We’re now more than a year into the pandemic in Canada, and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s weighing on our mental health: in a recent study by the Canadian Mental Health Association, for example, 40% of respondents said their mental health had deteriorated since the start of COVID-19. B.C. residents were among the most likely to feel this way, with 42% saying so, behind only Ontario at 44%.

With this in mind, we caught up with Marni Johnson, Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Corporate Affairs here at BlueShore Financial, to get her best advice to help business owners, and their employees, alleviate stress and anxiety.

1. Practise empathy

Johnson’s first tip is simple: talk to your employees—especially your remote workers—and in particular, focus on how you converse with them.

“Showing empathy in a work setting doesn’t come easy for some people,” says Johnson. “But there are simple things we can do to engage with others and have open conversations.”

For example, consider starting the conversation with something other than asking “How are you?” That’s a tough way to get a meaningful dialogue off the ground, because most of us, when asked that question, reflexively say “fine,” and leave it at that. A better approach is to start by giving a sincere compliment on a recent project, for example, or with small talk—even about something as routine as the weather.

More important, however, is to ensure you also share your own struggles. “You’ll have a better chance of getting someone to open up if you share how you feel and allow yourself to be vulnerable,” says Johnson. “If people know their managers are facing difficulties, it will make them feel more comfortable sharing their own challenges.”

2. Video calls can tip you off to an employee who’s struggling

Video-calling apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been lifesavers in this crisis, and they’re useful tools for checking in with, and supporting, your remote staff members.

“If you can use video, do so. You miss facial expressions over the phone, and they can tell you so much about how a person is feeling,” says Johnson.

She also recommends asking your managers to look out for times when an employee seems off. “Managers don’t need to diagnose a mental health issue; that’s not their area of expertise,” says Johnson. “It’s really just taking note of when an employee isn’t themselves and looking out for changes in behaviour and performance and then recommending resources.”

3. Consider an employee-wellness program

“If your organization can afford an employee-assistance program that allows access to counselling services, I highly recommend that, so employees can work with a professional if they’re having difficulties,” says Johnson. But even if that isn’t an option for your business, there are other low-cost steps you can take.

“At BlueShore, we have a feature on our intranet called Wellness Wednesdays, where we post resources that focus on a different wellness-related topic each week,” she continues. “Recently, we posted an article about how we can all create deeper connections with one another by asking better questions. Even if you don’t have a large budget, you can forge closer bonds with your employees by providing similar resources.”

4. Model self-care

“One of the best things you can do for your employees is to make sure you’re taking care of yourself,” says Johnson. “That includes getting enough sleep and exercise, like making sure you get out for a walk or a run during the day.”

The connection between exercise and mental health is well known, and its effects can be profound: according to a 2019 Harvard study, a stepped-up exercise routine can cut the risk of depression. The study found that being active for an extra 35 minutes a day had a positive effect.

From a management perspective, Johnson recommends taking it one step further by mentioning your daily exercise routine in conversations with staff and encouraging them to do the same. “This way, your employees will see that this is endorsed behaviour, and they’ll be more likely to do it themselves,” she says.

And if you have a staff member with a passion for a specific physical activity, consider encouraging them to share it with the group. At BlueShore, for example, one of Johnson’s team members led an online yoga class. This type of activity comes at no cost and is easy to set up online.

Other resources to share with your team include the free ParticipACTION app, which includes workout videos—even quick exercises you can do at your desk—as well as a pedometer, a movement timer and the ability to put together a team from your firm to compete against other teams in overall movement time, time spent on higher-intensity exercises, and the total number of steps taken.

5. Try virtual team events and get-togethers

Your virtual team events don’t all have to be fitness-related; there are plenty of other low-cost options, too. “One of my teams has a favourite online drawing game, much like Pictionary,” says Johnson. “They’ll get together for 15 minutes, play a game and have a few laughs; it helps create a sense of community.”

“We also have late-afternoon happy hours from time to time, where we all get on a video call and enjoy our favourite beverage together,” she continues. “These types of activities have really helped us stay connected and keep our team’s spirits up.”

6. Don’t put off vacation—and encourage your staff to take it, too

With travel off the table, you and some of your employees may be tempted to put off taking a vacation and bank your holidays for when restrictions are lifted, and you can finally take that big trip you’ve been planning. 

But taking a break is more critical now than ever, and is proven to relieve anxiety and spur creativity. Johnson sees taking vacation as a vital opportunity to recharge, reconnect with friends and family, focus on a favourite hobby or find ways to contribute to your local community.

7. Help your team find meaning in their work

You’ve probably felt an increased urge to give back during the pandemic. Many people have, including, most likely, many of your employees.

With that in mind, it’s important for managers to help staff members find meaning in their work, so they feel that their efforts are making a difference in the wider world. This can be as simple as sharing positive feedback from customers with your staff, so they know they’re making your customers’ lives easier.

There are other options, too. “Here at BlueShore, we did something called Pay It Forward,” says Johnson. “We gave each staff member a modest sum of money and allowed them to use it to benefit someone else however they saw fit: they could give it to charity, buy someone flowers, or cook them a meal. It was entirely up to them—no questions asked.”

No matter what approach you choose, the key is help your people feel connected and part of a team. Doing so will benefit your mental health as well as theirs, and could even bring you closer than you were pre-pandemic. That, in turn, makes it more likely your staff will remain with you for years to come.

BlueShore Financial, Business Advisor, Robert Lewis

Robert Lewis

Business Advisor

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The information contained in this article/video was written by BlueShore Financial or one of our expert financial writers and was obtained from sources believed to be reliable; however, we cannot guarantee that it is accurate or complete. It is provided as a general source of information and should not be considered personal financial advice.