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Employers have an important role in protecting the mental health and wellness of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following recommendations provide information, guidance, and resources for workplaces/businesses and employers to help support the mental health needs of employees during this unprecedented time.

For All Workplaces, Businesses, and Employers

Demonstrate leadership.

Effective leadership is required in the workplace environment in order to support the physical and psychological health of employees. During the pandemic, employers should build upon the strengths and capacities of their employees to help motivate them towards a shared goal – which is to maintain the physical and psychological health of everyone in the workplace. Consider the following tips for maintaining effective leadership and supporting employee mental health during the pandemic:

Have plans in place to help protect and support the physical and mental health of employees during this time. It is important to be as proactive as possible to help prevent the transmission of infection and the onset of mental health concerns in the workplace. Plans should also be coordinated to respond to physical or mental health concerns in the workplace if they develop. Work with public health authorities and local mental health organizations to ensure that you have the appropriate tools, information, and resources to protect your employees and to respond to any reports of infection or mental health concerns. Coordinate strategies that focus on promoting physical and mental well-being in the workplace and preventing illness, while also having plans in place to support employees who may be impacted physically or mentally by COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many changes in the typical work environment for employees. As the situation continues to evolve, it is important to frequently communicate with employees about any changes to daily operations, working conditions, workplace procedures or policies, or any other modifications in the workplace as relevant to their work during the pandemic. These changes should be communicated to employees in a way that is clear and transparent. As part of this communication, explain the actions that the workplace is taking to respond to COVID-19 and to help keep employees safe. Clear and up-to-date information and facts about the current circumstances can help to alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty among employees, and can help to enhance resiliency in response to ongoing changes.
Information and guidance related to COVID-19 is changing rapidly. As a result, workplace procedures, policies, and practices will continue to change as new information becomes available. In maintaining communication with employees during the pandemic, set clear and realistic expectations about the work that is to be completed, how it should be completed, and any safety precautions that should be taken to help keep everyone in the workplace safe. Acknowledge that the ever-evolving nature of the current situation can be overwhelming for employees and assure them that they are not alone. Allow opportunities for questions, comments, and/or consultation with supervisors and facilitate conflict resolution and problem solving if any barriers to success arise. Allow for flexibility and understanding as the current situation continues to change. Enhancing understanding about the roles of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic can increase workplace satisfaction and employee productivity, as well as reduce any confusion or stress associated with the changing nature of their work.
Everyone is still learning about COVID-19 and its impact on the workplace. Employers can demonstrate accountability by acknowledging when certain circumstances may not be entirely clear and dedicating time to find information and resources that can help enhance understanding. Given the rapidly changing nature of the current situation, misunderstandings may occur. When this happens, give employees the benefit of the doubt and, if applicable, acknowledge any roles that you may have had in miscommunicating the message. Focus your efforts on how to collaborate with the employee to resolve the situation and achieve success, as opposed to focusing on the negative outcomes of the situation. Reliably deliver on the commitments that you have made to help support employees through this process and, if applicable, take responsibility for situations that may have not happened as planned. These actions and efforts can help to instill trust among employees, which can increase their motivation to succeed and enhance overall morale.
Change can be difficult for employees. During this time, it is important to acknowledge the efforts that employees have demonstrated to adjust to the changing work environment. Continue to thank employees for their understanding and flexibility and to offer your support in adapting to any upcoming changes. Acknowledge that the current situation is unexpected and difficult, but reassure them that supports are available to help guide them through it. These actions can help demonstrate your commitment to the mental health and wellness of employees during this time, and make them feel recognized, valued, and appreciated.

Be socially supportive of employees.

As an employer, it is important to acknowledge the many emotions that employees will be experiencing during this time. Considering the level of attention and concern that is being paid to the COVID-19 pandemic world-wide, it is normal for employees to feel stressed or anxious. Patience, understanding, and empathy is required in order to effectively support employees through this challenging time. As an employer, you can actively support the mental health of your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic by engaging in the following practices:

This can help to provide employees with a sense of control over their situation. As the working environment continues to change in adjustment to the COVID-19 pandemic, various challenges, issues, or concerns may arise for employees that can increase stress, such as restricted access to co-workers, transitions in their usual workspace, or other COVID-19 related concerns. Work with your employees to identify any challenges or issues that they may be experiencing as a result of the new environment, and whenever possible, identify solutions and supports.
Encourage employees to implement self-care and coping strategies and to embrace change as they adjust to the new working environment. Post or share helpful resources with employees that provide tips for building resiliency and practicing self-care during this time, such as CAMH’s Self-Care Information Fact Sheet or the MHCC’s Mental Health First Aid COVID-19 Self-Care and Resiliency Guide.  Find opportunities to encourage employees to practice healthy coping strategies, such as healthy eating, adequate sleep, connecting with friends, family members, and co-workers, engaging in fun activities after work, and taking their breaks in alignment with your workplace’s policies. Employers can promote these behaviours among their employees by role modeling them through effective leadership.
During this time, employees may be experiencing a variety of issues at home that can impact their mental health in the workplace. Flexibility is key to help support employees through evolving situations. Be empathetic and understanding about the challenges that employees may be experiencing at home/at work and, as best as possible, offer flexible working arrangements that help to support employees in achieving a work-life balance. This can include offering flexible work hours for employees with children, providing alternative working options (e.g. working from home), and/or encouraging employees to take their days off as needed. Employers can also promote these behaviours among their employees by demonstrating their own commitment to a work-life balance.
If your workplace is an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or FEAP (Family Employee Assistance Program) provider, ensure that you inform employees about their entitlements to this program and how to access the program for support. For other supports and mental health resources during the pandemic, please visit the Mental Health section of this website. Post or share these resources with employees around the workplace to let them know that they are not alone and that support is available from professionals if needed.

Offering support for employees experiencing mental health concerns. If an employee begins to demonstrate signs and symptoms of a mental health concern in the workplace during the pandemic (see above for signs and symptoms of workplace stress), employers may be wondering about how to best approach these employees to offer support. CMHA Ontario & Mental Health Works (2017) developed a workplace mental health accommodation guide for managers and staff that offers several tips for responding to and talking to employees about mental health concerns. These tips include:

  • Approach your concerns as a workplace performance issue, while also being empathic towards the current situation and how it may impact their work.
  • Actively listen non-judgmentally and empathetically by showing interest, demonstrating the employee’s value, not interrupting, and seeking out clarification as needed.
  • Inform the employee of the possibility of accommodations.
  • Provide access to your workplace’s EAP or FEAP and/or refer them to professional supports as required.
  • Set a time to meet again to review their performance.
  • Document the meeting in an objective fashion without commentary.

It is also important to consider which actions to avoid while responding to or talking to employees about a potential mental health concern. CMHA Ontario & Mental Health Works (2017) offer the following tips:

  • Do not probe the employee or attempt a diagnosis.
  • Do not provide a “pep talk” or tell them to “get over it”.
  • Do not accuse the person of faking it or malingering.
  • Do not bring in personal stories or anecdotes.
  • If they disclose a diagnosis, do not focus on that. Focus on solutions for symptoms that impact their work and what you can change in the work environment to help support them.
Some employees may be required to take time off from work to self-isolate, quarantine, or take care of others. Ensure that you stay in touch with these employees by phone, video chat, or email and continue to provide them with up-to-date information as relevant to the workplace. It is important to ensure that all employees receive support in managing the current situation, whether they are working at the office, working from home, or taking time off.

For Essential Workplaces and Businesses or In-Office Working Environments

Workplaces that offer essential in-person services or have employees working in-office must implement infection control practices to help protect their employees and service recipients from the risk of spread. This includes establishing policies and practices for environmental cleaning, physical distancing (i.e., 2 metre distance), respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and other practices to help keep employees safe. Taking steps to protect the physical health of employees can help to promote overall mental health and wellness by reducing fears about COVID-19 and its transmission in the workplace, and enhancing overall feelings of workplace safety and security. Continue to follow the recommendations provided from trusted sources, such as the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, and ensure that your workplace is taking the appropriate precautions. Please see the WECHU’s recommendations for workplaces and businesses during COVID-19 for more information about the role of employers in implementing effective infection control practices.

A workplace’s response to COVID-19 cannot be achieved in isolation. Employees, co-workers, and their employers must work together in order to help keep everyone physically and psychologically safe. Everyone in the workplace will have a role in the workplace’s response. While maintaining physical distancing at all times, employers can encourage team-building by connecting with the team to relay information and updates, delegating roles and responsibilities based on individual strengths and abilities, and motivating employees to work together towards a final result. Work with your team of employees to identify strategies that are working well in the workplace and those that require further consideration or improvement. Team work also provides opportunities for co-workers to engage in peer support and to offer assistance to one another in transitioning through changing circumstances.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of violence or harassment towards certain employees who are performing critical tasks (e.g., working with vulnerable populations), returning to the workplace after self-isolation, or are from certain ethnicities may be greater. Workplaces can combat and counteract stigma and violence/harassment in the workplace by engaging in the following practices:

  • Review and update risk assessments and policies on violence and harassment prevention in the workplace. As part of these policies, ask employees who are experiencing or have witnessed harassment or violence to report these circumstances to their employer or immediate supervisor as soon as possible.
  • Educate employees about COVID-19 by providing accurate and reliable information from credible sources, such as the WECHU website. Correct misconceptions about COVID-19 and know the facts.
  • Role model behaviours that promote inclusivity, understanding, and respect (see the Socially Supporting Co-Workers section of this web page for more information about reducing stigma and discrimination in the workplace).

For more information about counteracting stigma and discrimination in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, please see CCHOS’s resource for Preventing COVID-19 Stigma.

For Workplaces that are Required to Close

Many workplaces have been required to close as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As an employer, consider the following recommendations for supporting the positive mental health and wellness of employees while they are away from work:

Employees who are away from work due to workplace closures may feel stressed about the uncertainty of the situation and the future of their employment. Maintain regular communication with employees about any updates as relevant to the workplace, upcoming changes, or plans for re-opening. This can help employees establish a sense of control over the current situation and to build resiliency in response to ongoing changes.

If applicable to your workplace, it is important to communicate with employees as clearly and honestly as possible about the potential for any job loss as a result of COVID-19. This provides employees with the opportunity to be proactive in developing plans for their employment if a potential job loss is expected. Set clear and realistic expectations about the immediate future and support employees through the transition period as required.

Inform employees about the financial assistance programs that are available to them through Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. Providing timely and accurate information and resources to employees during this difficult time can help to demonstrate your commitment to their psychological well-being and make them feel supported and secure.

Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan also includes financial supports for businesses and workplaces. Review the supports that are available to determine whether you are eligible for assistance. These supports can help employers manage feelings of stress and uncertainty and to develop plans for the immediate future.

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Last modified: 
Friday, July 3, 2020 - 4:04pm