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26 May 2020: Coronavirus Update. For the latest information, resources and tools, including access to CIMA online exams, visit our dedicated COVID19 resource centre to help you navigate through the pandemic.

Lead with mental health in mind during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Amber Cowburn, founder at Working Well and Mental Health First Aid Instructor

As the coronavirus outbreak has swept across the world, businesses have struggled to keep their employees safe, manage risks and stay abreast of changing guidelines.

For managers and leaders, this is an especially challenging time. There’s heightened anxiety amongst employees. Your team may be working remotely, and everyone is feeling uncertain.

You need to focus on how your employees are faring right now, and not just in terms of their physical health. Preventing the spread of coronavirus is crucial, but so is maintaining the mental health and well-being of our team members. As a leader in a time of crisis, here’s what you can do to help:

  • When making difficult decisions and facing uncertainty, be transparent and keep the staff in the loop as much as possible. If something is unknown, say that it’s unknown. The staff needs to be able to trust that you are updating them regularly and honestly.

  • Remind staff of regulatory health information, but don’t overload them. Anxious employees may already be taking in a constant flow of information, and it can become overwhelming.

  • If you are sending business updates or health information, avoid lengthy blocks of text. For longer messages, recap key points with bullet points. Don’t use sensational language. It’s important to be clear and concise but adding in a caring statement can be reassuring.

  • Encourage staff to voice their worries through open channels of communication, such as inviting them to email management if they are feeling concerned.

  • Use video calls to check in regularly with employees working from home. You’ll be able to see them, accomplishing as close to human contact as we can get while still practicing social distancing.

  • Encourage team calls, and make sure there is some light-hearted chat and appropriate humour. Say hi to people’s pets before getting down to business, or start the meeting with a round-robin on something unrelated to work.

  • Be aware that employees may be worried about a big range of things: their health, their family’s health, their home life, their children, their partner’s job security, their job security or finances. If they are not 100% there, be patient. Chat about how they’re feeling and break down tasks that need to be done.

  • Use software to share out tasks and project management, and ensure employees know what is expected of them.

  • Establish a ‘new normal’ for employees with a routine, such as a daily video call or project check-in, to provide some stability.

  • Make well-being calls to your team members. These should be focused purely on how that staff member is coping and feeling, not performance reviews or work updates. You could also develop Wellness Action Plans with your staff.

  • Post contact information for mental health support: phone lines, text lines and websites from reputable sources and charities.

  • Provide links to fun and relaxing resources, such as online guided meditations or free yoga classes on YouTube. You could encourage a well-being hour to help employees manage anxiety.

Above all, remind your team members that you are all in this together. Taking each day as it comes, you can encourage your employees to check in on each other and maintain an uplifting team environment.