How to Manage the Psychological Health of Employees When the World is Changing

by Mike O'Neill

COVID-19 changed the world in ways that most business owners weren't prepared for. Not only did companies have to pivot to remote work quickly, but they also had to mitigate the emotional rollercoaster the pandemic put their workforce through.

Laying off workers without pay is one of the hardest things you can ever do as a business owner or leader, but it’s even harder to lay off the bulk of your workforce all at once. 

For the lucky ones, remote work saved them from massive layoffs — but at what cost? 

Many companies were using on-site equipment and software that made remote work impossible. For them, they were forced to shell out a lot of money fast to invest in new, cloud-based communication, collaboration, and project management equipment and software.

Of course, some businesses are booming despite the pandemic. Some of the world’s most innovative problem-solvers turned beer into hand sanitizer and converted automobile factories to ventilator factories to stay afloat and pay their workers.

Now, states are re-opening just to close again. This back and forth is causing even more stress for you and your staff, and you need to keep your workflow flowing, but your employees are so stressed out and distracted they can hardly focus on work — which is hurting the quality of your products and services, as well as your bottom line.

In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Deloitte:

  • 91% of workers report an unmanageable amount of stress or frustration negatively impacts the quality of their work 
  • And 83% say burnout from work causes negative impacts to their personal relationships

With your workers' psychological health having such a negative impact on your business and their personal lives, you can't afford to push it to the side and maintain a narrow focus on following federal and state regulations and guidelines — like many leaders have done.

We’re acknowledging that COVID put us all in reaction mode. We were all scrambling. And in scrambling, we probably paid a lot of attention to all the requirements that we had to do, and sometimes what got pushed aside is — we’re dealing with people. You’re leading people, and we have to be very mindful that our employees, our customers, our neighbors, they’re people first.

As a leader, it’s up to you to be a guiding beacon to help them navigate through the crisis and minimize their stress as much as possible. To do this, you’ll need to create a safe space to talk and develop a strategic action plan for moving forward.

ceo, square away

Though I'm fortunate that my fully-remote team of 90+ military spouses is no stranger to adversity, the pandemic has required me to lead with more compassion and confidence than ever.

To support my team and our network of 150+ clients, I'm committed—through the increased use of tools like Zoom and Slack—to keeping lines of communication open, to creating a ‘safe space’ for discussion, and [ensuring] that everyone is pouring from a full cup. Every member of my team and each of our clients has my personal cell phone number, and I make myself available to them at all times—really, even at 3 AM!

Now that you understand the importance of managing your employees' psychological health let's dive into how you can create a solid action plan.

Step 1: Make Yourself Aware

We learned about the importance of considering your employees’ psychological health in our webinar with Expert Panelist, Emily Elrod, but that’s not the only thing you need to consider when mitigating the chaos caused by COVID.

You can’t foresee potential problems and mitigate risks when you aren’t aware of everything surrounding your company and its culture. 

Local & federal guidelines are changing daily. New healthcare recommendations are coming from the CDC without much notice, and your workers are impacted in more ways than anyone could reasonably prepare for.

Working from home poses new challenges for your leaders and your staff. Distractions from quarantined family members and kids reduce productivity and the quality of their work.

Malfunctioning equipment or a lack of necessary hardware — laptop, headset, and a mic — can cause even more delays. Increased delays lead to getting fired by clients when you start missing deadline after deadline.

On the flip side of that, the workers who were temporarily laid off are finding themselves re-entering the workforce, and are unsure if they’re safe in doing so. They worry about catching the virus themselves and bringing it home to their loved ones or transmitting it to someone else who is more vulnerable than they are.

With all these factors negatively affecting your bottom line at the same time, you need to think through each one carefully and consider what your plan of action should be to patch all the holes and protect your company from more damage.

Knowing all this, where should you start to ensure you’re aware of all potential risks to your organization?

Start with making sure you know what’s required to comply with all the local and federal guidelines. For instance, various individual counties and states have mandated masks to be worn at all times, depending on what you’re doing and where you are.

Restaurants were told it was safe to reopen under strict cleaning regulations and safety restrictions, but now some states have started ordering them closed because the number of reported cases has spiked to dangerous levels.

When researching for answers, check the following trusted sources for the most accurate and up to date information:

When looking for help, be sure to look for advice specific to your industry and company size. Don’t be afraid to reach out to experts, like Bench Builders, to get more guidance as guidelines continue to evolve and change.

Step 2: Write Down Your Challenges

Now that you’re aware of all the potential risks within and outside of your organization, you need to write them down. Get them all out on paper, so you have an actionable list of items to tackle.

Be sure to include the challenges your employees are facing and the challenges you’re dealing with personally and professionally. Here’s a list of some questions you should ask yourself to get you started:

  • Has your business slowed down?
  • Are customers experiencing anxiety when doing business with you?
  • Do you have employees coming back to work after being laid off?
  • Have you hired new employees that you need to onboard?
  • How has the culture within your company changed? 
  • Have there been changes to your cleaning and healthcare policies? What about PTO options?
  • Are your remote employees working remotely for the first time? If so, have you created and implemented new policies for remote work?

Talk to your managers and staff about the challenges they’re facing. Ask them what impact these challenges have. Allowing them to speak and be heard gives them a healthy opportunity to vent, and it helps you learn about potential problems you might not have known about otherwise until it was too late to do something about it.

Once your list is complete, review each item on the list and make a note of the impact they have. Rank them from 1-5 depending on the severity of the effect — with 5 being the highest. Make a strategic plan for each item and start tackling the challenges from the highest to lowest severity.

Step 3: Create a Strategic Plan

Creating a strategic plan for the items on your list involves making a short-term, 30-day plan and longer-term, 6 and 12-month plans. Your plans should be flexible and take into consideration the possible outcomes that are most likely to occur.

Strategic planning helps you organize your thoughts and carefully plan out the actions you think you should take. You’ll be able to weigh those actions with your organization’s overall goals, missions, and culture.

More than 8 in 10 small businesses report they’re making or planning to make changes to their policies and procedures because of COVID. Don’t be one of the few that operates blindly without a plan.

Creating a strategic plan includes following a few steps. Think through each challenge on your list and write down all your options for addressing these issues. How can you solve the problem or reduce its impact? Are there resources you can utilize for yourself or provide to staff members that would help?

You shouldn’t go with the first plan of action you come up with that sounds like a good idea. Take the extra time to consider through the actions you want to take and how they will affect your company and your staff. Visualize your plan in action and think about any potential problems your plan could cause.

Creating a plan doesn’t have to be something you do alone. Involve other C-Level executives or managers within your company. Having their unique perspectives is invaluable and can help point out flaws in your plan you might not catch on your own.

Co-founder, and CEO of Effectus Partners, LLC

“For us and our very young workforce, this is their first experience of a global economic crisis. We include our entire team in strategic discussions with clients directly, enabling them to ‘be in the know.’ This has removed FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) and, in fact, made them feel empowered to think innovatively and be disciplined in executing revised strategies.”

Another option you should consider is to have an expert review your plan with you...

Step 4: Review Your Plan with Experts

HR Consultants, Strategic Planners, and Management Trainers can review your strategic plan with you and make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Experts know precisely what items you should include in your plan, and they can advise you on the next steps you need to take when you’re stuck and aren’t sure what to do. 

Even under normal circumstances, it is good to consult an expert, but with COVID, it's not just a good idea, it's crucial to surviving the pandemic. Even experts haven't dealt with a situation as unique as this. Still, their experience leading companies through similar situations can make the difference between a bad strategic plan and a great one.

They can help you navigate the current pandemic smoothly and give you ways to reduce the mental toll on your staff as you work to make improvements and mitigate the risks.

You might be used to doing everything on your own, and it’s hard for you to give up control or ask for help, but when the lives of your family and your workforce are at stake, you can’t afford to not ask for help from experts or other leaders within your company.

It's important for business owners and leaders to remember that they don't have to do everything alone. Help is available, and leveraging it can be the best decision you can make.

Are you ready to get the help you need to survive the pandemic and come out thriving on the other side?

Our team is ready and willing to help you break down your challenges and create a strategic plan to reduce the impact of these changes and keep your company moving forward ahead of the curve. After you have a solid plan, our experts can help you roll it out.

Reach out and schedule a free discovery session now to find out how to protect your company now and in the years to come. 

Request Your Free 30-Minute Strategy Session

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