Whether you own a business or manage one, you know all too well the challenges COVID-19 has presented. And if you manage employees, you also know they’ve stood alongside you on this difficult ride. Even as restrictions lift in BC and we start to emerge from the pandemic, there is still a need to be mindful of everyone’s mental health and do what you can to alleviate any stress and anxiety employees may be feeling at this time.
The pandemic has been mentally taxing. In fact, a study by the Canadian Mental Health Association showed that 40% of respondents felt their mental health had deteriorated since the start of COVID-19. BC residents were among the most likely to feel this way, with 42% saying so. Even as we get closer to getting back together, there are still things to be mindful of.
Here are a few helpful ideas to keep your team pulling together and turning that last corner of this unusual journey.
Connect, converse, listen
Something we’ve all learned during the pandemic is that communication is vital. So continue talking and listening to your employees—especially any remote workers. Take special care to focus on how you engage with them. While showing empathy in a work setting doesn’t come easy for some people, there are simple things you can do to engage with others and have open conversations.
For example, consider starting the conversation with something other than asking, “How are you?” When asked that question, most people reflexively say “fine” and leave it at that. A better approach is to start by giving a sincere compliment on a recent project or engaging in small talk—even about something as routine as the weather.
Just as important, however, is to ensure you also share your own feelings and 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. If people know their managers have faced difficulties or, conversely, are feeling optimistic about the pandemic’s end, it will make them feel more comfortable sharing their own experiences.
Be a model of self-care
One of the best things you can do for your employees is to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. As a business leader, you need to set an example and maintain your energy and vitality. That includes getting enough sleep and exercise, eating healthy, and keeping hydrated. Even a simple walk or a run around the block helps.
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, you can even take it one step further by mentioning your daily self-care 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.
Try an outdoor summer get-together
With many restrictions on social gatherings coming to an end and summer in full swing, it might be an opportune time to consider an in-person gathering in an outdoor setting. Humans are social creatures and a bit of real-world connection and laughter are always good for relieving stress and keeping people engaged. Plus, picnics and barbeques are fun and can be easily arranged to permit the appropriate amount of physical distancing.
Just remember to encourage proper physical distancing, even outdoors, and be mindful of mask policies—both from health authorities and from a personal point of view. Not everyone will be comfortable with the idea of meeting in person and some will be more cautious about mask wearing. Check the provincial and regional health authority on restrictions on gatherings and mask policies and check your local municipality for reserving park and outdoor spaces.
Take your vacation and encourage your staff to take it, too
With travel off the table for so long, you and some of your team may have put off taking a vacation, opting to bank holidays for when restrictions are lifted. As restrictions ease, it’s time to hit the road again—with all due care, of course.
Taking a break is more critical now than ever, and is proven to relieve anxiety and spur creativity. Vacation time is a vital opportunity to recharge, reconnect with friends and family, focus on a favourite hobby, or find ways to give back to your community. It’s also an ideal time to rest up before the world fully opens up again and gets back to business as usual.
Even if flights are still somewhat limited, you can easily explore and relax on a staycation. There are many people in the world who see British Columbia as a dream destination, and there’s ample to do locally. So get out and explore what our corner of the world has to offer and encourage your employees to do the same.
No matter what approach you choose, the key is to help your people feel connected and part of a caring and empathetic team. Doing so will benefit your mental health as well as theirs, and could even bring you closer together than before.
Taejong (TJ) Kang
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