How one can Defend Your Workers’ Psychological Well being Throughout a Lengthy, Arduous Winter
As shorter days and colder temperatures collide with stress during the holiday season, fear of pandemics and grief, many people feel overwhelmed – and more and more companies are realizing the need to help employees cope with stress.
According to Alyson Watson, founder and CEO of Modern Health, a mental health company in San Francisco, asking employees to subdivide is unrealistic. “What goes on in the world and in our personal life plays a huge role in our performance and how we can show ourselves at work.” Mental health care will soon be seen as the “fourth pillar” of employee benefits after health, dental and eyesight insurance, according to Watson. But even if your company can’t afford to expand its performance plan, there are other steps you can take to help your employees weather a difficult winter – and incorporate mental health awareness into your culture. Here’s how to get started.
Handle sensitive people with care.
While in recent years it has almost become a trend for bosses to show vulnerability and share personal stories, sometimes speaking openly about your trauma can do more harm than good. Yes, it is important that employees know that there is no shame in struggling with mental health. However, be careful not to overstep boundaries when encouraging open conversation, says Josh Knauer, co-founder and general partner at JumpScale, a New York City wellness-focused management consultancy that works with impact investors and their portfolio companies. Some CEOs may be comfortable talking about their own experiences with mental illness, addiction, or other problems, but they shouldn’t assume that others will. Don’t put pressure on employees to reveal more information than they’d like to share at work, says Knauer, and let a psychologist participate in potentially sensitive discussions.
In combating emotional wellbeing in the workplace, regular communication is key, says organizational psychologist Cathleen Swody, a founding partner of Thrive Leadership consulting firm in Glastonbury, Connecticut, where she is the appraisal director. Conduct a confidential survey to assess your team’s wellbeing and encourage managers to check back in with staff on a regular basis. Using “non-clinical” language can also help remove the stigma of talking about personal problems. Instead of referring to “anxiety” or “mental disorders”, she suggests talking about specific symptoms such as “insomnia”.
Do not assume that you know what each individual is dealing with, advises Swody, and avoid asking questions that could be fearful. For example, a friendly question about vacation plans can backfire, especially this year. Some employees may not want to reveal that they are going on vacation alone, while others are planning to visit relatives but do not want to detail their virus precautions. Instead, ask people what they are looking forward to in the new year.
Be a role model.
To encourage employees to take care of themselves, demonstrate healthy habits, such as: For example, unplugging emails in the evenings and on weekends, doing sports, spending time outdoors and practicing yoga or meditation, says Swody. “When leaders do that, it sends a compelling message to people: ‘OK, that’s part of the culture here; if this person can do it, maybe I can too.”
Stressed employees often feel guilty about taking time off or worrying about looking bad. Therefore, consider that employees will have to use up the accrued vacation time even if they just stay at home. At the very least, Swody recommends taking company-wide breaks for a day or a few hours at a time. If employees have time to recharge and spend time with loved ones, they can also work more productively when they return, Knauer notes.
Companies can also incorporate wellness into the working day. At JumpScale, says Knauer, meetings begin with a “minute of mindfulness” and a check-in. All participants take a few deep breaths and are invited to share how they feel. This simple activity “literally helps people calm down and relieve some of that stress before we start the meeting,” he says, “but it’s also a way for a company to set a tone that is concerned with their wellbeing and do your health cares. “
Check the benefits and traditions again.
Look at your benefit package to make sure it gives employees access to psychiatric care in a way that makes sense for your company, says Knauer. This could mean offering professional advice as part of an insurance plan, offering flexible spending accounts, paying for virtual therapy sessions, or simply making a list of free resources. Every county in the US offers Some form of psychiatric care with little or no cost, he says. Make your employees aware of what is available. As you introduce new benefits, communicate them clearly and make them easy to navigate. Mountains of paperwork and confusion about reimbursement can add stress to an employee who is already struggling.
Be flexible with company-sponsored social events, says Knauer. Rather than trying to replicate team building sessions or happy hours in a virtual environment, which can be inconvenient, keep people busy with activities that work more naturally with Zoom. Colleagues could explore common interests with book clubs, teach each other skills, attend a chocolate tasting, or appear on a virtual talent show. Strive for inclusivity and security so everyone is comfortable, he says. (For example, avoid alcohol-related or culture-specific events, and don’t require people to buy their own supplies for activities.)
If you don’t have a certain plan, it would be “catastrophic” just to announce that your company is making mental health a priority, says Swody. She recommends starting with a compassionate message to show employees that they are valued and that the company’s success depends on their health. Then think about practical steps, even small ones, and keep the employees informed. “People don’t do well if they don’t have a sense of progress,” she adds. That is why it is particularly important in the dead of winter to recognize the challenges of the previous year, celebrate successes and concentrate on the future.
For many employees, 2020 has caused damage that the arrival of spring and a vaccine cannot fix immediately. Taking steps now to take care of their emotional well-being can build resilience. However, companies need to step up these efforts through 2021 and beyond. “It’s not just good, esoteric stuff,” says Knauer. “This is about building a better culture. It’s about building stronger teams.”