A lack of in-person community negatively impacts people’s mental health, and this includes the workplace.
Despite the new year, the online work environment continues. For many, the constant screen time and lack of in-person workplace culture can cause an emotional drain on your employees, meaning a potential increase in depression for your remote employees. This negatively impacts both their physical health and their work productivity. If you begin to notice any of the following changes in behavior in your team, reach out to them to probe a bit more into their current circumstances. Please note this is not an all-inclusive list, but are three prominent warning signs to note that can initiate a conversation and support.
Decrease in energy
Employees can experience a lack of usual energy or participation when feeling depressed. If employees aren’t as involved or aren’t interacting with their usual demeanor, consider checking in on them. Note any decreases in motivation or correspondence or a lack of engagement in virtual meetings. Any of these could suggest that your employee is not ok, whether they are stressed or potentially depressed.
Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
Depression can cause employees to be distracted or have hesitations in making decisions. Pay attention to your employees and check in on their progress or work habits to see if they are falling short of their usual work productivity. Also, notice how they engage with the team. Employees who oscillate between being highly engaged to seeming detached or someone who becomes easily agitated or irritated with their colleagues could be another warning sign for depression.
If employees are consistently taking off work or showing up late, it may not be because they have bad work ethic. Depression could be causing your employees to feel dejected, oversleep or undersleep, or become emotionally exhausted. Consider their pre-pandemic productivity before approaching your remote employee. Make sure to consider the entire situation to thoughtfully address the problem and explore any recent changes in their family schedule (home school versus in-person learning, family illness, etc). During this time, it is important to review your policies and consider exploring flexible scheduling to accommodate the unforeseen challenges that many families have to manage during this time.
Although you don’t know when depression will begin to affect your employees, there are ways to support your team members in this pandemic season. Ultimately these are best practices for employee engagement and effective team-building, but has special importance during times of transition, stress and turmoil.
Schedule check-ins with employees
Reach out and schedule periodic check-ins with remote employees to see how they are doing. Assess their work environment. Is it orderly and engaging? Or is it disorganized with frequent interruptions? Observe their physical appearance as well. Are you noticing any dramatic changes in their personal hygiene or appearance? Normalize the importance of wellness both physical health and mental health. When you are able to normalize those topics, people are much more willing to disclose to you any challenges they are having and share with you their feelings in a safe – and not punitive – environment. Assess their mental health, connect through video calls, phone calls, etc., and encourage them to reach out to you with mental health concerns. Honesty about struggles that may be interfering with their work can encourage your employees to be proactive in seeking help. Be sure to approach these talks by listening to their needs and responding with empathy and helpful alternatives.
Maintain positive virtual work environment
Plan some virtual/COVID-sensitive events that can increase employee morale and reinforce positive workplace culture. Spread positivity through encouraging language, show gratitude for well-done or challenging work, and be sure to celebrate small wins with employees. Start meetings with ice breakers or brief mindfulness exercises to frame the virtual workspace culture and encourage your team members to share successes and challenges. All these positive actions can make the difference for your remote employees.
Encourage professional support
Employees who are experiencing severe situational or chronic depression may need professional help. Make resources readily available for employees to access concerning education about depression and anxiety while also highlighting when and how to seek professional support. Provide a list of licensed therapists and psychologists for your employees to access, considering costs, insurances accepted, and speciality. Also encourage employees to tap into their personal support network with family and friends.
These tips will make your team feel supported and heard – which are more important now than ever in the professional world.