This article is co-authored by PATHw, Novartis and Great Place To Work®
As the world works together to manage the debilitating impacts of COVID-19 and the rise of mental health issues, the role leaders play in this crisis has become more important than ever. United Nations health experts warn that a global mental health crisis is materializing, with their research showing high prevalence of distress in various countries during COVID-19.1
Following the onset of the viral pandemic, daily life as we know it has been disrupted. In addition to the fear of contracting COVID-19, balancing remote working arrangements with family commitments, workforce displacements and unemployment, and isolation from friends and family are new uncertain realities. Paying extra attention to mental health and care is crucial during this time as fear, worry and stress are common responses to uncertainty.2
How leaders can provide support for employee
Build a safe, supportive work environment
To build trust and communication with their employees, leaders should demonstrate credibility, respect and fairness in their work practices. What constitutes a happy, healthy working environment? According to Great Place to Work® (GPTW), there are 3 key criteria that determine a great workplace: employees’ relationship with management, pride for work, and a sense of camaraderie with colleagues. 3
Poor leadership and management can affect employees’ mental health, further exacerbating stresses during the pandemic. For leaders to foster a strong relationship with employees, Great Place to Work® considers 3 dimensions as crucial for management to demonstrate: credibility, respect and fairness. Employees need to view management as believable and trustworthy, feel respected and perceive that management practices and policies are fair. When employees feel that their workplace is a safe environment, a communicative culture can be built to reduce mental health burden.
To exemplify this, one of the Philippines’ recently-announced Best Workplaces™ focused on the value of ‘compassionate leadership’ in light of the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Early this year, when extended quarantine measures were enforced in Manila and Cebu where they operate, they immediately worked on providing for their employees first. Hotel accommodations were booked in hotels within the vicinity of their centres to ensure that employees who manned their sites did not need to commute; free shuttle transportation were arranged to and from these hotels as well as free onsite meals. Other critical care employees such as pregnant women, those over 60 years old and those have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, were sent home to keep safe, yet were provided financial support equivalent to their daily wage. These were on top of reinforced medical benefits and a ‘Wellness Payout’ to assist with necessities and provisions for family members during these uncertain circumstances.
Provide mental health support and initiatives
Workplace leaders should establish dedicated executive committees to provide support for employees in the organization. Such employee engagement will require a concerted, collective effort from leaders across different departments and across functions, to ensure that all employees are accounted for, considering their specific work processes and stressors. The executive committees can focus on providing mental health support and initiatives, such as discussion groups, chat hotlines with mental health professionals and community events. With remote working arrangements, organization of online community activities can strengthen social cohesion and reduce loneliness among employees, as well as provide intellectual and cognitive stimulation.4
A few unique examples of programmes initiated by Great Place to Work® Certified™ companies include developing a ‘wellbeing microsite’ and mobile app where employees can access services and activities that can help them look after body and mind. One company introduced a ‘free learning microsite’ where they curated several free courses from leading companies, so that their employees can continue to develop and improve their skills even from home. Another company started a ‘Daily Time-out Challenge’ where employees are required to complete a variety of tasks, from physical exercises to ‘Tiktok’ and dance challenges. Another brought a weekly ‘Theme day’ and ‘Cookout’ online to make virtual gatherings more fun and enjoyable. Yet another company launched employee resource groups such as ‘Spectrum’ in support of the LGBT community and ‘Parents’ Network’ for additional support on childcare and balancing family life in the ‘new normal.’
Engaging the healthcare ecosystem and establishing partnerships
Workplace leaders can build partnerships with relevant stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem to improve mental health in the workplace. Workplace leaders can take the lead in partnering with policymakers, media and payors to improve mental health in the workplace. To improve policies for ensuring employees work in a safe environment, workplace leaders can set aside time for regular dialogue with policymakers to provide suggestions. Leaders may also work with payors to design, build and provide mental health support programmes for employees, as well as ensure mental health conditions coverage in health insurance packages. Additionally, they may engage the media to promote their mental health workplace activities. Media presence can aid advocacy for mental health support at workplaces and encourage other organizations to implement mental health support programmes and initiatives at workplaces.5
Taking into account your employees’ mental health and wellbeing is paramount, especially during times of crisis. It is crucial for leaders to act and introduce changes within the organization and work alongside the community and industry to realize mental health support for their employees.