On Mental Health and Working from Home

April 24, 2020

While we know that it’s important to prioritize mental health in the workplace, we don’t always know what to do.

On a normal day, the workplace can be home to any number of potential stressors. But today is not a normal day. More than 26.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March, and an economic recession – at best – is already underway. Whether we needed a poll or whether we could have inferred it ourselves, The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that nearly half of Americans worry for their mental health during this global pandemic – though as Governor Cuomo has himself said, “there are probably more people who need help than acknowledge that they need help.”

It is exceedingly normal to be anxious and afraid at this time, as Joshua Gordon, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health has said. As you and your team quarantine and social distance at home, which is now also the workplace, there are a handful of important things to remember when it comes to prioritizing mental health.

First: set an appropriate tone for work going forward given the new and difficult circumstances. Most people don’t have ideal working conditions at home, and getting used to this new normal will be a challenging process. Kelly Greenwood, CEO of Mind Share Partners, a non-profit organization that focuses on helping businesses prioritize mental health in the workspace, reminds us that leaders set the culture within their organizations. Reaching out to your team to let them know that you have their backs, that you’re available if they need you and that you’ll support them through these challenges is a good first step.

Second: remind your team to take advantage of the many mental health resources available during this time. Meditation in particular can help mitigate the harmful effects of stress on the body and mind. Calm, Headspace, Talk Space, Better Help, Daylio and Simple Habit have all made access to their services either free or available at a reduced cost.

Third: be open, flexible and adaptive. As important as it is to have structure while working from home, it is equally important to be able to admit when something isn’t working. If your organization’s work-from-home protocols are too strict and rigid, you may be creating unnecessary stressors for your team, which is counterproductive. If your team doesn’t feel that you trust them, they won’t feel comfortable sharing feedback, and you’ll all miss out on important opportunities to learn and improve.

Fourth: introduce some levity into the workday. The typical pressure we all feel to demonstrate that we’re working hard carries extra weight while working from home. This, in addition to the obvious seriousness of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, can leave us with no place to turn for relief. Demonstrate that it’s okay to laugh by finding humor where you can and where appropriate. Beyond just taking the time to check in with the team, maybe set aside time for fun, relaxing, optional meetings or activities. Simply being lighthearted in meetings, or sharing jokes and memes with your coworkers can offer a moment of relief from the omnipresent stress and seriousness of today. Be thoughtful, however, in doing so; read the room (zoom), so to speak. Sometimes, they may just not be in the mood.

And finally: manage expectations. There is nothing business as usual about quarantining at home during a global pandemic. Prolonged anxiety is disorienting and exhausting, and social isolation is proven to lead to depression, which can drain us of motivation. Express this reality to your team. By managing expectations, you can prevent your hard working team from having their anxieties compounded in the event that they struggle to keep up with their work. These next few months will likely test the patience of us all, but patience is a virtue in the workplace as much as anywhere – as is compassion.

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