The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has tak­en a toll on everyone’s men­tal health. Peo­ple have expe­ri­enced finan­cial hard­ship, addi­tion­al chal­lenges with child­care and school can­cel­la­tions, job loss, reduced hours, sick­ness, and grief. The future is uncer­tain, and the present is extra stress­ful. And to make mat­ters worse, many of the net­works and prac­tices that peo­ple use to sup­port their men­tal health are cur­rent­ly unavail­able due to social distancing.

In this envi­ron­ment, where peo­ple are increas­ing­ly anx­ious and may be social­ly iso­lat­ed, it’s even more impor­tant that man­agers sup­port the men­tal health of their team mem­bers — both those who are com­ing into the work­place and those work­ing from home. High stress can quick­ly destroy trust, inhib­it empa­thy, and break down teams — each of which makes it more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to do their jobs. For­tu­nate­ly, employ­ers can pro­vide some sup­port. Here are some things employ­ers can do to help employ­ees man­age stress and tend to their men­tal health:

When pos­si­ble, give employ­ees a lit­tle extra time to slow down and rest
Employ­ees may need a moment to breathe or a day to regain their peace of mind, and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for time to take care of them­selves. The abil­i­ty to occa­sion­al­ly func­tion at a medi­um (or even slow) pace should be built into per­for­mance expec­ta­tions so that employ­ees can avoid burnout or breakdown.

Offer PTO, men­tal health ben­e­fits, and flex­i­ble sched­ules if appropriate
In some cas­es, employ­ees who want to get the men­tal health care they need can’t afford it. Los­ing pay from a missed work shift might be too great a hard­ship, and effec­tive treat­ments might be finan­cial­ly out of reach. These finan­cial hin­drances can exac­er­bate con­di­tions like anx­i­ety and depres­sion. In oth­er cas­es, employ­ees can afford the time off and the treat­ments, but they can’t make reg­u­lar appoint­ments work with their sched­ules. If you can offer paid time off, health insur­ance ben­e­fits, or flex­i­ble sched­ules, these can help employ­ees get the care they need.

Offer an Employ­ee Assis­tance Pro­gram (EAP)
An EAP gives employ­ees access to expert, con­fi­den­tial assis­tance for sub­stance abuse issues, rela­tion­ship trou­bles, finan­cial prob­lems, and men­tal health con­di­tions. These ser­vices are offered through an out­side provider that con­nects employ­ees with the appro­pri­ate resources and pro­fes­sion­als. These pro­grams enable you to pro­vide pro­fes­sion­al assis­tance to employ­ees while allow­ing them con­fi­den­tial­i­ty at work. EAPs are also inex­pen­sive, cost­ing between just 75 cents and 2 dol­lars per employ­ee per month.

Make rea­son­able accom­mo­da­tions when possible
If an employ­ee informs you that they have anx­i­ety, depres­sion, or anoth­er men­tal health con­di­tion, and they request an accom­mo­da­tion, you should begin the inter­ac­tive process to deter­mine what rea­son­able accommodation(s) you can pro­vide in accor­dance with the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act (ADA). The ADA applies when an employ­er has 15 or more employ­ees, but many states have sim­i­lar laws that require employ­ers to make accom­mo­da­tions at an even low­er employ­ee count. You can learn more about the ADA on the HR Sup­port Center.

Cre­ate dig­i­tal spaces for friend­ships to grow
Lone­li­ness in the work­place can be a seri­ous issue, with sig­nif­i­cant neg­a­tive effects on both employ­ees and the work­place. Right now, with many employ­ees work­ing from home, it’s hard­er to spot signs of it. Employ­ers can facil­i­tate friend­ships and con­nec­tions between employ­ees by set­ting up vir­tu­al chat pro­grams and video con­fer­enc­ing apps.

Employ­ees also need to be reas­sured that it’s fine for them to take a lit­tle time dur­ing the work­day to reach out to oth­ers about non-work mat­ters and par­tic­i­pate in vir­tu­al games and oth­er fun group activ­i­ties. Man­agers can set the tone by par­tic­i­pat­ing in fun chats and activ­i­ties and encour­ag­ing employ­ees to join in. Help­ing employ­ees fos­ter friend­ships is not only the right thing to do, it can also reduce turnover and increase engagement.

Pro­mote good men­tal (and phys­i­cal) health in the workplace
Healthy habits are impor­tant for every­one to prac­tice. Con­sid­er set­ting time aside dur­ing the week or month for employ­ees to par­tic­i­pate in activ­i­ties like yoga, med­i­ta­tion, and mind­ful­ness that devel­op and strength­en these habits. If you aren’t famil­iar with these prac­tices, solic­it the help of your employ­ees. One or more of them may know a lot about these activ­i­ties and be able to assist you in set­ting up a work­place pro­gram or mod­i­fy­ing a pro­gram for employ­ees cur­rent­ly work­ing from home.

Make use of addi­tion­al resources
Dur­ing this time, employ­ees might ben­e­fit from this three-page list of sev­er­al vir­tu­al recov­ery resources from the fed­er­al Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Ser­vices Admin­is­tra­tion and this COVID-19 resource and infor­ma­tion guide from the Nation­al Alliance on Men­tal Illness.

By Kyle Cupp
Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on