Faced with the new realities of a global pandemic, working from home, school and business closures, and a lack of physical contact with friends and family - well, it's little wonder that mental health struggles have been on the rise over these two years.
According to official statistics published by the OECD, anxiety, depression, and stress rose sharply in 2020.
People are beginning to recognize that stable mental health is part of the foundation of a successful career. In many ways, renowned gymnast Simone Biles set a healthy example by withdrawing from the Olympics individual all-around gymnastics competition to focus on her mental health - prioritizing her own wellbeing over all else.
Against the grim backdrop of COVID-19, what is an effective leader's role? If anything, the same as it always was - to support and protect the best interests of their employees. But now, with altered management tactics and responses to accommodate the emotional needs of a workforce. Leaders should look at their employees' issues through a prism of empathy and sensitivity to find solutions that work best for both the workers and the company.
If that sounds overwhelming, fear not: this article breaks down some easy-to-digest ways for you to help your employees through these difficult times.
Ask. Listen. Acknowledge
If this seems like a no-brainer, you'd be surprised. Very few leaders make an effort to genuinely express concern over their employees' circumstances and wellbeing beyond a cursory "how are you?" at morning meetings.
In a study by Harvard Business Review, nearly 40% of employees globally said that no one at their company had asked them if they were doing OK - and those respondents were 38% more likely than others to say that their mental health had declined since the outbreak.
Be prepared for difficult conversations. For instance, it might be likely that an employee is stressed working from home because they've had childcare commitments, making it difficult for them to meet deadlines. In this case, it is essential to remember that an effective leader is more than just a manager - instead of reacting with anger or undue worry about the loss of productivity, practise understanding and diplomacy.
Your place in a one-on-one discussion should not be to criticize and micromanage but to express genuine human concern and sensitivity.
Once you fully understand the complexity of their concerns, then work together with each employee to find solutions. This process should be collaborative until you find the bridge between your employee's mental health needs and the company's requirements.
During uncertain times, part of what makes a leader great is their ability to adapt. Don't be confined by the archaic ways of how things need to be done if they're not helping anyone.
Novel times call for novel measures. Leaders are now called upon to action more flexible working solutions and be more flexible in their thinking than they have ever been. More flexible meeting times, and on some occasions, advances on payslips and offering WFH solutions might also become a requirement.
Despite how tiring multiple lockdowns and variants can get, don't let this stagnate the progress of mental health check-ins with your employees - whether they're physically present at the office or working from home. The qualities that shape an effective leader - resilience and perseverance - should also shape your communication strategies.
Remember that mental health ebbs and flows. Be consistent in reminding employees of your availability and your support through the years.
Above all, be patient with yourself. As the saying goes, you can't help anyone if you're not helping yourself. Set a healthy example for your workforce by prioritizing your own mental health and work-life balance as an effective leader.