Check in on your employee’s mental health

| By: Jen Locklear

March 5th is National Day of Unplugging. After the year we've had, this day bears more significance than ever before. The age-old advice "have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in" not only works for technology but also for people. 

Weathering the storm 

In a normal year, everyone fights their own battles, including some that no one else may even be aware of. COVID-19 added to the various personal struggles everyone was facing. There are those who live alone that may be feeling isolated. Some are worried about getting sick and passing it on to loved ones. Others are losing friends and family members to COVID-19 while watching others underestimate and downplay the virus. Many parents are juggling working from home while homeschooling kids or are feeling guilty about sending their kids to school in-person.  

There’s a saying that’s been floating around that sums up this situation pretty well "We're not all in the same boat, we're in the same storm. Some are in yachts, some are in canoes, and some are drowning."  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been associated with mental health challenges related to the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease and to mitigation activities, including the impact of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders.” 

And, as if a global pandemic wasn’t enough, there was also stress, particularly in the United States, surrounding racism and the presidential election results. 

If you’re looking for ways to celebrate National Day of Unplugging, I have a few suggestions to share that might be helpful for not only your employees but for you as well. Here are six ways to unplug. 

1. Encourage time off  

An easy way to unplug is, of course, to take a day off. Sometimes the weekend is not enough time to truly relax and decompress. In fact, a two-day weekend can be just as busy as the rest of the workweek with household chores and errands to run. But many may feel too busy to take time off or feel there’s no need to request time off if they’re not going anywhere. Encourage your employees to take a mental health day. Maybe they can spend the time outdoors or just have an extra day to sleep in and truly feel energized to tackle the upcoming work week. 

2. Prioritize work/life balance 

Now more than ever, the lines between work and our personal lives are being blurred, with employees tending to work longer hours while working from home. According to a Harvard Business Study, about 8.3% more emails were sent after business hours. There are also greater demands on those juggling working from home with kids. When the need arises for more flexibility, let’s do our best to make the necessary accommodations.  

3. Start a company wellness group or program 

The link between exercise and mental health has long been established. The Journal of Psychiatry and Mental Health Nursing explains, “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.” However, it is often a neglected intervention in mental health care. Just like a group fitness class or a personal trainer, sometimes having accountability is exactly what we need. A company wellness group or program helps to provide that accountability while also building relationships. 

4. Have non-work-related chats 

To make up for the lack of personal interaction, many organizations (including ours) were quick to jump on the idea of virtual happy hours. But as Raffaella Sadun, professor of business administration in the HBS Strategy Unit, mentioned in a recent article, “There is a general sense that we never stop being in front of Zoom or interacting. It’s very taxing, to be honest.”  

Maybe you can start your team meetings with an icebreaker question, a quick show and tell segment or even share pictures from the weekend. Encourage smaller group chats between teams with an emphasis on non-work-related conversations to maintain strong personal relationships that help a team be successful.  

5. Start a company book club 

Research by the University of Sussex found that “reading is the best way to relax and even six minutes can be enough to reduce stress levels by more than two thirds.” Starting a book club means employees can reduce stress while building relationships with fellow employees. Bonus points if the selected book relates back to professional development or business best practices that can then be implemented to improve your business.  

p.s. I recommend Radical Candor. 

6. Schedule focus time 

With many of us continuing to work from home, we’ve seen our calendars booked with back-to-back meetings. We need to acknowledge this trend and do what we can to minimize it and incorporate time in the day to think and accomplish tasks. If you’re using Outlook, there’s an Insights add-in that will “help you gain focus time, maintain your work relationships, plan time away from work, and improve your overall work-life balance.”