April 20, 2020

Connection, purpose, and good information: Mental health during COVID-19

Ceridian President and COO Leagh Turner discusses three keys to supporting employees' mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Recently, I hosted a panel discussion with three people on the topic of mental health during COVID-19: Louise Bradley, President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada; John Foley, VP of HR for the U.S. retailer Builders FirstSource; and Rita Trichur, a columnist with the Globe and Mail.

The overarching question was this: How do we support mental health during the pandemic? Throughout that hour, the talk moved from leadership, connectedness and loneliness, to stigma, addiction, purpose, and physical exercise. It was a diverse session that showed just how critical, complex and far-reaching the issue of mental health is. Among the many interesting points covered, three themes emerged that leaders will want to consider.

The importance of staying connected

Our guests spoke of how managers should be checking in with teams and individuals by video, email, texting, instant messaging – even the humble phone call – most times with a work agenda, and sometimes just to ask: How are you? They offered, however, we must recognize that being connected will mean different things for different people. Though video meetings can be a balm for someone craving an in-person connection, they can feel intrusive, almost invasive, for another—suddenly many people are effectively ‘in’ their home. The point is this: check-in for work and for the person.

On a related note, it’s okay to not be connected. Days are starting earlier and ending later. Respect the boundary when someone says, “I’m signing off for the day”; they are taking care of their own mental health.

Staying focused on purpose

People want to be connected to something larger and the rally cry of this pandemic is we’re all in this together. That is absolutely true. Let’s remember there are many who are more ‘in’ than most: Essential workers. Leaders would do well to keep the focus on what the company or the team does – for people. This is the time to regularly reaffirm that no matter the business, we are ultimately serving people, regardless of whether they are referred to as ‘client,’ ‘customer,’ ‘consumer,’ or ‘purchaser’. All this is especially true if you are speaking with essential workers.

Also, we may want to consider staying focused on our own purpose. What we do for a living is one facet of who we are, and now is the time to regularly reaffirm our role in the bigger picture.

Related: Ways to support employees who may be overloaded or under stress

The power of good information

The sense of loss of control can be a common feeling during the pandemic. The best antidote is to be well-informed with accurate, reliable information. For leaders in the workplace, that means regularly referencing recognized authorities on the pandemic, such as The World Health Organization, and state and provincial government agencies for a start. When discussing the business, give teams transparent accounts of what’s happening across the whole enterprise, what’s being done to keep things moving forward, and how the people in the organization are faring.

Closer to home, the same applies: get information from widely respected and recognized sources, and when talking to children or the elderly, share that information factually and sensitively. Again, that said, it is possible that good information can be too much of a good thing. We’re in an ‘always on’ world. Consider limiting how much you take in. Check reputable news sources once or twice a day and resist the urge to stray from that schedule.

This isn’t a time to be perfect. This is a time to do our best.

Companies and their leaders, whether in role or spirit, have a responsibility to create an environment that champions and supports mental health. I’ll take it a step further: we all have that responsibility. This is particularly true in these extraordinary times when “we’re in this together” has real gravitas. 

My deep thanks to Louise, John and Rita for giving of their time, insight, and expertise on this critical issue. What stayed with me most after our hour-long discussion was this generous and wonderfully compassionate sentiment: This isn’t a time to be perfect. This is a time to do our best.


Relevant links:

COVID-19: Mental Health Implications

Resources for employers to support the mental health of their workforce

Leagh Turner

As Ceridian's President and Chief Operating Officer, Leagh Turner is responsible for driving revenue world-wide and daily operations while overseeing the company’s go-to-market strategy and field efforts. A strong advocate for the advancement of women in leadership, Leagh was recognized as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women at the Women’s Executive Network Top 100 Awards in 2016.

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