COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down. We’ve had to adjust our approach to nearly every part of our lives, from how we get groceries to how we work and spend our free time. One thing is true – we’re stressed.
Now that we’re hearing the decisions about how to bring kids back to school and keep them safe, parents are facing a new hurdle in preparing their kids for more distance learning or for return to school with masks, social distancing, and a whole new normal.
Many are facing financial constraints with reduced work schedules or layoffs, making it more difficult to make ends meet or put food on their tables.
As an employer, it is critical we extend empathy and grace to our employees during this time. Employee stress and mental health challenges are at an all-time high. Leaders should be prepared to recognize the signs of stress from their direct reports and provide tools to offer ideas and support.
Signs of Employee Stress
Signs to watch for include an atypical response to questions or project assignments; for example, agitation, an otherwise talkative employee that is quiet or more withdrawn than usual, or vice versa. If an employee is normally emotionally regulated and suddenly seems more emotional, it is a sign they may need support.
Ways to Support Your Employees
Four ways leaders can offer support to employees who are showing signs of distress at work are:
- Encourage employees to take breaks, whether working from the office or at home. Take a 5-10-minute break from the laptop, computer, or milieu to get some fresh air every couple of hours. Studies show that taking a few minutes each hour to stand up and move for 5 minutes increases productivity.
- Be as flexible as possible with work hours. Employees with small children at home may need to take longer breaks during the day and work further into the evening. Employees with childcare challenges may need short-term tweaks to their schedule. Encourage open and honest communication and be clear with expectations of the work that needs to be completed and any timelines associated with it.
- Offer confidential support through your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs often have counselors available and free sessions with qualified therapists for employees and their family members. Other supports EAPs offer are research-based assessments, articles, referrals, and support mechanisms that can help employees get headed in the right direction. If you are able, take a few extra minutes during a meeting with your direct report to show them how to access the EAP. Sometimes knowing how easy it is to access and navigate is just the extra support they need to take that step. Be sure to take the time to be familiar with your EAP and what it has to offer. This will help you “sell” it to others in need.
- Listen. Leaders are people, too, and it is easy to get wrapped up in our own stressors during a highly emotional and demanding time such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology like Zoom or Microsoft Teams can become a barrier to face-to-face communication. Make sure you are making time with your direct reports to really listen to what they have to say. Ask about how things are going at home for them and then LISTEN. Like Cheryl Richardson said, “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.”
While it may feel counterproductive to encourage breaks, flexibility, or extra time at your one-on-one meetings to check out the EAP or just to listen, you can be sure you will have a happier, more productive employee willing to go the extra mile.
This blog article was contributed by Jennifer McIntosh, Chief Human Resources Officer at Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.