COVID-19 has shaken up the business world forever and amid the rapidly changing environment companies now face a make-or-break decision – look after employees’ mental health, or suffer far-reaching consequences.
The pandemic has not only impacted how employees operate within their companies – with many working from home – but also how they manage their own lives around tight restrictions, home schooling and detachment from friends and family.
With these disruptions comes an increase in mental health issues and the exacerbation of pre-existing mental health issues, which ultimately leads to problems at home and in the workplace, virtual or otherwise.
Workplace mental health consultant Anna Feringa has 17 years experience working in the sector and is currently working with large non-for-profits to assist them in helping employees through the stressful COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms Feringa told INTREPID while mental health issues in the work place were already “a significant issue”, they had become more apparent due to the crisis.
A lack of priority and education has been preventing companies from implementing effective mental health policy with a focus on safety, Ms Feringa said.
“What we're finding pre-COVID is that the term mental health didn't really have a safety aspect to it,” she said.
“What companies are facing in that respect, is if we're not doing it well, and we're not prioritising it well, and making it available for our people to respect and understand whilst at work – the fallout is huge.
That fallout – according to Ms Feringa – impacts employees’ ability to perform their job well, organisational relationship breakdowns and increases in error and mistake.
The recipe for effective mental health safety within companies comes down to a “platform that is authentic, available, digestible and applicable”, said Ms Feringa.
“Like any form of education, if it's delivered in the right paradigm to the right people in the right time, you will get traction.”
Change has to start from the top down according to Ms Feringa, who said leaders need to be given the skills to be “vulnerable, ask the right questions and know when to stop”.
“If you're a leader and someone starts to open up to you and tell you all of their issues, and you're their boss. Where's your boundary?,” she said.
“Now when I say stop, I don't mean stop caring, just know where else you can guide that person, but no one's going to do it unless the organisation reframes it, and gives their people permission.”
Fear is one of the biggest barriers in preventing companies from making significant headway in support their staff, with many companies “tip toeing” around the problem instead of facing it head on.
For Ms Feringa, the main fears she hears from clients are its “too hard, too far away or not a priority” and that if they discover more employees are unwell than initially thought, it would trigger a wave of time off.
“It's really important how the organisational industry chooses to prioritise and respect this stuff – particularly now – needs to be done well and it needs to be done with truth,” she said.
“Good leaders are vulnerable, good leaders are human, good leaders understand that they need to put people before process.”