The Role of Employers – Maintaining Positive Mental Health in the Workplace
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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
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:
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:
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.
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.