Alison Reynolds: Recognise the challenges affecting employees’ mental wellbeing

Covid-19 (coronavirus) has led to an upheaval of our day-to-day routines, limited or halted access to our support systems, and thrown us into mass uncertainty. How long will it go on? When will we be able to see our family? How will our organisation fare? Uncertainty is notoriously difficult and takes a toll on our mental health. Most of us are lucky enough, in stable times, to live our lives feeling a relative degree of certainty and control. Right now, many people feel they have little to none. As well as grappling with how to help their organisations survive, employers hold a responsibility to lead through this time in the best way possible.

Employers can better support their employees’ wellbeing by remaining aware of the three main challenges. Firstly, feeling overwhelmed by competing demands. We are in the same storm but not in the same boat. Everyone is facing a different set of demands and competing priorities. Workers with school age children are taking on home-schooling responsibilities on top of work and managing a household. For most people, for different reasons, multi-tasking to the extreme is the new norm.

Employers can support staff by recognising that contributions will look different during this period. It is the human condition to want to make a meaningful contribution and stress ensues when we feel we cannot. Employers can talk about what is possible, recognising the additional pressures people are facing. It is important to remember to ask and not assume.

Secondly, setting unrealistic goals. Let go of pre-Covid measures of success. The longer we hang on to unrealistic targets, the more stress levels will rise. Employers can instigate conversations around reframing purpose and objectives. What matters now? What does success look like in the next two, three or six months? What things should we deprioritise or stop entirely to maintain our energy and focus?

Thirdly, address communication fatigue. Technology has led to an abundance of opportunities for communication, but employers should be mindful that such forums may not enable connection. Employers can help by paying attention to how they structure virtual meetings and being clear about which sessions are essential.

Finally, as we prepare to live with uncertainty for some time to come, employers can focus on learning: what are we learning about ourselves, our team, our organisation and how can we use this to make things even better?

Alison Reynolds is faculty researching organisational issues at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School

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