Covid-19 Mental Health Disruptions and How HR Professionals Can Best Provide Support



The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has led to a global mental health crisis. From an individualistic perspective, many people feeling pandemic-related stressors already live with mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and seasonal affective disorder.  A notable compounding issue has been the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the accessibility of ongoing treatment for these individuals.

In August 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) completed a survey spanning 130 countries aimed at assessing the impact to mental health.

Findings included:

It is clear the COVID-19 pandemic has created a new mountain for the Mental Health field to climb, but the responsibility does not lie with Mental Health Workers alone. As Human Resources Professionals, we also hold ownership in troubleshooting major issues related to pandemic impact in the workplace.  We hold a responsibility to monitor, encourage, and foster the well-being of our employees and to facilitate their safety.

Here are the top ways we can provide this support as HR professionals:

Stay Present and Connected– Many companies are now utilizing computer-based platforms with call and video capability.  Host regular check-ins with your employees.  Even if just for 5 minutes.  Seeing someone on video (or even speaking to them live) can change the course of an employee’s day.  Remember, if in a lockdown and the employee lives alone, you could be the only person they see all day!

Make the Time- As HR professionals we are busier than ever, attempting to juggle compliance, employee wellness, crisis management, talent, hiring, you name it we are doing it!  However, it is imperative we make the time to check in with our employees.  Host bi-weekly check-ins to ensure you remain a visible resource.  Pick up when they call.  Ensure you answer emails promptly, even just to say, “I will get back to you”.  This helps remind employees there is a resource out there readily available to help.

Encourage Management and Team Engagement– Coach your managers.  Encourage your management teams to host weekly meetings with their employees.  This can help offset some of the regular check-ins you need to maintain when times get hectic.  This will encourage engagement and keep the team connected when they cannot necessarily meet in person.  This will also help keep their work on track!

Publicize Your Employee Assistance Program– Most companies offer some sort of employee assistance program or employee resources for mental health support.  Ensure you are publicizing them. Do not wait for an employee to show a need, but proactively publicize your offerings!  Send the information in a companywide email, which will not only remind employees of the resources available but may help remove any stigmas attached to the resource.  

Monitor for Concerning Behavior – When checking in with your employees,  actively listen and monitor for concerning behavior.  Take note of depressive speech and be ready with your employee assistance program information.  Take note of employees who may not be sleeping and/or overworking as this can lead to depression and burnout.  If you notice an employee is working all hours of the night, bring it to their attention to find the root cause.  This way you can partner with the employee and if needed, their manager to remedy the issue. 

Provide Flexibility When Possible– Our employees are performing the ultimate juggling act; adjusting to a remote work environment, illness, isolation, managing children at school or remote learning, all while many are dealing with an increased workload and tightened deadlines.  Encourage your managers and leadership team to provide scheduling flexibility if possible.  It could make all the difference for a parent to put their child on the bus in the morning, or for someone suffering from seasonal affective disorder to end their day early enough to take a walk before dark.  These minor changes can also increase feelings of recognition, appreciation for the company and productivity. 

Be Vulnerable – As HR professionals, we are typically the strength others in the organization rely on under pressure but remember, employees may also need validation in their vulnerability.  It is okay and even helpful to admit to employees that this is a difficult time for you too, that you are struggling, but that together we will get through it!

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