The COVID-19 pandemic may not be fully over, but with many companies transitioning back to in-office work, leaders should keep employee’s mental health front and center.
As we approach the two-year anniversary of COVID-19’s onset, uncertainty still plagues many workplaces.
We’ve had variant strains, changing CDC guidelines, and debates around vaccine mandates—all leaving many employees with mental strain around the future of the workplace. Will my office return to onsite work soon? they may wonder. And if so, what does that mean for me, my health, and my family?
In this unpredictable environment, it’s critical for business leaders to recognize and address what their employees are going through. Helping them maintain their mental health isn’t just the right thing to do for them—it also boosts productivity, morale, and talent retention.
But how can a CEO impact something as complex as mental health? Here are three simple ways to start.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Clear communication has always been a key to success, but the pandemic has made it absolutely paramount. Savvy employers have been consistent and frequent in their dialogue, encouraging feedback through surveys, virtual town halls, and one-on-one conversations—especially while changes were on the horizon.
With employees on edge about the future, including return-to-the-office plans, employers should take extra measures to provide frequent updates. For example, sharing brief video messages about the status of a return to the office makes your message more personal and reassures employees who feel in limbo. If there is nothing new to report, acknowledge that in the message and cover other topics that can aid in mental health: how to destress, skills for time management, and so on. This not only helps employers stay connected, but it also provides a consistent, familiar face and makes them feel that everyone is in this together.
Listening is vital, too: Encourage employees to freely share what is on their minds. This will help your business fine-tune any plans for future workplace transitions, keeping employee concerns front and center.
Taking it a step further, supervisors can have regular one-on-one check-ins with employees to see how they are feeling on a personal level and discuss the importance of work-life balance. These check-ins allow managers to identify and address problems like schedule concerns, workload issues, or home-life stressors. This intentional communication builds trust between management and employees, paving the way for even more open communication in the future.
Finally, monthly all-company meetings are a good way for employees to hear about any policy updates directly from executive leadership.
All these lines of communication keep employees well-informed, thus easing their anxiety about the company’s next steps.
Humans are inherently social beings. Even the introverted people among your workforce need human interaction. Since the pandemic created barriers for personal connection within the workplace, many employees have struggled with loneliness. As business leaders determine which workplace models fit their future—whether it’s fully remote, in-person, or hybrid—it is important to make social interactions part of the plan.
For example, no matter the model, employers should consider incorporating monthly team-building activities in small groups at outdoor facilities, enabling coworkers to reconnect and reestablish their social skills. For employees working outside of the vicinity, businesses can offer virtual social gatherings to encourage non-work-related discussions and build connections between colleagues.
Asking open-ended questions about your employees’ mental state is a powerful way to show that you understand what they’re going through: How are you feeling? How can I help? Can you tell me more about it? Questions like these build bridges, strengthen relationships, and foster a more caring culture. On top of that, when employees see that company leadership demonstrates real compassion in their approach to upcoming workplace transitions—thar they’re listening and really care—their anxiety is often drastically reduced.
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For some leaders, mental health conversations in the workplace still feel taboo. But with the extreme disruptions of this pandemic, many have become more open to speaking openly about it. That’s undoubtedly a good thing. Now that the work environment may be shifting once again—back toward more traditional, in-office work—employees’ mental health should continue to be top of mind. It’s a vital way to help employees and the business thrive.