Oct 21 2020
We are living in the most uncertain, unprecedented and increasing unsettling times of our lives. Uncertainty triggers anxiety. Between rising numbers of Covid-19 cases, questions about whether or not to reopen economies and businesses, the ongoing situation at National Borders, and the economic fallout of the pandemic, we are not sure what is coming next. These uncertainties are taking a toll on our mental health, including at work.
We saw an impact early in the pandemic. At the end of March and in early April, It was reported that the Domestic Violence cases have risen, Suicide cases increased. A survey showed that mental health of almost 42% of respondents had declined since the outbreak began.
As we steer through the evolution in the near future, leaders are likely to see employees struggle with anxiety, depression, frustration, burnout, trauma, and PTSD. Those mental health experiences will differ according to gender, financial status, social status, Job opportunities available and parenting and many other variables. So, what can Human Resources and leaders do to support people as they face new stress, safety concerns and financial turmoil.
What Can Human Resources Leaders Do?
The role of a Human Resources Leader, even in the most uncertain times remains the same: to support employees including supporting their mental health.
One good thing of the pandemic and lockdown is that people have started talking about mental health. Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort. Human Resources leader and other leaders talking about their own experiences will help in reducing the stigma attached to the subject of mental health. Being honest about their experiences of mental health struggles as a leader opens the door for employees to feel comfortable talking with you about mental health challenges of their own including that of family members.
It’s important now more than ever, that HR works in close coordination with business leaders to recognise the impact that home working in the current context and environment can have on employees mental wellbeing.
Here are a few things that Human Resources leaders can do to normalize and support mental health at work.
Communication. Human Resources leader must ensure that the communication which is going to employees is consistent, regular and relevant. This would help the employees feel assured.
Investment in training. Now more than ever, you should prioritize proactive and preventive workplace mental health training for employees at all levels. Before the pandemic, the organizations where Human Resources leaders took business leaders on board to discuss their roles in creating a mentally healthy culture. That positioned them well to navigate the uncertainty that has unfolded. As more and more employees struggle with mental health, it’s important to debunk common myths, reduce stigma, and build the necessary skills to have productive conversations about mental health at work.
Modification of policies and practices. To reduce stress on everyone, be as generous and flexible as possible in updating policies and practices in reaction to the pandemic and its social and financial impact civil unrest. For example, you may need to take a closer look at your rules and norms around flexible hours, paid time off, email and other communications, and paid and unpaid leave etc. When you make changes, be explicit that you are doing so to support the mental health of the employees.
Measure. Accountability measure need not be complicated. It can be handled in a simple pulse survey done regularly to understand how people are doing currently and at regular interval. The direct input from employees will provide invaluable insights which will help designing and implementation of input new programs, including remote management skill-building for managers, enhanced health and well-being support for employees, and increased work flexibility, time off etc.
It is still uncertain when would again be closer to Pre Covid-19 time. Interim, let’s use this opportunity to create the mentally healthy workplace cultures that should have existed in pre Covid-19 era also.
By Dr. Rajesh Mohan Rai, HR Strategist, Business Coach & Facilitator
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