Coronavirus, a topic which is nearly impossible to avoid these days online, on TV or in conversations. Conferences have been canceled or postponed, travel on a stand still, social interaction zero and organizations are working hard to deploy business continuity plans to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

Our working lives have been challenging for a while now, dealing with generational diversity, emergence of technology, volatile economic conditions, workplace burnout and many more but the emergence of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to a massive change, more uncertainty, and new challenges for many of us.

We all are well aware about the steps that need to be taken for protecting our physical health amidst this pandemic, but what about our mental health?

Between social media’s endless stream of information and news reports of mandatory quarantines, it is very natural for people to experience concern, fear, and anxiety.

Not a new concern, but now more prevalent

Concerns about health, trust, work, finances, children, family and the uncertainty of what will happen have created a perfect storm for serious behavioral health issues in the workforce.

The March 25 survey of 88,000 people by Evidation Health found a 68% increase, in just one week, of concern about someone in the household contracting COVID-19 along with a 59% increase in anxiety levels.

In the most recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 73% of Americans reported feeling anxious at least a few days a week.

Recently WHO named burnout a workplace syndrome which costs $125 billion per year. Workforce emotional wellbeing and behavioral health were already priority challenges prior to the pandemic. Extreme stress, fear and burnout may be the precursors for long-lasting problems such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Promoting workplace mental health during this crisis

We have to understand the importance of mental health in this time of COVID-19. It is foundational to overall health and maintaining the mental health of people right now is a fundamental priority for maintaining workforce health.

As workplaces continue to grapple with the best course of action for maintaining the health, safety, and productivity of their employees, they must also consider employee’s mental health.

Strategies to support mental wellness efforts for organizations or leaders

1. Lead with empathy: When communicating business related information, start with a statement that the organization is foremost concerned about the safety and health of its employees.

When employees hear inconsistent messaging from leaders about sick leave, for example, or if some managerspressurize employees to look at P&L at this stage, and send conflicting messages about job continuity, the damage to morale, engagement, and workplace culture can be devastating.

2. Communicate with full transparency: Regular, open communication is the key. With so much uncertainty, it falls to leaders to be the calm voice of reason and reassure employees.

Create psychological safety by including both logical and empathetic statements in all communication and convey that ‘whatever happens we’ll do the best we can for you.’ Build trust, allow employees to voice their concerns and share vulnerability, give assurances that it’s ok and we are all in the same situation.

3. Consider the impact across the board: Whatever our circumstances, this outbreak is going to have an impact on how we think and feel about ourselves and the world we live in. Good work is great for our mental health and it’s important that we preserve the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of work wherever we can. Try to share response in a way that protects the physical and mental health of staff – starting with those who are at greatest need.

4. Be flexible: One of the biggest stressors for many employees is the well-being of those they may care for. Due to the current situation we may have increased responsibilities, like child care, elderly care, household chores. Offer support for navigating these responsibilities by providing flexible timings for those zoom meetings, plan those one on one connects etc.

5. Promote access to support: You may provide access to support services through your workplace. If you have mental health champions, allies or mental health first aiders make sure they have the latest information to share with the other employees.

6. Don’t stop the social: From virtual team quizzes to conference call coffee breaks, the best way to combat loneliness during this time is to maintain connection with your colleagues. This could mean setting up one-on-ones; small team chats, or involving the whole organization, just make sure it becomes part of the weekly routine.

7. Seek opportunities for growth and development alongside crisis planning: Use this time as an opportunity for the development for your team. Engage with your team more, attend courses, engage them in developmental projects and crisis management, read or write articles and attend webinars. These practices will keep you and your team busy and also eventually promote growth and development.

Employee mental health is not only the responsibility of managers and leaders.Each individual needs to take care of themselves too. The coronavirus has unsettled the very fundamentals of our way of life and working, from CEO to intern, so we all need to keep ourselves calm and motivated. A shout out to organizations who have assured their employees of no job losses on adverse impact on employment and are leaving no stone unturned in ensuring business continuity plans and post Covid recovery plans. A word of caution to organizations that are still sending messages on profitability, cost cuts, using reduced ratings and low increments as mixed messaging. This is not the time to alienate your most important assets, your people. As I recently heard, your talent is the only asset that appreciates over time. Take care of them.