Let’s talk about mental health

Wow, 2020 has been… something. Kicking things off with a bang, we faced a global pandemic, followed by months of physical distancing and isolation, lay-offs, unemployment, an economic recession and, most recently, protests erupting around the world, bringing to light the issues of systematic racism, inequality and discrimination that remain deeply embedded in our society. So yeah, wow.

All of these things are STRESSFUL and EMOTIONAL. People are worried about their health, their financial security, their family, their friends, their job. They’re angry about the injustices faced by the Black community. They’re frustrated by the state of the world. We’re in a place of total disruption, and, unsurprisingly, our mental health has taken a massive hit.

And now, after three long months, we’ve started to reopen the economy in Canada. This is great news for most – and hats off to BC’s Bonnie Henry for being an absolute all-star for the duration of this pandemic. But, while many Canadians are wishing for things to ‘go back to normal’, that’s simply not realistic.

Anxiety, depression and the use of drugs and alcohol absolutely sky-rocketed over the last thirteen weeks. As an employer, this means that your people will be feeling more disconnected, less motivated and frankly, exhausted. It’s your job to prioritize their mental health and general well-being. Sounds like a pretty tall order, hey? Take a deep breath, we’re here to help.

Learn the signs

First things first, you’re not going to be any help to anyone if you can’t recognize the signs of stress and burnout. It’s a bit tricky at first, since each of your employees will have a different response to tough situations, but there are some general ground-rules when it comes to things you’ll want to watch out for:

  • Exhaustion
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Missing deadlines or decline in quality of work
  • Excessive worrying
  • Missing meetings or repeatedly showing up late
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Acting withdrawn or developing a cynical attitude

Open the door for conversation

Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking how someone is doing. Sure, there’s been some serious progress made to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health, but most of us are still a little hesitant to open up – especially in a professional environment.

It’s up to you to create space for your team to openly speak about how they’re doing. Understand that everyone has different needs and each of your employees will have a unique but equally valid response to stressful situations.

Open the door for conversation, then leave it to your employee to decide how they respond. A good trick is to ask open ended questions to make it less likely you’ll be brushed off with a one-word answer. Remember, though, some of your staff won’t want to talk with you about something as personal as mental health, and you’ll have to respect that decision. As long as they know you’re there if they need you, that’s good enough for now.

Active listening

While you may be tempted to share your own personal struggles with mental health, sometimes you need to read the room. As a manager or an employer, the most helpful thing you can do is to actively listen, express compassion and really, honestly try to understand.

Some of your employees may seem guarded or defensive, others might put on a happy face and suddenly become the office comedian. Someone may need more one-on-one time with you, others may seem to pull away a bit. And yes, there may be tears.

Everyone is managing their emotions and their stress in their own way, we can’t reiterate that enough. Your role is to be patient, understanding and ensure that everyone feels heard and supported.

Provide a platform for discussion

One-on-one check ins are essential, but sometimes hashing it out as a group can be pretty therapeutic, too. If you’ve got a super close team, try blocking off some time for all of you to sit down (whether virtually or in person) and openly discuss challenges, concerns and questions.

Not everyone will feel comfortable sharing, but hearing from colleagues and management can work wonders to help ease feelings of isolation. Sometimes being reminded that you’re not alone can make a world of difference.

Communicate available resources

Ideally, you’d have done this months ago, but if not – make sure you’ve very clearly communicated the mental health resources that are available for your employees.

Your people need to know who they should go to if they need support, what type of coverage their benefits offer and what your organization is planning moving forward to ensure their safety and well-being.

It’s a good idea to send out a series of emails to the entire company, outlining your mental health policy, important information and links to a variety of online resources. And absolutely encourage feedback!

Empathy and flexibility

We know you had big goals at the start of the year; big, ambitious expectations about all the amazing things you and your team were going to accomplish! Seriously, we get it. We had those aspirations, too. But it’s time for a reality check. What you thought was attainable back in February might simply not be possible anymore. It’s okay, and actually necessary, to revisit and revise goals for both your company and the individuals on your team.

Your number one priority is your employees, and they need to know that. Sit down with them and decide what projects are priority and which can be pushed aside for now. Ask how you can help make their workload more manageable. Encourage them to take a break, take a walk, heck – take a vacation! They may not be able to go far, but they should still have that time to rest and recharge. Flexible work hours are also a great way to help your team find a better sense of work-life balance amidst so much chaos.

Celebrate success stories

Someone did a great job on a presentation? Say thanks! Project completed before the dealine, and the client loves it? Send an email giving kudos to the employees who made it happen! Employee recognition costs you NOTHING and it makes a world of difference.

Show your appreciation to your team in whatever way you see fit, but just make sure that you do it. Your employees need to know that the hard work they put in is noticed and that they’re an important part of your organization.

Prioritize self-care

We know, we know. You’ve heard it a thousand times. Self-care is important, stretch regularly, take a walk, read a book, yadda yadda yadda.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you’ve really gotta make time to do the things that you enjoy and you need to make sure your team does, too. If you neglect your hobbies, physical activity, making time for your loved ones, you’re going to burn out. It’s inevitable.

Encourage your team to disconnect (as much as possible) after work hours and try your best to find that elusive work-life balance (it tends to be a lot trickier to manage when you’re working remotely). Whether it be taking some time to get outdoors, catching up on your favourite show or trying out a new recipe, remind yourself (and your team!) to set aside time for the things that make you happy.


Once you’ve started the conversation about, keep it goin’. Continue to check in with your team, provide on-going support and establish a culture that encourages open, candid discussions about mental health.

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