everyone should be given training about what to do and how to handle mental health concerns before they are having those conversations.

Another thing employers can do is teach their employees (and themselves) to recognize the symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Many people live with these conditions, yet many also go undiagnosed.

Offering Appropriate Assistance 

Employers should also work to create programs and policies to assist employees in protecting their mental health. You could consider including coverage for mental health services in your employee benefits package. Training and awareness also work to help your employees protect and assist each other.

You may need to move someone’s position or reduce their responsibilities, for example. You should work collaboratively with employees to help them cope with mental health challenges effectively.

When employers raise awareness of mental health, everyone benefits. As demonstrated, there are many things you can do to help your employees protect their mental health.

Don't hesitate. Get started today and help promote positive mental health in your organization.

Kaneez Jaffer

Kaneez Jaffer

Kaneez is a Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL) with an advanced knowledge of human resources and organizational structure and design. She has extensive experience with HRIS systems and understands the need to move HR from a transactional model to a transformational one. She has worked in the investment banking, insurance, and legal industries, as well as with large not-for-profit centres helping to simplify and streamline their internal systems. Kaneez is an expert in building relationships and affecting change in a positive and productive way. She acts as the key HR business partner at Apri Insurance Services Inc, managing the implementation of JungoHR, while providing expert advice and counsel on a range of HR matters. Kaneez holds a Graduate Certificate in Human Resources Management as well as a Certificate in HR Law for HR Professionals from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada.

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