Hiring and Retention

What you need to know about mental health, COVID-19, and your remote employees

COVID-19 has affected every aspect of our lives—from money and education to work and family life—and coping has been hard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pandemics can lead to a variety of mental health consequences, including difficulty sleeping, changes in eating or sleep patterns, and increased substance abuse. Add those to the normal stresses of work, and remote employees are shouldering more than ever before.  

To offer meaningful support, companies need to understand the risks remote workers face during this unprecedented time. 

Understand the challenges of remote work 

Because they don’t share an office, it’s hard for managers to know how remote employees are holding up. There are no impromptu coffees or lunches, no strolls past people’s desks to talk in real time. Yet isolation and burnout are real concerns. According to a 2019 study, 19% of remote workers struggle with loneliness and 22% have trouble unplugging after the day is over. The pandemic can exacerbate these feelings, and managers should offer help and resources when needed. 

Remember that everyone reacts differently 

Part of the challenge of supporting remote workers in a pandemic is that everyone reacts to stress differently. Many factors play a role: finances, community support, emotional and physical well-being, proximity to the virus, and access to proper healthcare. Yet it’s impossible to know what’s going on in another person’s life, especially when you only glimpse it through a screen or phone call. According to the CDC the types of people who “may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis” include: 

●      People with mental health conditions. 

●      Anyone living alone. 

●      Essential and frontline workers.  

Know what to look for 

Focusing on employees’ emotional health  matters—especially during a pandemic. Doing so will help them be better equipped to think clearly, look after themselves and their loved ones, and of course, do good work. 

The first step is understanding what distress looks like. Common signs according to the CDC include changes in mood, appetite, and focus; bouts of physical discomfort; and increases in substance use. 

Teach managers about these warning signs, and encourage them to reach out if they notice a team member struggling. 

Encourage healthy ways to cope 

Also, remind your employees to take care of themselves, even during the work day. Encourage them to unplug , especially from screens and social media, and take breaks from news about the pandemic. Advise them to eat well, sleep, and exercise regularly.  And finally, urge them to take time to do something they enjoy and stay connected to the people they care about in a safe manner. 

Offer resources for help 

Share information about where to turn in an emergency. Since there isn’t a bulletin board in the kitchen where you can post this information, distribute emergency phone numbers to remote employees. For a full list of resources, check out the CDC website. 

Make sure employees know what to do if they develop COVID-19 symptoms or feel like they’re struggling emotionally. The first line of defense should be to contact a health professional or seek out local counseling or telehealth services.  

For more information on what managers can do to support the mental health of remote employees, read our recent blog post.