“How long can you follow social distancing protocol and the lockdown before your emotional or mental health will suffer,” Gallup asked in a survey conducted between the 6th and 12th of April. Even though this was barely into a lockdown:
And this might be just the tip of the iceberg.
A month after Gallup has published its study, the United Nations (UN) announced that “Decades of neglect and underinvestment in addressing people’s mental health needs have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic“. That message was echoed by Dévora Kestel, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use Director (part of the World Health Organization). She pointed out that past economic crises had “increased the number of people with mental health issues, leading to higher rates of suicide, for example, due to their mental health condition or substance abuse.”
According to the UN guidelines, depression, and anxiety before the COVID-19 pandemic cost the global economy more than one trillion dollars every year. How will this statistic look after the pandemic? Nobody knows, but the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development points out that “many people who previously coped well are now less able to cope because of the multiple stressors generated by the pandemic.”
Many countries are already loosening their coronavirus restrictions. Does it mean that problem will resolve itself? Unlikely. In many cases, people’s well-being has already suffered and going back to normal won’t be easy. Because of that, taking care of employees’ emotions should be the primary concern of any C-suite manager and business owner. How can this be done? The following guidelines come from IMSA Search Global Partners we’ve surveyed for this blog post:
1. Build a safe space to ask for help and assign a contact person in case of an emergency. If one thing is certain, it’s that the recent months were as far from normal, as possible. The UN report indicated that the consumption of alcohol and drugs had increased globally, and the prevalence of distress is peaking globally. “During the COVID-19 emergency, people are afraid of infection, dying, and losing family members”, the UN recommendations explains. “At the same time, vast numbers of people have lost or are at risk of losing their livelihoods, have been socially isolated and separated from loved ones, and – in some countries – have experienced stay-at-home orders implemented in drastic ways.” The C-suite’s most important job right now is to make sure that employees won’t be left with their problems on their own. Ask your staff to select an emergency contact person they trust. Make sure that this person is trained in recognizing the warning signs and will have a real power to help people in need (some psychological training/background might be useful). You should also position this person in a direct line of contact with the top management.
2. Introduce a work-life balance policy at the workplace. Work-related stress is a significant cause of emotional problems. Furthermore, switching business to remote work in many cases resulted in disrupting this fragile balance even more. The fact that employees are close to their computers has temped many managers to call them after working hours with additional work. Before the Covid-19 situation, data showed that more than 40% of employees were neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental well-being problems. The pandemic probably hasn’t improved this statistic, and the number of unhappy or burned out employees might increase. Be respectful of your employees’ free time and remember that leisure is essential for being a healthy individual.
3. Be active! Data shows that physical activity improves people’s emotional health. It doesn’t mean that all people should immediately start running marathons. According to the World Health Organization (WHO): “All adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week.” Help your employees to meet this goal. You can choose the policy which suits you. From a traditional purchase of gym memberships for your employees to out-of-the-box walking meetings with your team. Do some research and choose wisely.
4. Invest in a healthy diet. Everyone needs a decent meal. Do your employees have access to healthy food during their workday? Do you have a canteen or a catering company that serves meals for them? And what types of food is that? It may sound irrelevant, but a number of studies show a correlation between a healthy diet and emotional well-being. As Eva Selhub from Harvard Medical School wrote: “Studies have compared ‘traditional’ diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical ‘Western’ diet and have shown that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet.” Think about investing in healthy catering or change the menu in the company buffet. It will benefit your entire team.
5. Talk with your staff, share your own experiences, and be open to their suggestions. Social isolation was an unusual experience for all of us. Some of us deal with it better and others, but whatever you feel, you are not alone. It’s very likely that someone in your workplace shares the way you feel, so why not talk with the people you work with? Start with yourself and encourage your staff to share their thoughts. Ask them about their wishes and try to meet their needs. No employee’s left behind!
There is one additional advice to consider. Many countries are loosening restrictions, but the pandemic is not over. As scientists from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health estimated in their work published in Science Magazine, the virus can reoccur after the initial, most severe pandemic wave. Hence making sure that critical care capacities aren’t exceeded is crucial. In conclusion, prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022.” And “even in the event of apparent elimination, SARS-CoV-2 surveillance should be maintained since a resurgence in contagion could be possible as late as 2024.”
So, be prepared for the next lockdown. Don’t let new restrictions take you by surprise and be ready for the worst-case scenario. Make sure that if this indeed does happen again, you and your staff will be mentally prepared and safe and sound. We will all survive this, but the burden will be easier to carry if we’ll take it on together.