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Your business relies on the strength and commitment of your employees. During these unsettled times, they may be feeling anxious, burned out and overwhelmed. Here are steps you can take today to support your employees and your business.

Taking care of your mental well-being is essential to staying healthy, staying resilient and moving your business forward. Our article Business Owner Burnout: Seven Self-Care Tips During Stressful Times offers some practical ways to maintain your mental health. At the same time, it’s important to take steps to support your employees and their personal well-being. Whether you run a small office, a bakery, a lawn care company or a body shop, our tips can guide you through ways to help your employees avoid burn out, manage their anxiety levels and cope with the other stressors they may be facing.

COVID-19 is having a negative impact on Canadians’ mental health. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), many are seeing their stress levels double since the onset of the pandemic. Even if your business is successfully weathering the storm, your employees may still be dealing with anxiety over the health of their loved ones, their partner’s job, homeschooling and more. If your business is negatively affected by the pandemic, their stress levels may be even higher as they worry about their future employment.

A new work environment can amplify stress

While many employees today are working from home, many others are doing their jobs in an altered physical workplace – perhaps with fewer colleagues around, barriers between workstations, or even a space with no customers that once was a bustling storefront. These changes to environment, routine and structure can heighten mental pressures and worries.

In a recent conversation, Chelsea King, a Registered Psychologist at Wello, shared her perspective. “Working from home can have both positive and negative impacts,” she explains about this particular work arrangement. “For instance, by working from home, there is a lack of movement. There aren’t as many mental breaks and it’s not easy to stick to working hours. It’s easy for the lines to become blurred.

“While the flexibility of a work-from-home situation enables parents to more easily manage childcare and eliminates commuting time and the extra expenses that come with working outside the home, it also takes away much of the social element of work – where many employees develop personal relationships and support structures.”

Five ways to support your employees’ mental well-being

Supporting your employees’ mental health is not only good for your employees, it’s good for business. At a time when your business may be facing new challenges, opportunities – or both – you need your employees to be committed to the mission and goals of your company and fully engaged in your collective success.

Five tips to support your employees from Registered Psychologist, Chelsea King:

1) Check in regularly

Whether through in-person meetings, video debriefs or even email, frequently checking in with your employees is essential – even if you don’t have business to discuss. “Right now, it’s really important is to maintain relationships,” advises King. “Let your employees know that you understand this is a hard time, and that you offer a safe space.” She points out that not all employees will be proactive with sharing their feelings of stress or anxiety, so it’s up to the manager to take the first step.

2) Validate feelings of anxiety

If your employee comes to you, it’s important to empathize with them and validate their feelings. “Responding with words like ‘I hear what you’re saying’ or ‘I know why you’re feeling that way’ shows your employee that you understand they’re trying to cope with a difficult situation and that you are in their corner. Beyond an initial conversation, it’s also a good idea to designate time for future dialogue about their mental well-being.

3) Distribute resources and tools

King suggests putting together a mental wellness checklist that employees can follow, as well as sending out helpful websites and support contacts. “Some people aren’t able to come forward and admit that they’re struggling,” explains King. “By making the first move and providing tools for support, you’re showing employees how they can get the help they might need.”

King suggests sites such as Anxiety Canada, which develops free online, self-help and evidence-based resources on anxiety, including an online directory and an online course. Very Well Family is another suggested online resource that is particularly great for families. CAMH is a centralized hub for mental health programs and support that offers access to clinical care services.

4) Highlight their strengths

This time of year often comes with annual performance evaluations, compensation reviews and sometimes bonus conversations. “These are typically anxiety provoking discussions,” says King. As such, she suggests that evaluations don’t simply focus on the numbers that need to be reached or areas of improvement, but that they become opportunities to highlight an employee’s strengths and review things that have gone well this year.

5) Lead by example

The saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ applies here, as employees who see you booking time out of your day for mental breaks and exercise, or days off to recharge, will understand that scheduling time for self-care is acceptable and even encouraged. Discussing your own vulnerabilities can also show your employees that perfection is not expected and that you’re in tune with the challenges others are facing.

It’s not always easy to spot the signs of stress or anxiety among our teammates or colleagues. Being proactive in initiating conversations and sharing resources is key to supporting their mental health. And demonstrating your openness to talk about issues will enable employees to feel comfortable coming to you, in good times and bad.