Three ways you can support mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Both you and your employees have experienced a lot of change and uncertainty this year, but one thing remains the same: your responsibility to support your people.

People are struggling.

Job security is precarious.

And changing restrictions make the future seem unclear.

Your employees might be enduring a whirlwind of emotions, but by putting their wellbeing at the heart of your leadership, you can help bring a sense of calm and assurance into their lives.

Supporting mental health is about creating an ongoing supportive culture rather than practising one-off acts of kindness. Even if mental health is already a priority for your organisation, now has never been more important to ensure this is the case.

So, what are the three simple strategies you can put in place as a business owner or manager to support people facing new stressors, safety concerns and economic turmoil?

1. Be vulnerable

To encourage others to discuss their mental health challenges, your first need to open the door to your own vulnerabilities, which I’ve written about more extensively here.

When you are honest about your own struggles, you humanise the situation and invite others to share their stories. Especially as people are cut off from social interaction, a small opening up about vulnerability can go a long way to normalising mental-health challenges.

What have you struggled with as a leader in the last few months?

What answers don’t you have?

What support do you need from your team?

Use these questions as a starting point, but above all else: be honest.

2. Communicate often

Some of your employees may be struggling to manage day-to-day responsibilities. Others may be more concerned with how COVID-19 is impacting the business and therefore their job security.

With these uncertainties and so many others, it is important to keep your team informed on multiple levels. Start by being transparent about changes in the business, such as changes to working hours or arrangements, or other updates from management about work practices.

Next, communicate professional responsibilities to your workers. Dissolve stress by stating priorities, setting expectations and noting what isn’t urgent for the time being. This will help keep your team aligned, giving them a clear picture of how things are going.

Finally, and most importantly, connect with them on a human level. If productivity or responsiveness has dropped, this may be an indication your team needs extra support.

And if someone is struggling on a personal level, one-on-one catchups are an opportunity for them to open up and for you to help relieve the pressure they are feeling.

Understanding your staff on a personal level is fundamental to building a culture of trust within your organisation. So, while business updates and regular team meetings are good for professional wellbeing, don’t forget to check in on your team’s personal wellbeing.

3. Model healthy behaviours and practise flexible leadership

The commitment to employee mental health is becoming more central in the workplace agenda, so now is the time to make sure your words or policies translate into action. For smaller businesses or enterprises, this may be newer to you as a business owner or manager, but it isn’t something to fear or steer away from as no-one is expecting you to be a mental health expert or have all the answers.

However, small actions in this area will have a large impact.

The easiest way to do this is to model the behaviour yourself. Share your efforts to prioritise your wellbeing, whether that is taking a walk to get some fresh air and exercise on your lunch break, heading to an appointment or fitting in a 15-minute breather for a quick meditation or reset.

Make others feel comfortable prioritising their own mental health by showing them that you prioritise yours.

Practising flexible leadership will reinforce your commitment to mental health. Your team’s needs and emotional wellbeing will continue to change, so make sure you are proactively communicating with your people to determine how you can support them.  

By being flexible in how you lead and let others work, it will demonstrate empathy and help create a workplace where people feel more valued and understood: Remember, happy and satisfied employees are often the most productive.