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Putting People First

By: Geno Cutolo, Staffmark Group CEO

When the pandemic struck, the global workforce rose to the challenge. While enduring a pandemic, an economic crisis, and social unrest, employees continued to pour themselves into their work. They worked longer hours, found creative ways to move business forward, and managed new workplace stressors.

And now they’re growing weary. Pandemic fatigue has set in, and mental health has dropped by a staggering 33 percent, according to Hibob, an HR services company. In the workplace, leadership plays a critical role in addressing this crisis. After all, a leader’s primary role is to support their team—and this includes their emotional wellbeing. I’d like to share five ways that employers and managers can become more effective leaders and better support employees during these trying times:

1. Break the silence.

Unfortunately there is still a stigma wrapped around mental health. A pre-pandemic study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that nearly 85 percent of people are uncomfortable discussing mental health at work, and they estimate that 8 in 10 workers with a mental health condition do not get treatment due to shame. We can begin to chip away at this stigma by normalizing struggles and opening conversation.

Employees need to know that you are dedicated to improving mental health in the workplace. This begins with creating a welcoming, supportive work environment where employees feel safe sharing their ups and downs.

2. Stay connected.

With more people working remotely or staggering their shifts, it can be difficult to stay connected or notice when someone is struggling. It’s become increasingly important to check in on a regular basis.

I encourage you to go beyond a simple “how are you?” by asking specific questions and engaging in meaningful conversations. Take time to listen and lead with empathy, understanding that everyone’s situation and emotions are different. Often, a listening ear is all that someone needs, but taking the time to connect will allow you to learn how you can help or if your employee needs professional support.

3. Provide additional resources.

It can be difficult—and sometimes inappropriate—to talk with employees about their mental health. Managers should take time to listen, but also know when to direct employees to professional resources, such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

According to a study by Principal Financial Group (PFG), 32 percent of employers plan to increase mental health benefits for employees in response to COVID-19. If your company does not offer an EAP or any mental health resources, advocate for them with executive leadership or HR.

4. Make reasonable accommodations.

While you may have previously required everyone to work in the office 100% of the time or perhaps your flex time policy was more rigid pre-pandemic, now is the time to become a more accommodating employer.

According to the study by PFG, 40 percent of employers are now allowing employees to use their sick leave or vacation days for child care needs and 38 percent of employers are allowing flexible work hours without a reduction in pay for working parents. No longer just a perk, flexibility now has a new meaning and relevance.

5. Lead by example.

When leadership prioritizes emotional wellbeing, employees are more likely to do the same. Managers need to be aware of what their actions may be communicating. For example, if a manager frequently works after hours, doesn’t take time off, or sends emails late at night, employees can get mixed signals about what may be expected of them. Instead, model healthy behavior and share how you are taking care of own health and wellbeing.

Training is also an important piece of the puzzle. A Limeade survey found that 38 percent of employees listed “struggling with burnout” as one of the most stressful aspects of their jobs since the outbreak of COVID-19, and 84 percent of managers said that they feel at least “somewhat” responsible for their direct reports’ burnout. Managers need to be able to identify signs of burnout and know how and when to intervene.

While managers play an important role in helping employees through this time, it’s important that they get additional support as well. They may not only be navigating their direct reports’ burnout, but their own as well.

Declining mental health has been called “the other COVID-19 crisis.” This is a challenging time, but it is also an opportunity to talk openly and hopefully destigmatize anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. I encourage you to consider how you can make health and wellbeing a priority in 2021—for both yourself and your teams. Focusing on your employees’ health and wellbeing is the right thing to do. As an added bonus, it also results a more engaged, loyal, and productive workforce.

If there is one thing that we at Staffmark Group have learned from this pandemic, it’s this: we’re stronger when we’re working together!