The year 2020 was a historic one for the world with the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in struggles in every facet of everyday life, including mental health strain. Whether people work in an office, in the trades, at home, or are considered an essential worker, mental health issues have increased across the board. Work/life balance has been thrown into disarray for those switching to work-from-home, and essential workers have the anxiety of needing to be physically at work despite the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
An example of what has been happening with corporations is explained through, Fahad Khan, CEO of Canada Prime Marketing. Khan gives us a glimpse of how their employees stepped up to the challenge when pandemic restrictions were implemented.
“We were fortunate to have a team that adapts rapidly to different situations; we did face some issues with getting accustomed to reporting at scheduled time to the office. This is a very different and completely new situation, so we were not sure how to deal with the social distancing. But we have become used to this new situation and have been able to continue thriving and growing as a team.”
Khan mentions that their employees did have to make some adjustments with work/life balance, especially when it came to taking care of family. To ensure reduced stress levels, the company accommodated their employees’ needs. “Some required adjusted schedules. Transportation was also an issue for some.”
One benefit for the future at Canada Prime Marketing is that they are now able to better accommodate work-from-home employees. “We were able to implement a new calling system that, if needed, would allow some team members to work completely from home,” Khan explains.
Mental health awareness has been on the rise over the last couple decades, and many solutions are available for workers that feel the strain of the pandemic. The increased focus on mental health care means that access to mental health experts has increased and made more affordable as governments increased the funding available.
Alara Hedebring, R.Psych, clinical supervisor for therapy & counseling at The Family Centre, talks about the effects of the pandemic.
“At the Family Centre we are proud to serve the community of Edmonton and offer drop-in counselling. We also have the ‘talk in’ option for people to receive counselling over the phone or through video, depending on their needs. We have seen a huge increase in those reaching out for help virtually since the start of the pandemic.”
Hedebring says that from their experiences at The Family Centre, depression and anxiety is a common issue among workers transitioning to work-from-home.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we at The Family Centre have seen an increase in individuals grappling with anxiety and depression reaching out. Individuals who have been moved to working from home are struggling with how to balance parenting and work duties while having less personal space for themselves. Parents have been looking for help with their children, including how to support their own mental health while putting their children’s needs first.”
Similar incidences are being reported at Momentum Walk-In Counselling in Edmonton as well. Aimee Reimer, registered psychologist and clinical supervisor, confirms, “The clients we work with report many uncertainties and stressors, and we have seen an increase in clients that are feeling distressed. They describe financial stress, job uncertainties, themselves or their partners being laid off, or fears around become ill or contracting COVID-19. There is also the added strain of physical distancing and other restrictions.”
Reimer continues. “Many clients describe the difficulty with finding balance while working from home. Some describe feeling less motivated. Some describe feeling overwhelmed trying to balance work and other priorities, such as caring for children or online learning for children, often with little childcare. Some clients share about the difficulties that arise when their children are sick, which requires them to take time off work and to arrange testing for COVID-19. Because of recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many clients do not have access to the same network of social support systems, which have an impact on their mental health.”
For those that cannot transition to working from home and must physically go to work, anxiety levels are often high. Hedebring explains. “Anxiety is ever present in workers who still physically are required to go to work. The fear of catching COVID-19 is real and is exacerbating pre-existing anxiety concerns. We are hearing and working with those who are very afraid of catching COVID-19, but also need to make a living to support their families.”
Reimer adds, “For those clients who are employed in settings where they cannot work from home, we have heard feelings of exhaustion; some reporting feeling burned out. They report staffing shortages and therefore increased workloads, fears about contracting COVID-19 and the impact that it would have on their families.”
For employers looking to help alleviate the issues of their employees’ mental health, Hedebring has some suggestions.
“Some recommendations we at The Family Centre would have for employers looking to support their employees would be to: recognize that the anxiety and depression are as debilitating a physical illness and can manifest physically, have compassion and understanding embedded in all communications to employees, consider the working conditions of the employee, clear communication regarding work expectation as well as protective measures the organization is undertaking to keep everyone safe, and finally – support employees to access the mental health supports they desperately need. These factors are critical to ensuring the workforce remains engaged, psychologically healthy, and able to continue working through these trying times. The Family Centre itself has increased the number of therapy groups it runs to specifically support those who are struggling with anxiety and depression exacerbated by COVID-19.”
Expanding on this, Reimer also suggests, “Be a leader. Model caring for your own mental health. Check in with employees about how they are doing, feeling, or what they need. Be a clear and compassionate leader, focusing on resiliency. Be transparent. Being open and transparent about changes helps to reduce the stress and anxiety that come from uncertainty. Include staff in decision making wherever possible. Be flexible. Staff may require an adapted work schedule to take care of their own mental health, or to care for the needs of family members. Encourage employees to reach out for professional support. Speaking with a counsellor can be a helpful strategy for managing stress or mental health symptoms. I would encourage employers and workplaces to be proactive in addressing the mental health needs of employees. Make mental health a priority in your workplace.”
While the pandemic has caused a lot of stress, anxiety and depression for employees in the short term, it has highlighted the ever-growing need for balance in employees’ lives, and access to mental health support. More willingness to adjust to the needs of employees will result in less time lost, especially when they need to work from home. Finally, employers should be willing to be more proactive with their employees’ mental health, as it’ll only lead to happier, and more productive employees in the end.