HR Management

COVID-19, racial injustice highlight need for focus on mental health awareness

After nearly a year, the world continues to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic that has caused over 1.3 million deaths. Nearly everyone has been affected — by the virus itself, its economic impact, or the mental toll it exacts.

This year has also laid bare the inequalities suffered by Black and other minority workers, not just as related to the virus, but to the compounding issues of racial injustice as well. While this virus is new, the disparate racial effect of the virus is deeply seated in long-established social and economic injustices. With high-profile killings like George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor here in Louisville — plus the resulting protests — it may not be surprising that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in August that nearly 41% of adults in the US now struggle with mental health or substance abuse.

It’s incumbent on you as a business owner to help all of your employees cope with this mental health overload. Here are a few ways you can do that.

Be honest.

Whether we want to admit it or not, most of us have struggled with some sort of mental illness. Talking openly and honestly about those struggles is one of the most effective ways of destigmatizing a common issue. If those words come from a person in senior leadership, all the better. You’ll find that leads to greater trust, and employees will view those in management as more human, relatable, even brave. That in turn can result in helping people face their own struggles without fear or shame.

Walk the walk.

Talking isn’t enough. You can’t just say “I support mental health” and be done with it. Again, be open. If you have a therapy appointment, say so. If you need to unplug from email, say so. Then encourage your employees to do the same when necessary.

You may also consider updating policies and procedures in reaction to the pandemic and civil unrest. For instance: Allow employees to cut back on hours without penalty, and make performance reviews an opportunity for feedback and learning rather than about meeting arbitrary, strict goals.

Check in. Then listen.

With so many people now working from home, a regular check in is more important than ever. Troublingly, a recent study revealed that 40% of global workers reported that no one at their company had asked how they were doing; worse, 38% of those respondents are more likely to say that their mental health had decreased since the pandemic’s start.

Don’t just ask “Are you ok?” Ask specific questions about how you and your company’s HR department can help. Give your employee space and time to answer. Some may not want to share, and sometimes you won’t know what to say or do. But you will have opened a door to trust for the future.

The bottom line.

None of us have seen a year like 2020 before. While it’s extraordinarily difficult for everyone — particularly Black people and other minorities — it’s also an opportunity to practice kindness and caring not just toward employees, but toward everyone. The world will never return to the way it was, but now we have a chance to make it better. As a business owner, you’re in a special position to help your work family deal with challenges that aren’t going away any time soon.

For more information about improving mental health in the workplace, contact us today.

How to support employees' mental health during COVID-19, racial injustices

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