Last week was Mental Illness Awareness Week, followed on October 10 by World Mental Health Day. To help mark the occasion, International SOS SVP Dr. Robert Quigley weighed in on why and how organizations should recognize and support employees’ emotional health.

The Covid-19 crisis has put employee health, particularly emotional health, at the forefront of risk management programs for organizations. According to the Business Continuity Institute (BCI), 87.6 percent of 636 organizations surveyed in May and June said emotional health was a key consideration within their crisis management plans. Covid-19 has tested our resiliency as a society and as individuals. As business leaders, it is important that we take into account the strain the pandemic has consistently put on our employees over the past 18 months, and how we can support them to manage their emotional health within the workplace. 

Dr. Robert Quigley, International SOS and MedAire SVP and global medical director, corporate health solutions

Many workers have had or currently are experiencing “pandemic fatigue,” causing emotional health issues as well as burnout in their personal lives and at work. Normal routines changed and there is a general uncertainty about life. Future plans remain on hold as guidelines and restrictions feel like constantly moving targets. All of this has left people with heightened stress, anxiety and depression — perhaps for the first time in the lives of some. Now, as organizations look to resume operations and return to physical offices, employees face yet another adaptation to an uncertain environment. 

As business leaders, it is crucial that we take emotional health into account when thinking about how to return to operations and what post-pandemic work will look like. How we manage our stress, anxiety and depression can determine how resilient our workforce will be when facing future challenges. There are three simple ways organizations can start to address these emotional health issues:

  • Raise awareness around emotional health.
  • Cultivate a workplace culture in which employees are supported and encouraged to prioritize their health and wellness (i.e., create a “culture of health”).
  • Implement policies that allow for better work-life balance.

By regularly conducting emotional health or resilience surveys, leaders can monitor employee well-being and assist in identifying individual or organizational areas of concern. Once those are identified, leaders can work to implement companywide policies or connect with individuals to address their needs. Where possible, companies should consider offering third-party resources for employees to receive professional emotional health support. By offering services such as emotional health counseling, organizations can help reduce stigmas and provide actionable steps for employees to own, and in fact improve, their emotional health outside of the workplace. 

It is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to employee emotional health. Therefore, connecting with individuals and checking in regularly can provide valuable insight into personal needs and help managers and leaders meet them. An employee, fed up with working from home, may be looking forward to a return to the office, whereas another might have feelings of anxiety toward in-person work. These can be valuable insights for leaders when planning their return to operations. 

Business leaders should also lead by example to encourage a healthy work-life balance and reduce stigmas around emotional health. Engaging employees in conversations on prioritizing emotional health, introducing policies to promote balance and alleviate stress, and doing simple things like acknowledging employees’ hard work can all build an environment in which employees feel more appreciated, more comfortable and more relaxed. 

Making emotional health a priority in the workplace will, over time, help employees decrease levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and return to a sense of normalcy. By developing these strategies now, employees and organizations will be more resilient and prepared to tackle difficult periods down the line, and will help employees stay motivated and productive day in and day out.

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