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Workplace Mental Health

How to Support Employees’ Mental Health in Uncertain Times

Father working from home while his children play on the floor
Father working from home while his children play on the floor
Jordan Friesen

Jordan Friesen

National Director of Workplace Mental Health, Canadian Mental Health Association

What was already clear before the COVID-19 pandemic, and will continue to be so after, is that work is changing constantly. Employees at all levels are adapting in the moment to new ways of working, industry disruptions, economic uncertainty, and ever-competing demands on their time. This near-constant hum of change can drain teams of their creativity and motivation, test their grit and resilience, and — if poorly managed — can result in significant risks to their psychological well-being.

If you’re a leader, you play an important role in navigating your organization through this stormy sea of uncharted change. Your people are your most valuable asset, so preserving their mental health is critical to their success and to yours.

Here are a few proven practices you can employ to safeguard your employees’ psychological health and to lead through change:

Listicle 1

Communicate, communicate, communicate

In times of change, an absence of information can lead to confusion, worry, and uncertainty. Periods of rapid action require a leader to increase the speed with which information flows down to their team, even if this isn’t your usual style. Don’t be afraid to communicate if there is no change to report — this can often be a helpful cue for your employees to continue in the direction you’ve already set.

Another common fear around communication is information overload. To prevent this, keep your messages concise and focused on the need-to-know for the day. Avoid including multiple topics or messages in a single communication. In short, when things are moving quickly, focus on communicating often with succinct messages.

Listicle 2

Make time for empathy

Empathy is as much a skillset as it is a mindset. In order to gain the trust of your team during periods of change, it’s essential to let them know that you understand what they’re experiencing. This involves two fundamental abilities:

  1. the ability to place yourselves in their position, and
  2. the ability to express your understanding of how they might be experiencing a situation.

The first involves shifting your mindset from your own needs to your employees’ needs. Practise this by imagining a day in the life of your team member and think about what you would need from a leader if it were you. The second involves effectively using your own emotional vocabulary. Practise expressing your own feelings and you’ll be better able to identify and label the emotional states of others as well.

Listicle 3

Find the courage to be vulnerable

Vulnerability is complementary to empathy. Not only should your team know that you understand how they are experiencing change, they should also understand how you are experiencing things as a person and a worker yourself.

Vulnerability involves being transparent about your own challenges, successes, frustrations and aspirations. For leaders, it can often mean taking down the facade of authority, and letting people know you for who you really are as a human being. Sometimes leaders perceive this as weakness, but for their teams, it is almost always seen as a sign of strength. They will trust you more if they know who you really are.

Listicle 4

Look after yourself

All of the practices outlined require an enormous amount of psychological and emotional energy. They take effort — and that effort can take a toll on you as a leader.

To cope effectively during times of change or uncertainty, it’s essential to recharge your own batteries. The foundations of good mental health are sleep, nutrition and exercise. Avoid the temptation to work longer and harder than everyone else. Remember, the pandemic is more of a marathon than a sprint. Establish realistic boundaries between work and other life commitments.

All these things are good for your mental health, but also provide an opportunity for you to be a role model for your team members. If you prioritize your mental health, chances are they will too.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, these four practices will help make you a more effective leader during times of change or uncertainty, and support the mental health of your team.

There is a lot of uncertainty out there right now, and the future of your organization may feel up in the air. But it’s certain you’ll need healthy, creative, innovative, and resilient minds on your team to help you recover.

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