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Many employers accept that they can positively affect employees’ mental health by building a healthy and supportive workplace culture, promoting strategies for good mental health and providing resources to use during times of individual struggle.

But is any employer really prepared to deal with the emotional ramifications of a worldwide traumatic event the scale of COVID-19? Probably not, nor would anyone really expect it.

So, what can employers do when their entire workforce is facing a worldwide trauma at the same time?

They can quickly acknowledge the relationship between mental health and work, and they can provide employees with additional resources to maintain good mental health, stay physically well and remain productive if they are working remotely.

Mental Health and Work

When we talk about mental health, we are talking about emotional, psychological and social well-being. Mental health impacts how people think, feel and act, and it determines how they might handle stress or relate to others.

Mental health can change over time because it is influenced by life events such as job stress, changes in physical health, financial circumstances, loss of a loved one … or your average global pandemic that likely includes all of the above.

We all experience most of the common events at some point in life, and since we are at work for most of our lives, our mental health will impact the workplace. Symptoms of poor mental health can interfere with a person’s ability to function in everyday life and studies show that mental health heavily influences an employee’s physical health, productivity and absenteeism.

This is why so many employers have adopted strategies to proactively address mental health in the workplace, and why we especially need to be vigilant about mental health right now.

The fact that the entire workforce is experiencing several of these major life events simultaneously, over the course of two months, amid a worldwide trauma, is anything but common.

As you develop strategies to help keep your teams mentally fit during COVID-19, here are some important reminders.   

Not All News is Bad News … Really

You are sick of the news. We are all sick of the news. The news is depressing. But information can feel empowering at a time when everyone feels mostly helpless, so provide ongoing communication about current events that are relevant to your business.

For example, how do new laws affect employees personally? What is the impact on your business operations or the operations of your clients?

Leaders at every level of your organization need to be in sync about your short-term organizational goals, and you need to communicate expectations to employees. You control the narrative.

In the absence of information, people will write their own stories and rumors are very disruptive. So, give them relevant news updates as well as resources that promote good mental health and well-being.

Encourage employees to discover additional resources on their own and share them with each other. Consider using an online platform where coworkers can easily post and share updates.

Your Supervisors Are Not Therapists—Give Them Tools

Supervising employees is hard enough on a normal day, and there is nothing normal about these days. Many supervisors are first-time remote workers dealing with their own stress and anxiety as they try to support their teams.

Supervisors will need additional guidance not only for managing remote work teams, but also for sharing important updates, setting expectations and cultivating a remote-work atmosphere where it is OK to talk about mental health challenges. 

Consider providing supervisors with specific guidance about available mental health resources and strongly encourage them to use the tools themselves. Promoting mental health can’t just be lip service, employees see right through that and will be hesitant to use the tools. Leaders should show as well as tell. 

You may also want to provide supervisors with extra training on identifying symptoms of poor mental health in employees. Teach them appropriate ways to start a conversation about mental health as well as when to involve HR.

It’s important that supervisors know they are not meant to act as therapists, but rather create a safe environment where employees can ask for help and be redirected.

Everybody’s Talking Employee Assistance Programs

Many employers are relying on their Employee Assistant Program (EAP) to help employees deal with COVID-19 and the massive disruption to everyday life.

If you have an EAP that includes mental health resources, remind employees of the covered benefits. Most people learn about benefits when they are hired and then 10 years later it’s like, “Oh, yeah, we get that benefit!” To encourage use, you need to keep talking about it.

Also, while many EAPs are reporting an uptick in personal usage, some employees might be hesitant to use an EAP because they are concerned about sharing personal information with their employer.

It can help to have your EAP partner present information about the program (rather than HR) and explain that it is separate and confidential, and employers don’t know who is using it for what services. Many EAPs provide these presentations in video or webinar form, so they are easy to share while practicing social distancing and isolation.

If you don’t have an EAP, fear not. There are other options available to you.

Of Course, There’s an App for That

Mental health platforms and behavioral health professionals in the U.S. are reporting a surge in activity as more people turn to wellness apps and telehealth options to cope with the anxiety surrounding COVID-19.  

Thankfully, many healthcare and wellness organizations have responded to this demand by ramping up their efforts to offer more resources to the public free of charge.

Talk to your insurance carrier to ensure it offers telehealth options to see behavioral health providers. If not, Optum is offering a COVID-19 public crisis line available 24/7 to anyone free of charge—they will connect callers with resources.

The CDC’s webpage for coping with stress during COVID-19 also offers helpful resources and guides to maintaining good mental health through the pandemic, and we have added links to several free meditation and mindfulness apps on our Coronavirus Resources Page.

Please share available resources with your employees. Sometimes if people need to search for information or ask for information, they won’t. Discussing mental health at work is becoming less taboo, but people are still uncomfortable bringing it up. Make it easier on them by giving them resources and letting them know it is OK to need some help.

Additional Guidance

Life and work are changing at lightning speeds and we know it can feel overwhelming at times. The team at McClone is standing by to help you answer questions and concerns about your business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to monitor the evolving situation and we will update our guidance as more information becomes available.

In the meantime, we encourage you to reach out to our knowledgeable team and visit our Coronavirus Resource Page for additional materials to help you through this challenging time.

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A collection of articles from the McClone team with the helpful knowledge and insights to ensure your organization is well protected.