Wood: Seek help for mental-health issues

One positive side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an easing of the stigma of mental-health issues.

From mandatory stay-at-home orders to a hesitant opening up of the economy, employees and managers are grappling with an overwhelming burden, as work blends with home life and stresses mount.

Workers forced to work at home face the added stress of personal responsibilities, such as ensuring that their children are well cared for. Zoom meetings can be interrupted by kids, pets or a myriad of other distractions. Communication with coworkers can be lacking. Kids’ schoolwork can take up much of the day, forcing some employees to do their own work at night. Separation of work and life can be lost.

Managers, too, can be overcome by the stress of overseeing a remote workforce. How much should a manager expect from a remote worker, especially one with other obligations? What are best practices for a manager? What should they be doing to check in on their employees and their well-being?

Add to that economic stresses, as millions of people have joined the ranks of the unemployed. Even a household where one breadwinner might still be employed could be burdened due to a layoff or furlough of the other spouse or partner. How will they pay their bills? Why were they the one to be laid off? What does the future hold?

But layoffs and furloughs also create stress for the manager who made the decision or has to relay that decision to the affected employees. What is the best way to relay that information in an understanding, empathetic manner?

I recently moderated a webinar, “Workplace Interrupted,” part of a webinar series produced by BizWest and Delta Dental of Colorado.

Panelists included representatives from Delta Dental, Foundations Counseling LLC, Otter Products, Mental Health Colorado and Integrated Work. Each panelist offered insightful, thoughtful ideas for those experiencing mental-health issues.

Companies of all sizes have employees who might be dealing with mental-health issues. Calamities such as COVID-19 — along with the recession and social-justice issues — help bring those problems to the surface. It’s incumbent on business leaders and managers to pay attention to their own mental health but also create a framework and structure to provide resources to their employees.

Drexler

Helen Drexler, CEO of Delta Dental, prepared some key takeaways from the webinar. Here’s one on leadership:

“Leaders are facing an amplified version of leading in a crisis. The kinds of thinking for strategic leadership requires deep thought, and this is harder to come by in a crisis, but it’s essential.”

What are some signs that an employee might be experiencing stress?

“Common signs of stress for employees working from home:  Changes in behavior and things that are not common for an employee historically. He or she may not be able to compartmentalize work from life or have a difficult time disconnecting from one to another.”

One attendee posed a question about expectations for employees. If a manager knows that an employee is grappling with issues about children, school, and other factors, should the manager adjust expectations for that employee?

As the economy begins to open up, integrating work-at-home situations with a return to the workplace carries its own stresses. How should that shift be managed to provide comfort to employees who might be fearful to return to work? What is the best way to begin that shift while still protecting workers’ health?

Promoting mental health should be a focus of every employer, manager and worker. Readers who would like to receive some of the takeaways from our Workplace Interrupted webinar can email me at cwood@bizwest.com.

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-630-1942, 970-232-3133 or cwood@bizwest.com.