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Virtual Work and Mental Health: How to Provide the Support Your Employees Need
A year ago, I would have had an incredibly difficult time imagining a set of circumstances that would have kept me from a dear friend’s funeral. Yet, that’s exactly what happened when I recently found myself unable to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions. As I mourned this loss in my own way, it also made me pause and reflect on just how much the Coronavirus pandemic is wearing on us emotionally.
We’re living through an incredibly challenging time right now. People are feeling very alone. Unable to participate in major life events. Desperately missing their loved ones.
As the restrictions continue, we’re all surrounded by situations made more difficult by the circumstances we’re living in. And while its widely, openly recognized that mental health is suffering as part of this collective experience, not everyone feels as comfortable being open about that in a workplace setting. In fact, in a recent Morneau Shepell report it was revealed that almost half of working Canadians say they need mental health support, with a mental health score still far below pre-pandemic levels. Let’s talk about virtual work and mental health.
What does it mean for virtual teams?
Even in normal circumstances, virtual employees can feel disconnected from their workplace and team members. When you add the isolation of a pandemic, particularly as we head into the colder months once again, it can manifest as feelings of pressure, anxiety, and depression.
Organizational and team leaders alike need to create a safe environment where employees can express how they’re feeling and get the support they need. Simply put: they need to feel like it’s okay to not be okay.
Employers have an opportunity to make an impact
When the Morneau Shepell report was released, it was noted that psychologically, people require several things every day: a sense of accomplishment, social contact, fun, laughter and physical movement. It went on to underscore the opportunity employers have to provide this by encouraging and supporting healthy practices.
So where do you start? First, it helps to acknowledge what’s going on and normalize the discussion. Everyone is experiencing this together and talking about it can make a difference; particularly if someone is feeling vulnerable, a discussion can make them feel less alone. Most importantly, let your employees know it’s okay to say they’re struggling and to ask for help when they need it.
Other things you can do to support your virtual employees and their mental health include:
- Being open and honest yourself. As a leader, you have an opportunity to reduce stigma around mental health discussions and provide healthy examples of how you overcome challenges yourself.
- Encourage work-life balance. Recognize that the lines between personal and professional are particularly blurry for a lot of workers right now. Many employees feel the need to put in more hours or push themselves too hard, compromising their own self-care. This is particularly difficult for employees who may feel their job security is at risk amidst the pandemic.
- Be mindful of employee behaviors. If you notice an employee has become more passive in discussions or seems less engaged than usual, check in with them privately and mindfully. Communication is essential.
For your remote employees, a little empathy and awareness can go a long way if they’re struggling with mental health issues. By remaining open, available, and fostering collaborative discussion, you can provide a work environment where our employees feel comfortable sharing what they’re going through. This gives them an opportunity to gain additional support during a particularly challenging time.
If your workplace provides additional assistance through your benefits program, make sure they’re aware of those resources too.
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Supporting a virtual team is a challenge. Our Optimize Connection and Resilience program empowers leaders with the skills they need to deepen connections and collaboration within their teams.
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