6 ways to support employees during challenging times

The level of uncertainty people have faced over the past several years, and continue to face, is staggering.

Add ongoing current events to the everyday challenge of childcare, elderly care and even pet care–this is taking a toll on everyone’s mental health and well-being. A study by Mind Share Partners in partnership with Qualtrics and ServiceNow found that 76% of full-time U.S. workers report experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in 2021, a 29% increase from 2019. These symptoms are also impacting people long-term, with 80% of U.S. employees reporting their symptoms cumulatively lasting a month or more and 36% reporting symptoms lasting five months to an entire year.

Company leaders are fully aware of the impact these world events have on their employees. In fact, the same study showed executive and C-level employees were more likely to report experiencing at least one mental health symptom, compared to managers and individual contributors.

With uncertainty in the air, here are six ways company leaders and HR professionals can approach supporting their employees during challenging times.

1)  Recognize it’s okay not to be okay

Humans weren’t built to face this much uncertainty. Give people space to process their feelings and, as a manager, acknowledge that you are always available to act as a sounding board whenever people are ready to talk.

As managers, it’s important to manage your own stress to be an effective leader. That said, especially if you are asking your employees to be open about how they are feeling, being willing to demonstrate that same level of vulnerability about how you are doing can go a long way in nurturing strong relationships as a team. It signals to employees that they are not alone and that you’re in this together.

2)  Mind your mental health

Self-care is important. There are numerous ways to encourage teams to proactively take care of their mental health, but it starts with taking care of yourself as a leader. A few suggestions on how to approach your own self-care include:

  • Staying informed but avoiding “doomscrolling
  • Maintaining healthy habits (i.e. regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy diet)
  • Staying connected with family, friends and colleagues
  • Set boundaries with work: respect working hours, don’t check work messages after hours, be clear on deadlines for tasks and prioritize often
  • Take advantage of any company benefits that support mental health and wellness

3)  Lead with empathy

Ask these simple questions: ‘Are you okay?’ ‘Do you have everything you need?’ ‘How can I help?’

It’s critical for managers to approach these conversations with employees with as much empathy and flexibility as possible, aiming to meet people where they are and at what level of information people feel comfortable sharing in a work environment, especially following a major event or crisis. Everyone processes uncertainty in their own way, so it’s important for managers to acknowledge that before entering conversations with their employees.

The work, in many instances, goes on, but starting conversations by asking how people are doing can help inform what tasks should be prioritized and where team members may be able to jump in to support.

In terms of asking people what they need, there are several ways to approach this.

First, managers can touch base with their employees 1:1 to understand immediate needs. Secondly, employers should be including questions related to employee well-being, benefit offerings and more during quarterly, or ongoing, employee pulses to inform strategies to keep their people feeling supported and engaged. This information can direct HR leaders on additional benefits needed, including mental health resources and time off, to give employees the best possible experiences while at work.

4)  Keep the door open

Checking in on how people are doing and feeling isn’t a “one and done” action. There should be an open line of communication with frequent check-ins to gauge how employees are feeling and where they may need extra support. Nurturing a company culture rooted in transparency can help these conversations feel more natural.

For some managers, they may feel anxious about not wanting to single an employee out or they may assume others are already reaching out so they don’t want to burden anyone by asking about the situation again. The reality is that the person you’re reaching out to is much more likely to appreciate your thoughtfulness and may even feel relieved.

You could try something like: “Given the recent events, I wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. I don’t know how this might be impacting you, or what it’s bringing up for you, but I wanted to reach out and say I’m here if you’d like to talk.”

Curious to hear more? Register for the webinar on creating a culture of well-being.

5)  Take action

Showing employees you care about their well-being and take their feedback seriously, isn’t a nice-to-have—it’s a must-do for job satisfaction. Research shows 50% of U.S. employees have left previous roles, at least in part, due to mental health reasons. With recruiting and retention efforts at the forefront of company leaders’ minds amidst the Great Reshuffle, taking action on employees’ evolving needs and expectations has implications on the bottom line. Keeping people informed on what changes will be implemented, timelines they can expect and following up on progress is essential for minimizing employee turnover and improving engagement.

6)  Make resources easily accessible

Even if resources are readily available at any time, make sure to recirculate the appropriate links and information to people when they need it most. Managers: being prepared with this information is also incredibly helpful when having conversations with your team so you can answer any specific questions about what workplace support is available.