By | Narendra Ambwani | Helping CEO/CXO Excel
The focus of most of the leaders, during this Covid crisis, is mainly, on managing crisis with attention on “here and now” subjects like health, safety and survival of their business. However, an equally huge crisis is brewing, as a result of prolonged uncertainty, isolation, WFH, economic and financial challenges. Almost, all employees and managers are suffering emotionally, to varying degrees. Independent worldwide surveys, have shown that more than 50 percent professionals admit to feeling – more socially isolated, emotionally exhausted, more stressed or more anxious.
Therefore, mental health deserves as much attention as physical health and safety of the employees. The mental health issue is going to have a severe impact on employee productivity and normalisation. The issue will have a severe impact on employee productivity and motivation. Unfortunately, mental health has no vaccine. We have to learn to deal and live with it.
Here are few thoughts and suggestion on the mental health issue:
1. Awareness and Cultural context
Many of us in India, generally avoid or down-play our emotional issues. These are rarely acknowledged and never discussed openly. Some managers also believe that emotions are a sign of weakness and must be handled privately. Therefore, we tend to suffer quietly alone, which is actually harmful. Unattended emotions do not get resolved and increase in intensity. Fear becomes anxiety, anxiety leads to nervousness or finally to depression. This cultural context makes it even more challenging to address the issue of mental health.
As a first step the leaders have to create awareness, to help employees, learn to recognise signs of stress such as becoming more irritable, angry, nervous, worried, lacking sleep, low on energy, lack of concentration, sad, loss of appetite etc. It needs to be explained that these emotions are understandable, under the circumstances. People need not feel guilty or ashamed about these emotions. It will help them, if they shared their emotions with their managers or HR teams or CEO.
We as humans are able to handle one time set back events in life, such as a death in family or an earthquake or an accident. Our minds and emotional management skills are able to deal with these and move on. Covid isolation, lockdown and WFH is a different kind of event. It changes the situations every 24 hours! We need lot more sensitivity, support and mental resilience in this constantly evolving crisis.
2. Open-Door / Proactiveness
Given our Indian cultural context, the CEO and HR professionals, will need to be proactive in initiating the contact with the employees. It should be done during the current lockdown period itself. Employees will need encouragement to start sharing their anxieties, personal issues and challenges. It may take one or two rounds of contacts before the sharing starts to happen, so the leaders have to be patient and persistent. Employees will open up only if there is trust. So the role of contact with employees, must be played by a persons who are trusted by them.. may be their manager or a colleague. But making the contact is vital for mental health. In a recent industry survey it was shocking to find that 40 % employees reported that no one had called them from office to ask if they were safe and well!
Empathetic supportive listening is the key when chatting with employees. One has to encourage them to share their emotions only as much they wish to share. Encourage them without pushing. Listen, without passing any judgement or comment. Some time it may be helpful if you were able to share your own anxiety to kick off conversation. Your task is to help employee accept the reality of the situation and the pain it may cause. Your self-disclosure, will help employee see you as real person and accept his emotional situation as a common occurrence. Show understanding of his emotions by rephrasing to confirm that you had understood. Then help employee go bit deeper to share his analysis of root cause of the concern. There may be some solution or maybe not. The conversation and empathy will solve more than 50% of his anxiety. Honest conversations and trust are always helpful. The conversations must be regularly done at least once every week to keep abreast on changes.
You may discover many common issues of anxiety and you may be able to address them as you plan return to normalcy in work place.
3. Individual / Flexibility
Each person will have unique causes of his mental pressures, therefore, you have to address it by using flexible approach in helping it get resolved. You need to respect each person as an individual and may have different emotional responses to similar triggers. Employees will appreciate flexibility on how they wish to progress going forward, as Covid has changed every part of our lives.
You may consider external expert help or interventions depending on your assessment of the situation a person may be. As CEO or HR leader you may not have expertise for every situation, so the best way maybe to refer to the rightly qualified resource.
Your organization may also consider making available to your employees, public services help lines, provided by the health authorities and NGOs.
Besides hurting our health and business, Covid-19 has caused serious mental health issues, which will remain with us, for a long time. Let’s address these proactively, with sincerity, empathy, honesty and openness. We will emerge as better business leaders and our organizations will bounce back strongly.
I hope these thoughts may trigger many plans and actions to address mental health of all the employees. Please do share your thoughts and plans for the benefit of other CEOs and HR Leaders.