During this unprecedented time, many employers have relied on a wide range of technology to make connecting with colleagues as easy as possible. But when you can’t see your employees every day, how do you make sure they’re getting the support they need, especially if they struggle with mental health problems? Here are some practical steps you can take to check on your employees’ mental well-being, and to offer help to those who might be struggling.

Looking for signs of distress

When you can check-in with colleagues in the office every day, it’s easier to see when they’re out of sorts or having trouble with their work. When working remotely, it may take more effort to pick up on signs that an employee needs support. You may not be able to see if they’re starting work later than usual or if their demeanor has changed like you would if you were in the office. That’s why it’s important to check in with employees regularly to understand how they’re coping.

When you do talk or video conference with your employees, look out for common signs that someone is struggling, according to Brian Mayhugh, Chief Clinical Officer at Population Health Solutions:

  • Noticeable decline in work performance
  • Change in their appearance
  • Detachment, or a lack of interest in their work
  • Pessimistic attitude
  • Lack of confidence
  • Not wanting to challenge themselves

A change in appearance may be difficult to assess, since most working from home means everyone is dressing differently than they would for a day at the office, but changes from day to day may indicate when an employee is feeling especially stressed. It can also be difficult to assess a decline in performance, since many employees may be finding it more difficult to complete their to do list when they have children at home, are caring for a sick family member or friend, or have other responsibilities that are making it more difficult to work. But if an employee is showing more of these signs than their colleagues, they could be dealing with a mental health problem.

Top tips for mental health

Reaching out to employees who are struggling

If you’ve noticed signs an employee is having trouble coping, reach out to them in a friendly and non-judgmental way. Make it clear you want to check in with them out of genuine concern for their well-being, not their work performance. Don’t forget to ask their permission to talk about how they’re doing, so they feel it is their decision whether to share their feelings. If they’re willing to share how they’re feeling with you, be a good listener and let them explain what challenges they’re facing.

As much as possible, use body language and verbal cues to demonstrate you’re listening closely to what they have to say, and avoid offering your own opinions or advice. Managers aren’t in a position to diagnose a mental health problem or give mental health advice. What you can do as a manager is show concern, offer empathy and help connect employees with resources where they can get qualified guidance to help deal with the issues they’re facing.

Making adjustments

After you’ve given them an opportunity to share their feelings, ask your employee what changes they think could make their work routine more manageable. There may be some practicable adjustments you can make to help them manage their workload and give themselves space to care for their own well-being. A later start time might help parents get their kids set up with their online learning schedule before beginning work so they can better focus on their own tasks. Setting expectations for meeting work deadlines or responding to email may help them take breaks and unplug during off hours so they don’t burn out. Flexibility is important right now, but some employees may also benefit from having more structure in their workday, so let your employee tell you what adjustments would be most helpful to them.

Once you’ve created a plan of action, you may encourage an employee who seems overwhelmed to start implementing one change at a time, then report back how things are going. Together, you may need to try a few different courses of action before finding a helpful solution.

Finding help

You may be able to help your employee juggle their responsibilities by making work adjustments, but employees with mental health problems may also need qualified support to cope with their situation. As a manager or business owner, you likely do not have the resources to help someone who is having a mental health crisis. Instead, connect them with other resources through partner organizations or the local community where they can find someone who is qualified to help. If you have an Employee Assistance Program, make sure they know how to access resources there.

As an employer, you can’t fix an employee’s problems, but showing concern and making adjustments can go a long way in helping employees cope with the extraordinary stress many are under right now. And by looking out for people who are struggling and helping them get the assistance they need, you can create a culture of caring within your company that can benefit everyone.

To learn more techniques for supporting employees with mental health issues, watch a replay of our webinar Mental Health in Uncertain Times.

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This article does not provide legal, medical, or mental health advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Employers should consult their employment law counsel and/or appropriate resources to determine if an employee circumstance or dialogue constitutes a request for disability accommodation or has triggered a disability accommodation obligation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). 

This article is not a substitute for professional, medical, or mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of the information presented.

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