Creating a culture of empathy to overcome mental health stigma during COVID-19
Back in early 2020, terms like a pandemic, quarantine, isolation, or as minuscule as virus barely had any relevance in our lives. Nobody ever thought that these terms would have a longing impact on our minds and further affect our emotions sternly. It has been a year and a half into this pandemic, and the world today is grappling with it even more arduously. Every day brings in a new hope, and each day the pandemic teaches us something unique. As the adage goes- "The most challenging battles impart some of the most important lessons"; no wonder we all learned to be more grateful, thoughtful, and adaptive towards the new normal.
However, just when we thought the battle was about to get over, it turned even grimmer. The second wave of COVID-19 impaired not just economies and businesses but distressed the emotional and mental health of people. So many of our colleagues are fighting with anxiety, stress, and fatigue. So many of them have lost their dear ones and are dealing with severe bereavement. While medicines can only cure physical health, it is time we support the mental health of our colleagues and take care of them like a family!
Having seen through cases closely and monitoring the on-ground situation as an HR professional, I feel my own resilience has been put to test many times while managing the crisis. However, no matter how difficult the situation is, compassion and kindness often make it easier. And I believe in this fight against the pandemic, empathy can be our only saving grace. Like COVID-19, mental health issues also do not discriminate on hierarchy. Everyone is susceptible to these challenges and need help. This empathetic thinking may help the decision makers to be more compassionate and humane in their approach towards every stakeholder.
Staying connected with employees, understanding their challenges, and letting them know that they are not alone in this fight will go a long way when it comes to engaging employees, increasing productivity, and boosting their morale. Employers must recognize that while the workforce will need time to adapt to new ways of working post-pandemic, they will be able to show greater resilience if they are mentally happy. For corporations, it has become essential to respond to the health and safety of the workplace, and leaders have started to identify ways to drive engagement and positive dialogue to nurture employee well-being.
HR heads should be a companion first and a leader later and furthermore proactively create an environment and culture that supports the mental well-being of our employees. Whether it is complimentary professional counseling for employees and their family members to help keep a track of their emotional & mental wellbeing or supporting them through progressive policies such as unlimited medical leaves, or even helping them manage work-life-balance through mandatory digital fasting every alternate week, we have ensured that we adopt employee mental wellbeing as part of a sustained cultural practice.
Small steps can go a long way in keeping anxiety and negativity at bay, ensuring you have hope and courage to get through these trying times.
Here are some points to note:
Acknowledge emotional and mental health aspects
When employees are increasingly facing emotional challenges, then productivity could take a blow, thereby impacting the business. That is the reason why organizations must acknowledge the emotional and mental health aspects. Keeping this dialogue open and responding to the health and safety of the workforce while identifying ways to drive engagement can help nurture employees’ mental well-being in tough times.
Workplace mental strategy
Often mental illness is treated with some negative undertones. The time has come to cut down this stigma and talk freely. We now have an opportunity to bridge the gap between the leadership team, HR, and the employees and discuss mental well-being and solutions to overcome the issues. Opening about one’s experience gives others the freedom to open as well. For instance, leaders who are willing to speak about their mental health issues and how they overcame them can set an example for their subordinates and employees across the spectrum to come forward and discuss their problems. Simply bolstering their mind to discuss these topics freely can result in a happy and peaceful mind and heart.
Boost employee morale
Just don’t hear your employees listen to their problems and draw up solutions. Empathy is the key to addressing all the problems. Creating a program for employees that is nothing, but an environment of compassion can have long-term benefits on productivity. In these times, it is essential for corporations to create wellness programs which can help keep a check on their employee’s well-being and help the employees too, for them to share regular feedback sessions to better the situation.
Prioritize health and balance the work-life
Allow yourself to take the downtime and redefine your work life in current times. Companies across the globe have come up with self-care day-offs and downtime periods for employees to connect with families to ensure their health is taken care of and take a break from the mundane work. Prioritizing helps in better efficiency and time management which results in a better healthy life and a peaceful mind.
A welcome step towards making mental health inclusive will be to sensitize, educate and encourage the employees across all levels as well as the leadership. The pandemic has underscored the critical need for high-quality, comprehensive mental health care that is not likely to disappear after we are through the worst of the crisis. Our current efforts are nothing but a stepping stone towards a greater demand for mental health care and support in the workplace. We do believe that having an empathetic engagement will help us in the long run to support and boost the morale of our employees.