Thinking Through Employer Mental Health Strategies During COVID-19

Here’s how to help your employees better manage their mental health.

parent working from home with child
Provide mental health support with programs, training, communication, and other resources

All kinds of changes have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. From most companies opting to go with a work-from-home strategy for the foreseeable future to some even selling off their office space at seemingly startling numbers, business for companies of all shapes and sizes will be forever altered.

One of those ways has been a focus on the mental health of employees. Not only is a deadly virus rising to the level of a global pandemic stressful enough, but with it has come with an economic downturn and the deep inequality of American society being thrust into the spotlight. There’s also working from home with little ones distance learning in the same space and caring for family members and loved ones with long-term complications from the virus and more.

That is … a lot to deal with. Naturally, many businesses — especially small businesses that are closer to their employees than large corporations — have turned their attention to employer mental health strategies to help their workers cope with the current moment and show up to work as present as possible.

If you’ve found yourself thinking deeply about what you can do for the mental health of your employees like never before, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Here are a few strategies to consider implementing at your small business.

Adopt an employee assistance program (EAP)

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are work-based programs designed to help employees with personal issues that may impact their job performance.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are work-based programs designed to help employees with personal issues that may impact their job performance. They also help organizations manage productivity issues. While you can certainly establish an EAP regarding the COVID-19 pandemic itself, the intention of traditional EAPs is much broader, encompassing everything from legal and financial issues to substance abuse and family issues.

The key elements of these programs are that they include teaching managers, union supervisors, and others in leadership positions to manage employees with issues. They are:

  • Confidential
  • Offer timely assistance
  • Refer employees to follow-up services
  • Include an evaluation element to detect the difference that your EAP is making at your business

Train leadership to create mentally healthy workplaces

If you feel overwhelmed at launching a full-blown employee assistance program, consider starting with training those in leadership positions to manage the mental health needs of their employees. Not that managers should ever be construed to be mental health professionals, but rather they are trained to handle situations in which those under their charge come to them with personal issues, especially those that impact productivity.

Speaking of productivity, a good general rule of thumb is that if supervisors are noticing productivity issues, they take an approach guided by understanding the challenges that can be leading to an employee’s drop in productivity and work with them to address it to the best of their ability. For example, if an employee is trying to balance remote learning for 3 kids while also doing their work, and they’re falling short, chances are they would benefit from more flexible work hours. Flexibility could allow them to better take care of their myriad of new responsibilities at home.

A good general rule of thumb is that if supervisors are noticing productivity issues, they take an approach guided by understanding the challenges that can be leading to an employee’s drop in productivity and work with them to address it to the best of their ability.

Communicate the mental health resources available to employees

There’s a lot going on in the world today. Even if your company already has stellar mental health resources and benefits, you can’t assume that your employees remember them or even have the time to figure out how to access them these days. Regular emails or other communications that remind employees of the mental health benefits your company offers are important. Bonus if these communications also include information on the ways to access said benefits and extra bonus points for the easier the accessing process is!

Share additional resources on the regular

Times are tight and margins are thin. Even if your small business isn’t able to offer its own mental health benefits or employee assistance program, one thing you can do is spend some time culling local, state, and federal assistance programs that you can make them aware of. Many cities and states across the country are creating mental health funds to manage the variety of issues stemming from COVID-19. Take an afternoon to learn about them, what they offer, and how to access them. Then share that information with your employees — regularly.

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