The Workplace Mental Health Files: COVID Edition

Dawn Burke Change Management, COVID-19, Mental Health, Performance, Talent Management, wellness

COVID has turned us into working headcases. Mental health awareness has been a trending workplace topic for several years. Still, now that many of our lives have taken a dramatic change, literally overnight, the Covid19 pandemic has cranked this focal point up to 11. As a long time therapy patient (you mean, you’re not???), and workplace leader who advocates greatly for mental health programs, I’d be remiss, perhaps even irresponsible to not talk a little bit about keeping your sanity during Covid19. 

Listen, I’m not a psychologist, but I play one on TV. As a person with a diagnosed mental illness myself, I’ve made therapy a part of my lifestyle for decades. Based on this, I’ve had a natural desire to understand what makes people tick from a psychological point of view, not only to understand myself better but to understand how these issues impact employees in the workplace. Equally important, how, as an HR leader, I could walk my employees through mental health issues or change management issues as well. 

The COVID Impact On Your Employees’ State Of Mind

If you think your employees’ mental health has not been impacted by this abrupt change, as a friend of mine said, you’re smoking crack (no, my friend wasn’t Whitney Houston). Right now, many leaders are focusing on 1) how to give employees the tools to work remotely, 2) learning how to engage over virtual platforms, 3) keeping workers productive, or 4) understanding what new federal policies you must adhere to. You are in a crisis mitigation phase, for which these are critical, understandable priorities. 

But if you are not prioritizing, or at least keeping top of mind, the impact this change has on your team’s mental health (or YOUR mental health), those other priorities won’t effectively amount to much.

In efforts to help leaders rethink prioritizing employee wellbeing with your other first-level Covid19 crisis mitigation items, here as some educational points: 

  • Nix The “Just Get Over It” Syndrome: Many of you are not in this bucket, however…If you think having a mental health disorder is a personal flaw, get educated quickly on how wrong you are. I mean, if this is a point of view you firmly believe, quit being a leader now. Hang your leadership career up…you are a putz. You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again: a human’s mind and body are one, both impacted by internal (genes, hormones, DNA) and external factors (parental guidance, pollution, work environment, etc.). Mental illnesses are virtually the same as physical illnesses and should be treated equally. 
  • Mental Illness is Not What You See On TV. You know, the guy in the middle of a violent, spontaneous breakdown, who is tackled by police and thrown into the equivalent of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Great TV; not an accurate representation of most people. Most suffer in silence, in non-psychotic ways, most prevalently with depressive or anxiety disorders. They are productive members of society and the workplace, who deal with “not feeling right” for long periods of time. 
  • You Know Lots Of People With A Mental Illness. Including your team members. Including you. Since you are a leader, I get it; you need some statistics. Here goes: 
    1. 1 in 5 people in the US has a mental illness. 
    2. Of those five, 19% have anxiety, 7% have depression, 4% PTSD, 3% bipolar1/bipolar2 disorders.
    3. Depression is the leading disability worldwide. 
  • Humans Are Hard-Wired To Keep The Status Quo We want, need, crave stability, so imagine what this jolt has done. We are hardwired to self-protect ourselves, so we defend ourselves from abrupt changes. Your employees will show a brave face in front of you (they don’t want to lose their jobs), but likely inside they are anxious. See bullet three on the prevalence of anxiety to bring this point home.  

I could give you about 12 more bullet points, but I’ll cover those in upcoming posts, including what you can do now to help navigate your employees through these COVID changes to mitigate anxiety. 

Knowledge is power. So, until then, prioritize understanding your team’s current state of mind. Educate yourself on the best change management practices. And take some time to keep a check on how YOU are faring as well.