How companies can better support employees’ mental health and wellbeing during Covid-19

Low Kiang Wei, medical director at International SOS, encourages companies to focus on the wellbeing of their employees during this period of social isolation, as well as think about modifying travel policies to fit a post-Covid-19 world

Companies should place greater emphasis on supporting the mental health of employees during a crisis like this
Companies should place greater emphasis on supporting the mental health of employees during a crisis like this

While companies have been busy adjusting to new Covid-19 realities, employees have had to rapidly adapt to new working arrangements. These include staggered work hours, long-term work-from-home arrangements, and extended periods of social isolation. Some organisations have also adopted new technologies or processes to ensure business operations go on as usual.

However, having working arrangements in constant flux, along with an ongoing pandemic, can take a toll on an individual’s mental health.

Studies have shown that these prolonged remote working arrangements can cause employees to feel isolated from the lack of social contact, and this is often associated with increased mental ill-health. While the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to upend many ways in how and where people work, many employers will also realise the need for greater attention to supporting employees’ mental and emotional wellbeing.

Caring for mental health can be tricky, especially when companies must deal with issues employees find sensitive or personal. For example, Covid-19 has brought international travel to a standstill over fears of getting infected. Those same fears can be carried over even after the pandemic subsides and some employees might be reluctant of making business trips out of fear of contracting the virus. Other employees might also be feeling the effects of long-term social isolation, or be struggling with familial responsibilities while working from home, and require additional emotional support during this time.

Safeguarding an employee’s wellbeing during long-term work-from-home arrangements
Now more than ever, employee wellbeing is the cornerstone of any successful organisation. Many companies are leveraging digital tools to bridge physical distances, and allow employees to connect and communicate on a daily basis. This social connection, while done remotely, has amplified the importance of communication in fostering a positive workplace culture, emphasising employee wellbeing, and ensuring business-as-usual even during a pandemic.

However, these may not always be enough to allay fears of financial and job security, the safety of loved ones abroad, personal health and expectations of falling short in familial responsibilities – concerns that are traditionally out of earshot from companies.

Thus, companies must recognise the next crucial step in communicating with employees – proactively building a culture where employees feel their wellbeing is a key priority.

To do so, companies should look into:

  1. Communicating company goals and expectations transparently and positively.
  2. Constantly checking in to show appreciation or gratitude for work done, to boost morale.
  3. Emphasising work-life boundaries, by respecting work schedules, and
    educating employees on how to make time spent at home more productive.
  4. Building a culture of openness to let employees know that their organisation cares about their wellbeing.

Telehealth support for physical and mental health situations can also extend additional lifelines to employees who need urgent help, and provide them with quicker access to quality medical care.

Even after the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, telehealth services can support and reassure the mobile workforce in the face of other risks like natural disasters or terroristic threats.

Changing perspectives over international business travel in a post-Covid-19 world
As Covid-19 abates, employees will have varying levels of comfort to travel for business again. Some might feel fearful at the idea of contracting the virus overseas, while others would relish in the freedom to move once again.

As such, businesses are likely to find that a one-size-fits-all travel policy might not be the most effective. On one hand, employees could find themselves in another lockdown overseas – or worse, contracting the virus – should companies enable international business travels too early. On the other, companies would also have to take into consideration how businesses would be affected should employees refuse or be unable to fly.

Thus, putting in place the appropriate travel policy at the appropriate time, underpinned by 24/7 access to medical, security and emotional advice and assistance, will make all the difference for employee safety.

What is commonly omitted after a crisis is a review of key lessons learnt to uncover strengths and weaknesses in existing business continuity plans.

Companies often stop at ensuring the safe return of their people and operations, and securing business-as-usual policies. However, it is important to also conduct a post-mortem – so, if your organisation is impacted by an outbreak or pandemic again, a process to managing it is clearly defined.

Particularly for a pandemic, historical data shows that it is very likely that at least one country your organisation operates in, or perhaps even a worksite, will experience a second wave of virus cases. This could be minor or even as significant as the first wave.

Ultimately, as far as tangible strategies go, inspiring resilient cultures will help companies withstand tests of time. Building a positive workplace culture will not only create flexible teams that adapt to sudden uncertainties, but teams that will also weather a storm when necessary.

Low Kiang Wei is the medical director for International SOS. He is responsible for clinical governance of all current and new Medical Services projects under the Singapore Division management, as well as ongoing advances in digital projects including telehealth and medical technology solutions in Asia.

Low previously led the team in case management across the Assistance Platform and assists with Medical Services Delivery, including supply chain and staffing. He has a special interest in Managed Care and Telehealth Modalities to improve access to appropriate care.

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