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3 Strategies for Better Mental Health in the Workplace During a Crisis

 3 Strategies for Better Mental Health in the Workplace During a Crisis

The coronavirus crisis has made employee well-being and mental health a major concern for Americans and people across the globe. Fully 45 percent of American adults say the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their mental health, with 19 percent reporting that it has had a “major impact.”

Even before the pandemic, our research showed that employee well-being was at a worryingly low level. 

But there’s hope. High-trust, inclusive organizations are finding ways to care for mental health in the workplace—which in turn is enabling those organizations to thrive. This is true even in industries where the pandemic is putting immense pressure on employees and leaders.

DHL keeps its employees’ health in check during the crisis

DHL Express, for example, has employees in more than 200 countries. These employees deliver packages across the globe, keeping commerce moving despite the presence of the deadly virus. DHL leaders have taken pains to protect employees’ physical health as well as their mental wellbeing. For example:

  • Communicating safety protocols
  • Sending motivational messages to employees through their package scanning devices
  • Offering virtual yoga classes and facilitated meditation sessions.

DHL recently sent out a Great Place to Work employee survey which captured how their people are coping through the coronavirus crisis. DHL employees described their workplace with words such as “care,” “camaraderie,” “family” and “well-being.” And with emotionally healthy employees, the company’s performance is stellar. Its current on-time delivery rate is higher than 99 percent.

How should leaders tackle the mental health issue? Here are three keys from our recent webinar:

3 strategies for better mental health in the workplace

1. Double down on 1:1s

Supporting people’s mental health must be individualized. Employees’ ability and willingness to share how they are during the COVID-19 period varies tremendously.

Connect with your people individually to learn how to assist with emotional wellbeing. Leaders should not pry into employees’ personal lives, but they should do more than merely ask, “how are you?”

Adopting a mindset of “inquire” versus “ask” is helpful. Use specific questions that inquire into emotional wellbeing, such as “are you concerned about any of your friends or family members?” and “do you need any supplies that you can’t get in your area?”

2. Be a vulnerable leader

Just as they role-model other critical behaviors, leaders set the tone on matters of mental health. If managers and executives want their people to be candid about mental health challenges, so those can be addressed, self-disclosure is a great way to begin.

Holly’s story about the drain she was experiencing amid the pandemic showed her admitting a problem and engaging in self-care. It’s the kind of vulnerability that can encourage others to share. “Let people know that you’re tending to your mental health, so they know it’s ok to tend to theirs,” Holly said.

3. Be generous rather than by the book

This is a time to err on the side of big-heartedness. Michael Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work, advised leaders to focus on what people need for psychological safety, rather than following company handbooks and guidelines to a “T.”

That means trusting front-line leaders to do right by their teams. It also means broader acts of goodwill, even if they don’t seem to conform to financial spreadsheets. One healthcare company gave employees a $3-per-hour raise during the pandemic to ease financial fears. “That’s generosity over policy,” Michael said.

The overarching message of the Together series is that we will get through this crisis. And we’ll do so better when we do it together. This principle applies not only to business survival and success overall, but to mental health in particular.

“It’s hard to hold all these stresses, and it’s even harder if you’re in it alone,” Holly said. “The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.”

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Ed Frauenheim