Leadership and Emotional Health in the Age of COVID-19

How proactive emotional health creates a culture of trust and fosters a healthy, productive workforce

Leadership takes on a new level in times of crisis. As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, employees everywhere are looking to their leaders for stability, support, clear communication and a strong plan. While organizations scramble to rearrange budgets and strive for financial survival, it’s important to remember that a major element of business continuity is the workforce itself.

Although often overlooked, one of the most vital and least understood factors to consider during a time of crisis is emotional health. Emotional health is a sense of positive engagement with life, the ability to be aware of and respond to thoughts and feelings, and the confidence to navigate life’s demands. It is a dynamic process influenced by interactions among our biology, our actions, our environments, and our relationships with others and ourselves. Emotional health is the underlying factor that determines our ability to cope with and respond to life challenges.

Skilled leaders seek to proactively support mental and emotional health in the workplace, particularly addressing the unique circumstances that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. Your ability to engage employees in identifying risks and protecting their emotional vitality can have a lasting positive impact on them as individuals and on the business as a whole.

Emotional Impact of COVID-19

With COVID-19, what used to be routine is now inaccessible and a much greater percentage of people are experiencing isolation, unpredictability, and a lack of control. In fact, about a third of adults have reported feeling negative mental health effects because of worry over COVID-19. This can lead to stress overload, a state in which demanding events overwhelm perceived and real resources leading to a chronic feeling of vulnerability.

Stress overload is proven to make us more susceptible to developing or worsening physical and mental health problems. A large number of people were living with undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions even before the COVID-19 pandemic, making them especially vulnerable.

Depending on the industry and the impact that social distancing and community lock-down has had on business, there may be very difficult decisions that have to be made. Some workers are out of work entirely, others on indefinite leave. Those who are able to work from home are facing different dynamics and challenges, potentially including shared resources with spouses or no childcare. Stress overload is real, and it’s personal. While employees are likely worried about the company, they are often more acutely aware of their own individual situations.

As a skilled leader, finding that inspiration and motivation for your team and fostering a healthy outlook during times of crisis is more powerful than retroactively addressing emotional distress.

Building a Strategy for Proactive Support

You may not be able to make promises or even know what the future holds, but you can empathize and proactively support your employees as they navigate the unknown. Immediate steps can be taken to sustain trust and engagement, prevent severe emotional and physical damage from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and empower your workforce to understand and address their own mental state. This goes for you, too; strengthening and sustaining your own emotional health is a model for your team to do the same.

The first step you can take is to ask your employees what they are dealing with. Understanding what’s going on with them, checking in on stress levels, and looking out for warning signs will inform you how to interact with and support your employees during this unprecedented time.

The first step you can take is to ask your employees what they are dealing with. Understanding SDoEH, checking in on stress levels, and looking out for warning signs will inform you how to interact with and support your employees during this unprecedented time.

By creating a strategy to engage employees through proactive outreach and working to eliminate any stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace, you can create a safe environment for your team to acknowledge and address their emotional state. Core components of the strategy should address the following three leadership responsibilities:

  1. Listen for stress overload and respond. Skilled leaders know the signs of stress overload in employees and check in with them to find out how they can help relieve some of the stress.
  2. Focus on relationships. Relationships are the backbone of successfully navigating crises. Intentionally generating feelings of trust among team members is key to keeping people feeling engaged and able to discuss what is happening in their lives that may be impacting their ability to work.
  3. Be flexible. Allowing employees to adapt their work schedule to manage new and changing responsibilities decreases risk for stress overload and increases employee loyalty in the long term.

Proactive outreach and a holistic assessment of overall emotional health are critically important to identify those at increased risk during this crisis. Offering an option for confidential assessment and connection to care and resources addresses the underlying problem of undiagnosed or undertreated mental health conditions, as well as the new situation of added stress from COVID-19 and its ripple effects.

You have an opportunity to empower and motivate your workforce by proactively supporting them in a time when they need it most. Giving them the tools and resources they need to take charge of their emotional health creates lasting positive impact for both the individual and the business overall.

Ready to learn more? Request a demo of the Emvitals platform and discover how it can help support workers during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.