The COVID-19 pandemic has meant a change in routine for everyone, and change has a way of bringing some anxiety and stress with it. That has had some pretty big implications for our mental health. Companies should consider offering mental wellness tips to employees.
How do you maintain your sanity and stay productive? How do you keep your cool when the news is bombarding you with all that’s wrong in the world? More to the point, how can you help your employees and coworkers do the same? How can the people in your organization find ways not just to survive, but to thrive?
Granted, when I last wrote about this topic in March in my blog post "Concern for Employee Health at Home," we were all assuming that quarantine would be short term. As the pandemic wears on and states change their policies from day to day, it’s even more important to recognize the mental stress that we all are feeling.
Mental Wellness Tips for Employees
Here, then, are some mental wellness tips that can help you and your employees and coworkers maintain a healthy routine, for both mind and body.
Recognize the Problem
Some degree of anxiety, stress, and loneliness is actually pretty common in this environment. According to a survey done by the Benenson Strategy Group, 55% of Americans say that the coronavirus crisis has impacted their mental health either a great deal or somewhat, compared to only 17% of Americans who state that it has no impact at all. In fact, 71% of Americans worry that the pandemic will cause adverse effects on the nation’s mental health. And some evidence suggests that women are particularly affected by the stress the pandemic is causing (LeanIn.Org survey).
You are probably feeling your own mental strain, simply because it is your feelings that you are dealing with. Your employees are likely experiencing these things too, given those statistics. That strain on them just might not be as obvious, especially if they are keeping up just fine with their workload. They might also be burying their feelings, or hiding them behind a mask of professional decorum.
When working in an office, it’s a little easier to tell that someone is going through something. There are clues and cues—mood, body language, attitude—that someone might be struggling with their mental wellness. Those things are much less accessible and so much less noticeable if everyone is working from home or social distancing at the workplace.
So what can you do to help your employees manage their mental wellness? First of all, be sure to check in with them about how they’re coping. Then share these basic mental wellness tips. Or, if you feel uncomfortable doing that over the phone or Zoom meeting, simply share a short course they can take as part of their training. (We have a few examples with our mental wellness tips below.)
Respect Comfort, Emphasize Moderation
When we are stressed, we naturally look for things we enjoy and that bring us comfort. For some of us, that might be snacking or binge-watching TV. For others, it might mean dressing comfortably, or playing games online.
There’s nothing wrong with a few sweets (thank goodness) or a night of Netflix, in moderation. Unfortunately, those comforts can sometimes have us fall into bad habits. Not getting enough exercise; eating a little too much of your favorite comfort foods; falling out of touch with friends and family. Sound familiar?
During this time, we all need to be tolerant of the different ways people cope with stress, and aware of our own ways of coping. Don’t dwell on the “unhealthiness” of bad habits, but instead focus on wholesome, healthy habits. How can you and your employees keep their diet balanced? When is there a good time to connect with others? How can people work exercise into their routine at home? (One of our writers swears by doing 10 minutes of yoga each day through online classes—find what works for you!)
Let’s look at food specifically. I admit, food is something I find comfort in! It’s relaxing and rewarding to make a batch of cookies or try that Thai fried chicken recipe. But did you know that satisfying food can activate the same parts of the brain as drug addiction? No wonder we crave things like chips, chocolate, and cheese, especially during stressful times.
So encourage your employees to eat a well-balanced diet—just make sure you do it in a caring, non-judgemental way. Help them understand that what they eat directly impacts their energy, focus, and physical health. One of our health and wellness training courses is “You Are What You Eat.” This course shows the correlation between food intake and mental wellness.
If snacking makes you happy, don’t stop! I know I won’t. But try swapping those Cheez-Its for some fresh fruit or a protein bar. And maybe arrange to drop off some of those home-baked treats for your neighbors to enjoy.
Be Well Informed
It’s tempting to tune into the news 24/7, but while it’s important to stay informed, the constant updates can be exhausting and stressful.
If the mainstream media outlets make you anxious and confused, try referencing sites like WHO.int or CDC.gov to stay up to date on the spread of COVID-19. You’ll get the facts without spin or excess color commentary.
There’s also a lot of speculation and misinformation out there on social media. I recommend sharing our course “How to Verify News Stories” with your employees to help them learn how to sift through the information overload.
Invest in an Ergonomic Setup
Now that we’ve been at this work-from-home life for a while, a lot of us are realizing that our attempts at a home office setup aren’t going to cut it. Alertness, productivity, and physical comfort can all suffer when your workspace isn’t ergonomic. And when you’re constantly uncomfortable, mental wellness can suffer, too.
Make sure your employees understand the basics of ergonomics so they can arrange a workable area. For example:
- Laptops should be kept at eye-level so the worker is looking ahead, not down
- Elbows should be at 90 degrees when typing
- Use an external mouse and keyboard, when possible
- Adjust contrast, brightness, and “blue light” on screens to reduce eye strain
You can cover this topic with your employees in greater depth by sharing our ergonomics training course, which covers topics like eye strain, the importance of stretching, and how to set up a desk and chair to reduce neck and back tension. When a workspace causes less physical strain, it leaves employees feeling less drained by work, which then helps with the mental strain.
Optimize Work-Life Balance
Face it—many of us and our employees have dreamed of being able to work from home. But when it happens without warning, as it has during the pandemic, it can lose its appeal fast. The line between work and home can become fuzzy. Some may find it hard to get motivated to do their job. Others will tend to the opposite extreme, working well past normal “working hours” if they get immersed in a project. Both can be harmful to mental wellness.
Help your employees learn to set boundaries so they can separate work life from home life, even when it’s all under one roof.
Encourage them to set up a dedicated workstation, away from areas where they normally relax. Even if it’s at the kitchen table or in a spare bedroom, sitting up straight at a cleared workspace is much better than slouching on the couch or sitting in bed.
It also does wonders for mental wellness to set a routine. You don’t need to put on a suit or anything, but brush your teeth, comb your hair, and change out of those pajamas so you feel ready for the day.
Be sensitive to the fact that employees may be sharing their workspace with a spouse, or caring for children while they try to do their job. Let them know it’s okay to step away from work to clear the mental cobwebs. Encourage a lunch break away from the laptop. Suggest getting up to stretch, throw a load of laundry in the wash, or take the dog for a quick walk around the block. You can share our course on optimizing a work-life balance to help them get started.
Get Better Sleep
Insomnia and restlessness are hitting a lot of us during the pandemic. Lack of sleep can lead to increased anxiety, loss of focus, and a host of other mental wellness issues. We could spend an entire blog post on insomnia, but here are just a few tips from our video “How to Beat Insomnia.” Share them with your employees who might be struggling to get enough rest each night:
- Use room-darkening curtains
- Avoid caffeine after lunchtime
- Turn down the thermostat
- Put away electronics when you get into bed
Some of us are handling the stress of the pandemic and remote work better than others—but we’re all affected by it. Watching out for our employees’ mental wellness right now is more important than ever. If you need relevant training courses that directly address this issue, our off-the-shelf library has a wealth of health and wellness training videos that you can assign to your employees to help. Follow the links here to sample some of the videos, or request a demo to see more.
- Watch a selection of our employee health and wellness training videos
- Concern for Employee Health at Home
- How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed at Work: Understand Stress and Burnout
- How Workplace Wellness Can Be Improved
- Health & Wellness Training Videos