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In a few short months, our world has changed. The emergence of COVID-19 has touched all our lives and there isn’t a clear end in sight. The fear, anxiety, and stress will undoubtedly have psychological repercussions on a global scale as far reaching as the disease itself.

We’re already seeing an increase in mental health concerns across the United States. Remote therapy services have seen a 65% increase in customers since mid-February. Mental health hotlines in Los Angeles have gone from receiving an average of 20 calls per month to receiving 1,800 calls in March alone.

It’s more important than ever to support employee mental health. Many of us shifted to working from home overnight and are balancing taking care of families with working full-time while also stressing about basic necessities such as getting groceries without exposing ourselves to COVID-19.

Here are some actions companies can take to support employee mental health during this pandemic.

Put People First

This is one of Fors Marsh Group’s (FMG) core values. Not only do we put people first when conducting impactful research, but we also understand that our employees are our most valuable asset. Putting people first means building a culture of support that empowers employees to take care of themselves, especially during times of crisis.

Companies should make sure that their employment assistance programs (EAP), such as counseling policies, are up to date and that the information is re-shared with their employees. Add any local resources available and keep a link to this information on your intranet site for easy access.

Here are some great resources to share:

Be Transparent, Timely, and Available

As a mission-driven certified B Corporation, FMG is already committed to transparency when doing business. Transparency is especially important when communicating with employees. It’s imperative that employees hear from leadership about company policies as they change during a crisis. Constant change can be difficult for employees overall wellbeing but knowing what’s going on directly from company leadership is vital to building trust and lowering employee stress.

Additionally, an open door/email policy can help employees feel heard, lower stress, and feel more connected to decision-makers. 

Be Flexible

There is no single solution that will work for everyone when working from home during a time of uncertainty. Be mindful that everyone is adjusting to a new normal; some of us have families to look after or are struggling with heightened mental health concerns. Flexibility is key to helping employees make adjustments that are best for them and their families.

Flexibility might mean adjusting work hour expectations or allowing employees to remain off internal instant messaging programs during the workday. It might also mean that work needs to be prioritized so that client work is completed, but minor work can be delayed. Offering breathing room with deadlines (especially internal ones) will help employees adjust to new schedules and working environments.

Create Meaningful Digital Connections

Building strong, meaningful connections with coworkers is a key element of managing mental health at work. FMG encourages employees to participate in regular social activities and opportunities beyond their roles on the job. Most of these social activities are now online. Employers can create meaningful digital connections by encouraging regular check-ins with supervisors and using video-conferencing tools during regular group meetings.

Starting new digital traditions, like a weekly “Ask Me Anything,” lets employees take turns answering questions about what they’re reading, cooking, or learning while spending more time at home. This has been the highlight of my team’s move to remote work. Don’t forget to add a new video background or Snapchat filter to your Zoom meetings—you won’t regret it!

Being valued by a company on a personal level helps employees feel more socially connected and boosts mental health, especially when social distancing.

In conclusion, we’re all adjusting to a new normal. As we try to figure out how to cope in a COVID-19 world, support from employers can make all the difference.

Learn more about FMG’s people first culture and mental health resources for employers. Lastly, get in touch with one of FMG’s health or human capital experts. They are available to assist as organizations transition to a new virtual workspace.

About the author

Dr. Stephanie Miles

Dr. Stephanie Miles has over 4 years of experience conducting communications research and more than 4 years leading strategic communications campaigns. Her research has focused on the impact of social media on attitudes and behaviors concerning mental illness, cyberbullying, and obesity. She has conducted surveys to gauge public opinion, developed experiments to test social media messages, and conducted focus groups to supplement quantitative data in school-based cyberbullying interventions. Her strategic communications experience includes multimedia campaign work to increase awareness of agricultural research initiatives and execution of social media tactics to encourage healthy eating behaviors in children. As a member of FMG’s Communication Research and Strategy Team, she assists with the development of research planning and campaign evaluation. 

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