6 Ways Leaders and Managers Can Support Employee’s Mental Health During A COVID-19 Crisis

“A time of crisis is not just a time of anxiety and worry. It gives a chance, an opportunity to Choose well or to choose badly”
~ Desmond Tutu

We are living in difficult times. Difficult and different because of the pandemic. It’s a tough time for countries, corporates, and individuals.

 There’s no doubt that none of us had ever envisioned such a time would befall on the world. Yet the COVID-19 Pandemic has brought in new changes and adaptabilities in businesses, administration, and even in our social lives.

Lockdown, social distancing, and operating with fewer staff at a time have a tumbling effect on the financial position of companies. There’s no dispute that many sectors have bore severe losses like tourism, entertainment, hospitality, manufacturing, floriculture, and many service sectors. 

Manpower engaged in both organized and unorganized sectors have suffered immensely. Jobs lost, incentives cut, pay cut, and work overloading too. It goes without saying that the livelihood of many unorganized laborers was doomed to the extent of threatening the very survival of life.

Amidst this environment, the mental health of people has been brutally battered. 

Humans are conditioned to adapt to changes, but uncertainty has a very bitter undercurrent. It may not be visible on the surface and one may not pronounce it overtly, yet the impact it has on the mental well being and overall health of a person is far from predictability. 

People, who are fortunate enough to still exist on the payroll, are no exception to mental ill-health in this pandemic. 

They are living in terrible uncertainty. Fear of the unassuming future, fear of losing the job, fear of getting infected from the covid virus, fear of quarantine and it’s possible effects, fear of being at the brink of financial morbidity, etc. are killing their mental sanity.

Can the top leadership and the managers make a difference?

Well, the answer is a big YES!

1)    Show concern by asking:

It is human nature to feel less stressed if people are concerned about our well being. 

During this time, if managers and the top management show empathy, it definitely will go a long way to provide a shockproof. 

When employees are working from home and in the absence of physical meetings, there’s room for a lot of perceptions. Hence if the manager makes a point to show empathy by calling up his subordinates to enquire about their condition – a simple ‘How are you doing’ or ‘Are you OK’, is pivotal to help them handle their tension.

 It would make an employee feel that ‘yes my company is concerned about me’. Some may answer lucidly, some hesitantly, some may not, and some may engage further and proceed to spill the beans. Whatever it may be, it leaves some impression in the minds of employees.

2)    Be a good listener:

Those employees, who choose to respond to their manager’s concern, definitely want to be heard with an empathetic heart and supportive attitude. They, I assume would not expect immediate solutions, neither should the manager indulge in giving out suggestions at the drop of a hat. 

However, engaging conversation and supportive listening may pave the path for solutions, for clarity in thought processes, for taking better decisions, and above all for better handling of their own situations. It also goes without saying, when managers share their own stories of battling with this uncertain period, it makes things still better for the employees to open up. Those employees, who are not sure to open up, have a better chance to open up with the manager being approachable and communicating. 

Research conducted showed that 40% of the senior-level managers are suffering from mental health issues during covid 19. This simply makes one thing clear, whether you are CEO, a middle-level manager, a frontline manager, or even a clerk, mental health has been affected.

The sooner people understand that they are not alone in this; the better they will be at supporting each other. Each of us may be confronting various types of problems, but it is for sure that all of us are vulnerable.

The other day, I met a friend working in the accounts division of an MNC company Covid has led him to work from home. During this period his boss, who happens to be a mentor for him though strict at times, called him up and disclosed that some petty internal politics within the company is forcing him to opt for resignation.

 Now, this is a precarious situation! 

On one hand uncertainty due to covid 19, on the other hand, his boss who was his anchor at the workplace was leaving the company. Just envisage the extent of mental turmoil this employee and his peers may be undergoing. It definitely goes against the best interest of the company is failing to curb human disputes at this juncture. It is imperative to underscore the point that my friend’s boss always kept an open door during covid and made sure to show concern and guide him during the pandemic.

3)    Consistency is the key:

Talking about mental health with the employees of one’s subordinates is not a one-time affair. It must have sincerity and consistency at its core.

 A study has unearthed that almost 92% of employees want their organization /manager to have a conversation regarding mental health with them at least once a week. 

Nevertheless, it’s also important for the manager to decide how and when to communicate with each of his employees.

The regular conversation regarding mental health and the problems that each employee is facing acts like a well-placed valve in releasing tensions and decreasing mental illness.

4)    Keeping a constant check:

Let us not forget that from the CEO to the lowest person in the pyramid are all employees. So organizations should also understand that the managers need to be taken care of too. 

Hence a regular survey to assess how each team, department, and branch are handling mental health issues of the members. The surveys must be put through data analysis and interpretation using the appropriate research tools. 

The output would pave the way to brainstorm and adopt better methods of communicating, supporting, and preventing the decline of mental health in employees.

5)  Making resources available and providing information:

70% of employees in a survey have said they are not aware of whether their companies have orchestrated any resources to help them handle mental health problems in the pandemic. 

Though it may be spending some resources, yet it is an investment in the right direction to have counseling and psychiatrist support to extend assistance for those employees who seek those.  

Apart from that, staying in quarantine brings in many challenges for the employees and their families. As simple as bringing groceries, any help in case of urgent requirement. 
These may seem small things but trust me during quarantine in this covid situation, the fear of contracting the disease has almost made it a taboo. People infected with the virus or remaining in quarantine are ostracized. Hence the situation warrants the managers to provide support by facilitating that the needs of employees during quarantine are taken care of.   

6)    Being gender-sensitive:

I would like to underline that women employees who are working from home during covid have double challenges to handle.

Kids and families expect them to tend as they see them physically present at homes. At the same time, the managers/bosses want them to complete tasks within time deadlines flawlessly.
We can debate about gender neutrality endlessly, but friends this is not the time to do so.

Let us have a pragmatic approach.

Human beings being dynamic systems, thrive in an open environment. 

Staying at home, maintaining social distance, wearing masks, not playing in the park, or with friends, not going to school have taken a toll on the kids more than adults. Hence it is quiet but natural that a child would seek the time and attention of parents, especially the mother if she’s at home. 

Managers must take this into consideration and provide some flexibility to the women employees who have small kids.

Difficult times are times to chisel character and bring out the leader in you. We all are battling uncertainty and strenuous circumstances may be different. Let us all sail through this period with integrity, empathy, and compassion.