A Closer Look at Workplace Mental Health in 2021
In many ways, this lockdown is far more challenging than the initial one in March and April of 2020. Instead of an impending Spring, we are in the thick of what may become a long and cold winter. While a vaccine has been developed, uncertain rollout times and confusion about its benefits means that we have not gained much certainty as to when life will truly be ‘back to normal.’ More than anything though – we’ve grown tired and frustrated of lockdowns, of distancing, and of a constant fear sitting on our shoulders.
This, of course, has wreaked havoc on our mental health. No matter what size our homes are, it is hard not to feel slightly ‘trapped’ after spending days on end inside. For those living with others, tensions can heighten even in the closest of relationships, and for those living alone during this lockdown the sense of isolation can be even more challenging. Telephones and the internet give us options for communicating with the outside world, but we miss our family, our friends, and each other.
For those of us used to any sort of communal workplace, we even miss ‘the office.’ Work was, frankly speaking, an opportunity for many to get out of the house for at least a few hours each day. You may have coworkers or colleagues that you like, and others that you may have conflict with, but those relationships are consistent ones that we depend on to make our days more dynamic and engaging. The workplace offers each of us a chance to be someone different than who we are at home.
When The Lines Begin to Blur
Now though, with the majority of Canadians working from home for the foreseeable future, those lines are blurred. Not only is it difficult to separate our work lives and our home lives given the physical space they both share, but this means that the stress and anxiety in our personal lives is quite literally coming with us to work. Working from home is no longer an escape for household tensions – instead it is now a part of them.
Partly this is because many of us are in roles, in physical spaces, or both that were not designed for a work-from-home setup. Just because the technology is available for us to communicate with our teammates from anywhere, a virtual set-up does not offer the same level of collaboration and engagement. Employers and managers are challenged to communicate clear instructions and directives from afar, and this can often leave workers feeling confused about their assignments. Employers are struggling to maintain a collaborative environment, and employees are attempting to do their best work in far-from-ideal circumstances.
The physical challenges for many are just as real. Most smaller living spaces simply do not feature a dedicated ‘home office,’ let alone one for every member of the household now relegated to working or studying from home. Working parents have been doing double duty during school closures – attempting to get their own work done while also overseeing their children in complex virtual classroom setups. Even with some workplaces offering a stipend to improve work-from-home setups, a better chair or faster internet can only do so much in a cramped space.
The harsh reality is that, as more Canadians find themselves struggling with their mental health this winter given the circumstances, those anxieties are beginning to bleed into our workplace duties as well. Last year many of us were casually joking about showing our ‘COVID hair’ or messy living spaces on camera, and silly social media accounts such as ‘Room Rater’ functioned as hall of fame showing off the best and worst of how we were doing under quarantine. This year though, anxiety surrounding our daily living is now becoming a concern for many. Our virus-related weariness of letting others get too close has, for many, become a weariness of letting others into our personal space even from a distance.
These workplace mental health struggles are even further impacted by what have become tenuous employment scenarios for even the most stable employees. Employers that were able to survive mandated closures in 2020 are having a more difficult time weathering the storm in 2021. With no clear end in sight, ‘making the numbers work’ can mean having to let go of loyal and dedicated employees if their duties are no longer needed, or if the business can no longer support them.
This, of course, has led to employees becoming increasingly anxious about their job security. While we are all just trying to do our best, employees are feeling the mounting pressure that any departmental shuffling or changes in revenue may lead to their termination without cause. For many this tension can feel like ‘walking on eggshells,’ where an unanswered instant message from a supervisor or an unexpected video call from a manager may suddenly be the harbinger of bad news. Employers know these are difficult times, and employees feel these stresses while simply trying to do their best.
Tips and Tricks
Suffice it to say we are all struggling, and there are no ‘easy’ answers. Yet, there are things that employers and employees can do to improve workplace mental health.
- For employers, encourage open and honest communication within your teams, and especially between employees and their managers. Making whatever efforts you reasonably can to support your employees is important, but this includes giving them a way to safely and discreetly express their concerns and anxieties, especially so that they do not bleed into the greater team environment. While employers have a legal duty to inquire if they notice an employee exhibiting signs of mental distress, employers can spot problems even sooner by encouraging that open and honest communication. Be sure to let your workers know that they are not struggling alone, and how grateful you are that despite any external challenges, they continue to show up and do the very best that they can.
- For employees, some separation from work and home is key, even if that separation is not a physical one. Make sure to find some way to distinguish your working and non-working hours, whether that means powering down devices for off-hours or keeping the workplace tools in another room. Find time to recharge your batteries outside of screen time, whether that’s a phone call with a friend or family member, or a brisk walk if it is safe to be outside. Lastly, and most importantly, please seek support if you find your mental health is suffering – whether that is through your employer or another available resource.
As we focus on supporting our own families as well as our own teammates and colleagues, we are also honoured to provide much-needed support to our clients during this time. For employers, we will offer you whatever support needed in making those difficult staffing decisions, and will work with you to ensure that your employees feel supported, even if you are unable to maintain their employment. For employees, we advocate to ensure that you have the resources that you need to succeed, whether that is appropriate workplace support in place, or a termination package that adequately supports you in your search to find new work. Contact us today at [email protected] or complete our contact form – we truly are here to help.