A pandemic is not an easy thing to live through, let alone work through. Since COVID-19 first arrived in New Zealand, the change, stress, and anxiety that the virus has brought with it has had wide-reaching impacts on mental health in every workplace.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), an annual campaign run by the Mental health Foundation. In support of MHAW, the enableHR team have been reflecting on this year’s theme, mā te kōrero, ka ora / through conversation, comes well-being, and how we can support mental health at work. Here in this article, we share our four top tips to help workplace leaders prioritise employee well-being during a pandemic.

Mental health warning signs

Workers often spend much of their lives at work, and as an HR professional or employer, you’re  in one of the best positions to recognise the early warning signs of poor mental health. The signs to look out for will vary between person to person, but broadly include:

  • Increased absenteeism or tardiness.
  • Looking exhausted and seeming stressed or irritable.
  • Trouble concentrating, making decisions, and managing multiple tasks.
  • Being unusually emotional and getting frustrated with people.
  • Avoiding social activities.
  • Outbursts and mood swings.
  • Sitting alone at lunchtime.
  • Unable to accept negative feedback.
  • A change in personality or attitude.

Tips to support mental health at work during a pandemic

1. Reduce the stigma

Often the fear of stigma inhibits some employees from reaching out for the support they need. Mental health can be a difficult topic to bring up with an employer. So, when you, as an employer, start the conversation, this can lessen the stigma while raising awareness of the issue. MHAW is a good platform for you to use to take time to kōrero about mental well-being and show employees you’re willing to listen and provide support.

2. Unplug

For some employees, working from home can mean feeling ‘plugged in’ all the time, which can cause extra work-related stress. As a manager or business owner, you can actively, encourage your employees to switch off at the end of the day (and you can even lead by example!). Promote breaks, taking walks, spending time with family or purely taking alone time to relax, to foster a stress-free environment and promote a healthy work-life balance; your employees’ health and happiness ultimately benefits both them and the overall productivity of your business.

3. Communicate

Conversation in a workplace can be a powerful tool to support well-being. Even a small question such as “Are you okay?” can make a big difference to someone’s day, or potentially change their life. In a world of lockdowns and uncertainty, employees’ sense of insecurity and stress are heightened. A good leader will show initiative by instigating conversations to show empathy and provide mental health guidance. This could include encouraging regular group and individual check ins (even if online), introducing initiatives to maintain employee morale such as social events, reward and recognition programs with employee ‘perks’, and promoting a larger conversation about overall well-being. Remember, a little kōrero or chat can go a long way. The more you practice these conversations (during MHAW is a great place to start) the more natural they will become at work.

4. Provide support

Ensure your employees know where to access mental health support if they need it. Whether this is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) hosted by your business, or one the many free support services such as Lifeline (0800 543 354) and Youthline (0800 376 633), it’s important that you provide clear instructions for how employees can reach out to mental health services.

The team at enableHR has put this information together to help you support your people through challenging times. It by no means encompasses all the different approaches that managers and employers can follow to support their employees and create safe and supportive workplaces.  For mental health resources specific to the workplace or to get your team involved with MHAW, visit the MHAW website.

Compliance is our strength, and, at enableHR, we love helping others achieve it. The resources inside enableHR will give you everything you need to be 100 per cent compliant with workplace laws. With your compliance taken care of, you’ll be free to focus on the stuff that matters most, like strategy, culture, and employee well-being. Contact us today to see enableHR in action!