As employers prepare post-COVID-19 workplaces, supporting employees’ mental health can be as critical as creating a safe physical environment. Safety measures, such as sanitizing protocols and respiratory hygiene, are vital considerations for physical wellness. Taking a broader view of employee health that also includes emotional and social wellness can help employees manage uncertainty, engage in the workplace and adjust to a “new normal.”
Focusing on mental health is especially important during the readjustment phase. Employees may bring new stressors after weeks of sheltering in place that employers need to consider – from fear of infection at work to personal issues, such as child care concerns or substance abuse. Some may have delayed medical care, while others may be feeling financial stress or mourning lost loved ones. Others may be feeling the toll on their mental health in the form of anxiety, sleeplessness or depression.
Emotional and Social Reintegration in the Age of COVID-19
“These uncertain times are stressful, and we know that stress can lead to poor performance and poor health,” said Dr. Marcos Iglesias, Medical Director at Travelers. “Now is the time to start conversations about the future and drafting a road map that works for your organization.”
As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually lifted, recognizing employees’ emotional and social health can help them reintegrate into the workforce and allow employers to offer additional resources when needed. Here are some strategies to help support mental health as employees return to work:
1. Practice Clear and Frequent Communication
Communicating with employees about plans to reopen can help keep them engaged and provide a sense of normalcy. Employees will want to hear about their company’s response plans, from social distancing to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as details about workforce and financial stability.
“It is important for employees to know what to expect as they return to the workplace,” Dr. Iglesias said. “That can help remove some of the uncertainty and reassure employees that you have their best interest in mind.”
When you share public health and safety information with employees, it should come from credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), state health departments, and reputable medical organizations and journals.
2. Train Supervisors to Recognize At-Risk Employees
While many employees will be fine once they return to work, there may be some who have a harder time reentering the workplace and readjusting. Supervisors and managers can play a critical role in communicating with employees, providing stability and recognizing signs of distress. A recent study shows that 57% of workers are comfortable with their manager asking them about their mental health and 41% want their manager to proactively ask them.
It’s crucial that supervisors and managers are trained in how to recognize employees who may be in distress and to know when and how to intervene. A simple, “Are you okay?” may open the door to better communication and provide an opportunity to gauge an employee’s mental health risk.
Supervisors can also create a welcoming environment for employees who may be returning in a modified duty role or who may have recovered from COVID-19 and may fear being stigmatized. Setting expectations and having clear communication can help these employees readjust to the workplace.
3. Evaluate Flexible Work Arrangements
Employers may want to consider flexible work arrangements, such as adjusted schedules and remote working when possible. These may be necessary during reintegration to reduce stress for those dealing with personal and family issues, such as school closures or caring for loved ones. Companies may also need to reconsider their policies for paid time off, sick leave, leaves of absence, disability and bereavement, based on unique situations that their employees face. Continuing the open communication once employees return can help address challenges and identify solutions.
4. Consider Workplace Accommodations
Returning to work may create anxiety for some due to social proximity, especially when using shared workstations, shared dining space and food prep areas. Employees may ask for accommodations, such as separate work areas, physical barriers, face masks, PPE, cleaning equipment and working from home. This may be especially important for certain employees, such as those with chronic medical conditions and those over age 60.
5. Provide Access to Mental Health Resources
Employers must have available mental health resources for employees in need. This may take the form of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a referral to external organizations that can provide crisis intervention, counseling or other assistance. Easy access to and promotion of a company’s EAP can help provide many helpful resources – not just mental health – to employees in need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has activated a surge in the use of telehealth, including remote and virtual interactions between individuals and healthcare providers. Access to telehealth can be an important part of an effective strategy for facilitating care to employees post COVID-19, and may offer an efficient alternative to in-person rehabilitation, addiction and mental health appointments. Resilience training may also help employees feel more empowered as they return to work.
There may be cases when urgent intervention is needed: suicide risk and threats of violence. Employees need to know how to identify this risk and what to do in these crisis situations, and providing them with a plan is imperative.
Your building is now vacant due to Shelter in Place
Key Tips to Consider...
As we weather this national crisis and shelter in place, many of our buildings and surrounding property are attractive targets for thieves and other would-be criminals. Before shuttering your doors and leaving your business for, what could be, weeks at a time, consider these tips...
• Are unnecessary electrical appliances and equipment disconnected/unplugged.
• Turn down temperature on hot water heater to conserve energy.
• Set thermostat to minimal setting (55° F) to conserve energy but keep out the freeze and/or set low temperature alarms. Failing to maintain heat appropriately can void coverage if pipes freeze and burst.
• Sprinkler system also need to be protected from temperatures below 40F to ensure proper operation.
• During warmer months or in warmer climates, make sure to set your air conditioning to a minimum of 85 degrees
otherwise if your building gets too warm it will become susceptible to damage from humidity and mold.
• Check that sump pump is operational and remote alarms are working.
• Ensure all refrigerators and freezers are secure and doors are closed.
• Irrigation systems should be turned off and disconnected to prevent accidental flooding.
• Does the building look secure from the street?
• Are all vehicle entrances and exits locked/secured?
• Are all windows and doors locked?
• Have you contacted the police and requested random checks?
• Have you alerted neighbors or neighborhood watch programs that the building will be vacant so they can also assist with random check?
• Is there a centrally monitored security system in place (door contacts, window tape, motion sensors, video surveillance, etc….)
• Has updated contact information been given to companies that centrally monitor security and fire alarms, as contact names/information may have changed from normal operations.
• Arrangements should be made, if possible, to inspect the building at least weekly. Document the inspection with photos and utilize our check list.
• Can security camera be added or maintained operational to cover the interior/exterior of the facility?
o Have temporary, wireless cameras been considered?
• Are there exterior aspects of your building that you need to consider:
o Temporary weather proofing;
o Drainage or flooding hazards;
o Gutters and down spouts cleared?
• Contact your agent to discuss potentially relocating some high dollar items, temporarily to a more secure location.
• Do you have a list of inventories on hand?
o Is it backed up off site?
o If it were stolen or damaged what would you need for lead time to replace those items?
• Tools and Equipment
• Computers and Technology – Are there backups made daily with offsite storage of back-ups?
• Furniture, Artwork, Fixtures.
• Other Assets
• Do you have products on auto-order that needs to be suspended for the time being?
• Are you practicing all the necessary requirements per your local health department or FDA guidelines?
• Do you have a remote alarm on refrigerators and freezers so that you are made away of a temperatures spike?
o If this were to occur do you have a plan in place for dealing with this alarm?
• Are you maximizing the products on hand to consider items reaching expiration?
• Have you contacted the local fire department to alert them of the vacancy and any changes to building access that now may have changed?
• Additional monitoring may be necessary because of the following reasons:
o There may be a delay in reporting of fires because of the vacancy
o Fire could also start due to smoking trespassers, arsonists, faulty wiring or drug production.
o Transients/homeless seeking shelter may have open fires for cooking or providing heat.
• Are there centrally monitored fire detection systems in place?
• Is the Automatic sprinkler system on and locked open with centrally monitored tamper switches operational?
Making a plan for how to respond
Having a good response plan is as essential as protecting your business investments. When developing a plan, consider communication beforehand with local responders, such as fire and police departments, emergency clean-up companies and security companies. Your livelihood may depend upon it in an emergency.
And remember, if you have a helper with you when closing down, be sure to “social distance” from one another.