‘It’s up to each leadership team and each company to identify what are they doing to buffer people’s mental health’
There has been plenty of talk about employee mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s incumbent upon employers to do all they can to help workers not only recognize people might be suffering but actually do something about it, says an expert.
“Practise what you preach: If you’re going to preach about people prioritizing their mental health, ensure that you are prepared to support them; ensure that people managers are prepared to support them,” says Amy Deacon, clinical social worker and founder of Toronto Wellness Counselling in Toronto.
“There can sometimes be a discrepancy that leaves people feeling as though the environment is not trusting and safe and it can do damage in terms of our work culture.”
Deacon will be speaking about developing wellbeing initiatives to promote self-care during the HRD Mental Health Summit on May 11 and she provided Canadian HR Reporter with a taste of what she will be presenting.
Focusing on mental health
To assist employees who may be feeling overwhelmed, there are three key indicators that should be watched, says Deacon.
For one, there’s the news about the pandemic’s impact, “as well as the uncertainty, the not knowing and [people] living in a constant state of uncertainty and fear, that takes a huge toll on our performance and our ability to show up,” she says.
This must be acknowledged as an important potential stressor because many people don’t have “access to our usual coping techniques and resources and connections.”
As well, with the virtual remote workplace becoming more commonplace, “there’s no clear division between personal life and professional life and really navigating that — whether you’re a single person that feels overwhelmed with isolation and sometimes use work to cope or whether you’re a parent and familiarizing your kid with online schooling or caring for an elderly parent that you can’t see firsthand — the work-life balance, we’re still grappling with it 14 months into it, and we’re still experiencing that virtual fatigue,” says Deacon.
Finally, the “uptick in depression and burnout” is also having a negative impact on some workers and it’s important for employers to understand this, she says.
Employees must also develop self-awareness of how they are feeling to best accommodate a potential fix, and both meditation and regular exercise are two important tools to accomplish that goal, says Deacon.
But the third pillar in true self-awareness is sometimes hard to discover in some employees, mainly due to our often-frenetic work ethic, she says
“Particularly in North America and in companies where we have high performers, high achievers [and] A-types is we have to give ourselves permission to check in with ourselves. Many of us look to others to give us permission to take care of ourselves or to tell us exactly what we need to do but in this current climate, where people are stretched so thin, we don’t have the bandwidth to do that,” says Deacon.
“It’s really important that each of us act as our own advocate, and identify what we need and then implement that,” she says.
Employer offerings for mental health
Company offerings such as EAP programs, as well as yoga and meditation sessions are key tools that can be employed, says Deacon, but employers must also ask some hard questions if they have no mental health supports available for the workforce.
“What I often encourage people to ask themselves, as well as employers, is ‘What’s actually stopping us from implementing these things?’ That’s typically where the meat is and that’s where people need to pay attention in order to maintain their well-being.”
“It’s up to each leadership team and each company to identify what are they doing to buffer people’s mental health,” she says.
While many employers are acknowledging worker burnout, almost 70 per cent aren’t doing anything about it, found one survey, while roughly half of workers are experiencing a greater workload, says another survey.