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By Taylor Adams, Manager of Workplace Mental Health at Mental Health America

As employers respond to COVID-19, employees across the nation are feeling its impact. Across all industries, employees are finding ways to cope with the rapidly changing environment. For employees who manage others, they are making decisions on issues that they may never have faced before in their careers. As managers consider their own concerns, they also need to help manage the concerns of their employees.

Fortunately, managers can lean into practices with which they are already familiar and have proven to be effective. This includes regular check-ins with employees and providing guidance on expectations and workload management. In fact, it’s important now more than ever that managers rely on those practices. Here are five things you can do during COVID-19. Your employees (and you) will thank you for it.

1. Be Flexible

As offices close, new and regular remote workers alike are adjusting their routine and work environment at home. As businesses and schools close, workers may be facing additional challenges such as: preparing to self-quarantine for an extended period; homeschooling children across different age groups; navigating a routine at home free from distraction; or trying to manage stress or anxiety that relentless media coverage only intensifies. It can all be so overwhelming, but as a manager, you can help.

Typically, managers provide guidance to their employees on expectations, workload, and time management. During these atypical times, managers need to recognize that employees are still adjusting to a routine and new work environment. Now is the time to be patient and flexible with your employees.

At a time that works for you and your employees, schedule individual virtual meetings to discuss and negotiate realistic expectations about responsibilities and strategize how to best meet these expectations under the given circumstances. In addition, focus on the goals you and your employees seek to accomplish rather than the hours logged each day. Being empathetic, patient, and flexible as a manager can mean a lot for employees who are still adjusting.

2. Stay Connected

Creating an environment of open communication contributes to a more energetic and productive workforce, and this is especially true as the environment shifts virtually. According to MHA’s research, having positive relationships with coworkers and managers is the top reason employees feel satisfied at work. Connection is important, and as a manager, you can help facilitate how your employees stay connected.

One example might be hosting optional 30-minute video calls to encourage employees to discuss matters unrelated to work including advice on how to handle common stressors and activities to cope. Another example is having employees contribute to a weekly newsletter that includes favorite indoor activities, recipes, and exercise routines.

3. Be Supportive

Regular check-ins with your employees can help you better understand their needs and provide the appropriate support. Check-ins may need to be more or less frequent depending on the employee. It’s likely that everyone is feeling a wide range of emotions as the crisis unfolds, including stress, anxiety, and sadness. If an employee comes to you with a mental health concern, here’s how you can help guide the conversation:

  • Ask appropriate open-ended questions.
  • Actively listen with your complete attention to the employee.
  • Resist the urge to think about how you should respond next or offer advice.
  • Recognize their feelings and express your understanding back to them.
  • Don’t be afraid to relate on a personal level.
  • Encourage them to use the organization’s mental health resources (e.g. EAP services or teletherapy).
  • Make sure that you are well-supported before offering support to others.

In addition, you can offer online mental health screening as a resource to all employees. Through our online screening program, MHA offers free, confidential, and anonymous mental health screens for nine conditions including anxiety. After completing their screening, individuals receive immediate results, education, resources, and linkage to affiliates. Encourage your employees to take a mental health screen at https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools.

Share the latest resources on COVID-19 with your employees. MHA has created a new COVID-19 webpage at www.mhanational.org/covid19 to keep people updated and informed with COVID-19 specific content and resources. When important information is shared within your organization, be clear and concise when communicating this to your employees. A good working relationship thrives on trust, and your employees will appreciate the transparency.

4. Practice Self-care

You may be doing all you can to ensure your employees are well-supported, but how are you doing? No, really? If you are experiencing pressure to keep things together, it is incredibly important that you are taking care of yourself. A little self-care can alleviate stress and help you tackle challenges with a clear mind.

Here a few things you can try to take care of your own needs: stay organized and prioritize (you don’t need to work harder when working from home); take frequent breaks (outdoor walks while practicing social distancing); practice meditation, breathing, or expressing gratitude (it’s as good as time as any to practice a new habit); or video chat with a loved one.

5. Get Creative

When people are forced into new situations, they are also forced to think about new ways of adapting. Major disruptions to daily routine are scary, but it can also serve as an opportunity for creative thinking and trying new solutions.

For example, having a conversation with your employees about tasks that are better suited for remote work can help reframe the situation in a more positive and productive way. Or discuss how you are feeling about no longer dealing with a long and frustrating commute or skipping breakfast to get to work on time.

It may be while before daily life returns to normal, but managers can play a meaningful role in helping their employees cope during the present circumstances, including taking care of themselves. For the latest COVID-19 resources, please visit www.mhanational.org/covid19.

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