We recently hosted a webinar on the topic of mental health during COVID-19 with a panel discussion on leadership, connectedness, and supporting the workforce during a crisis. Here, we cover some key takeaways.
Supporting workforce mental health has long been on the radar of many business leaders. But now, during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s a top priority for organizations across the world. In fact, mental health support is needed more than ever for all employees – from executives to remote employees – and especially front-line workers in essential service industries.
We recently held a webinar featuring a panel of leaders to explore the topic of workforce mental health during COVID-19. The panelists discussed how the fluidity of news, social distancing, stress, lay-offs, and the sudden move to working remotely are impacting workplaces, households, and individuals.
The panel included three leaders from various sectors including health, business, and journalism:
- Louise Bradley, President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada
- John Foley, VP of Human Resources of Builders FirstSource
- Rita Trichur, award-winning journalist and The Globe and Mail columnist
During this in-depth discussion moderated by Ceridian President and COO, Leagh Turner, our panelists shared their perspective on how employers can support employee mental health during the pandemic. Here are some highlights from the webinar:
1. What supports should employers be offering employees?
Our health leader, Louise Bradley recommended The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace as an excellent resource to help employers understand how to support their employees’ mental health. This Canadian psychological standard is designed for promoting mental health in the workplace, and both employees and employers can download it, along with the free online toolkit.
Bradley also spoke to the importance of strong leadership. Even though we are not sitting side by side in an office setting, the need for culture continues, and employers should focus their efforts on upholding and communicating it to the virtual or dispersed workforce. She suggested that leaders and managers show authenticity and compassion and admit when you don’t get it right. It allows people to see and feel that you do care and are really trying.
2. How can employers reassure employees during this time?
As a leader of a large organization with 400 locations, Builders FirstSource, John Foley manages a widely dispersed employee base. He emphasized the importance of honesty, frequent communication, and keeping everyone connected across geographic regions.
“Treat people like adults and don’t sugarcoat things. We tell people it is OK to be scared, after all the world just got turned upside down,” he said.
To instill unity, he keeps people regularly updated about what’s happening across the entire enterprise, with a positive slant.
“When you see the news, it’s just bad news and people might assume the worst. So, where there are positives within our company, we make sure to tell people about it,” Foley added.
3. How can we support employees who may be displaying symptoms of COVID-19 but are afraid to come forward?
Bradley offered two pieces of advice:
- Amplify the message: “It’s a scary time and it’s OK to be afraid”
Employers should communicate that they understand it’s a frightening time. The more you can reassure people that they’re not alone in feeling sad, fearful, or uncertain, the better.
- Show vulnerability and share your own fears
Another way to support people who are anxious and fearful is to show your own vulnerability. This is not always easy, and there is a healthy balance between sharing appropriately and oversharing.
4. How are organizations today dealing with the COVID crisis?
Here’s what she said some companies (including KPMG, Bell, and Manulife Financial) are doing:
- Sending a message to staff directly from the Mental Health Officer
- Setting up virtual mental health workshops for employees nationwide
- Launching a COVID-19 resource hub with useful, updated materials
- Providing secure online medical consultations for employees
- Adding wellness sessions to online resources, such as meditation and yoga
5. What reliable sources of information are available for the general public and where can you find them?
Bradley recommended going to these trusted government agencies for COVID-19 updates:
Related: Employer resource guide for COVID-19
She also stressed limiting daily exposure to COVID-19 information. Although it seems as if news is breaking hourly, it’s not changing that dramatically. Set certain times each day to check in and limit yourself to that. “The more you are reading, seeing and feeling the sensationalism of overdramatic stories, the more you begin to feel it, and that’s when the stress begins to build up,” she said.
6. How do you shield or support children and elderly parents during this time of crisis?
Bradley said it’s best to tell the truth with accuracy and compassion. “This is a time when we are experiencing a loss of control. Telling the truth is important whether you are talking to an elderly person or young person,” she added.
Information, she advised, needs to be given factually and sensitively, in a manner suitable to the audience. For elderly people, not knowing what the real situation is can be upsetting. With children, it’s best to give them only information you feel they can handle.
7. How are you helping employees stay connected?
Builders FirstSource saw the crisis coming and closed major offices almost overnight. The main advice Foley gave his leaders was this: Prioritize your team and connect them to the vision of your company.
During these times, the corporate mission can guide you, he noted. For example, Builders FirstSource is the nation’s largest supplier of building materials. Its mission is to help people ‘realize the dream of home ownership’. To keep his people focused on helping homeowners, he advised his managers to ‘prioritize the team’ and keep communication lines open through frequent one-on ones, especially with junior staff members. It could be ten minutes every couple of days to keep them focused, motivated, and driven by the vision.
“Most companies have great core values. In these times of uncertainty, go back to that— the glue and DNA of your company — and focus on big picture things,” Foley said.
8. With people working from home, how can employers manage the loneliness factor? And are you concerned there will be a rise in substance abuse and domestic violence?
Bradley recommended using videoconferencing to minimize the negative effects of home isolation. Being able to see faces is helpful because we rely on non-verbal communication. “We’ve changed our wording from ‘social distancing’ to ‘physical distancing, social connection’… While we’re separated, that connection is still essential,” Bradley said.
Regarding substance abuse and domestic violence, Bradley noted that they are often connected to economic hardship. This, she said, becomes more complicated when our healthcare system is overwhelmed with COVID-19.
She had two suggestions:
Download resources for substance abuse:
The Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse and Addiction (CCSA) has excellent, updated material resources online, available to download.
Reach out to help victims of domestic violence:
It’s very important to reach out and ask someone if they need assistance.
“The more we can help people feel they are not being judged or looked down upon, the more likely they are to reach out,” said Bradley.
9. Final question to all panelists: what gives you hope?
“Science. I believe in medical advances, our doctors, nurses and healthcare workers,” said Trichur. “Also, one of things I am going to do next week is to give blood. Focusing on what I can control right now gives me hope.”
“Perspective. My parents grew up as children in the great depression and my dad was disabled in WWII. No one younger than me has ever gone through anything like that,” said Foley. “Those two world events lasted for years and the aftermath was even longer. This COVID crisis is hopefully months long, and we will come out of it in summer or fall better and stronger.”
“My hope is that we will all emerge from this being more thoughtful and compassionate to each other,” said Bradley. “At the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about!”
If you or your employees are struggling with stress, depression, or anxiety, please visit the following online resources in your region to find support:
- United States: National Institute of Mental Health
- Canada: Canadian Mental Health Association
- United Kingdom: Mental Health UK
- Australia & New Zealand: Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association