To say that 2020 has been an unusual year is a mighty understatement. For most businesses, families, and individuals, this year has brought unprecedented situations and pressures. From a global pandemic, West Coast wildfires, Gulf Coast hurricanes, to business shutdowns, changes in childcare, and digital classrooms, anxiety has emerged as a major health issue among Americans. To put it plainly, roughly 1 in 3 Americans are struggling with signs of depression or anxiety, according to this study. Odds are, you or at least one of your employees may be struggling, too.
Before the pandemic, 1 in 5 US adults lived with mental illness. The advent of COVID and resulting shutdowns have boosted those numbers. In fact, a recent CDC survey found that depression and anxiety rose sharply among Americans between March and June of this year with about 11% reporting they’ve even considered suicide. The young are at an even higher risk. That same report suggests that 1 in 4 teenagers have considered suicide this year.
The pandemic and subsequent shutdowns have left a mark, to say the least, on the working world. The workplace has been fundamentally changed, and many are finding that their workdays look and feel a little different now.
Take the traditional office worker, for example. With many employees working from home, a recent study found the average length of the workday has increased by 48.5 minutes. What’s more, COVID shutdowns saw email exchanges tick up about 5%. The number of daily meetings per person has risen almost 13%, and the average number of meeting attendees took a turn upwards of almost 14%. On the upside, the average duration of meetings has fallen by about 20%.
And, while working from home has helped many organizations maintain productivity during the shutdown, workers are finding it more difficult to maintain concentration in virtual meetings and juggle distractions of working in the home—especially working parents.
Finances, job loss, and health top the list of concerns among workers—particularly those who don’t have the opportunity to or aren’t able to work remotely. And many workers still struggle with COVID anxiety—whether for themselves or their more vulnerable loved ones.
Working parents face child care concerns, digital learning pressures, and an unclear path to school reopenings. Many employees face an unsure future in a market responding to changing demands. And business leaders struggle with mapping out a path forward for their businesses and employees. Enter the “new normal” and with it, new anxieties.
Now, more than ever before, maintaining mental health is a crucial survival strategy for business leaders—especially small business owners. Managing anxiety, stress, and even depression in the workplace has emerged as an essential function of business management.
What can small business leaders like you do to preserve your own mental health and that of your employees? Here are five ways to reduce anxiety for yourself and five for your employees.
To help your business and your employees, you need to be in good shape yourself. Reducing stress, anxiety, and potential depression is crucial for you as a small business owner. These are five ways you can maintain your mental health during this transition period.
1. Review your purpose. Remember what drove or inspired you to open your business. Does that purpose still fit in a post-COVID marketplace? If not, it may be time to consider stepping outside the box you and your business have been working in. Much change has been forced onto businesses and their leaders. Now’s the time to be courageous and make the changes you need to preserve your health and mental well-being.
2. Prioritize the important stuff. Be ruthless in cutting things that aren’t critical to the well-being of you, your family, or your business. Declutter your mind, your time, and your business, where you can. Be fearless in admitting that you can’t do, and don’t need to be the best at, everything. Instead, focus on those things that are fundamentally important to you and tap your natural abilities. If you’re not naturally a chef, for example, don’t sweat the family meal. Order in and focus on the company and conversation instead.
3. Allay financial fears. Take advantage of the resources available to help you and your business through financial difficulties. Start by perusing our guide to financial relief available to businesses. Be aware that resources do vary by state and are constantly changing, so keep an eye on the Small Business Administration for the latest updates. Check in with your state government to see what’s available to locally owned businesses. And learn how you could get your business funds even faster.
4. Make time for yourself. If there were ever a time to do some self-pampering, now’s the time. When you begin to feel the stresses of the day ticking up, go for a walk or take a break. Take some time just for yourself. Be open to taking a fresh look at your mental model and discovering thought patterns, behaviors, and habits that may be making life a little harder than it needs to be right now.
5. Stay connected with your friends, family, and professional tribe. Shutdowns, quarantines, and social distancing can take a toll on relationships and cause a sense of isolation. So be sure to connect with those who inspire you, care for you, and support you. Keep yourself from turning inward too much by staying centered on the realities, trends, and communities around you.
A few simple changes can help preserve your employees’ mental health. Take a look at these five ideas, for starters.
1. Listen to your staff through one-on-one conversations, anonymous surveys, or team calls to understand their concerns and what might drive anxiety. Your employees most certainly have individual stresses and concerns they’re dealing with. Let them know you’re available not only to listen to what they need to say, but to do what you can to alleviate unnecessary workplace pressures.
2. Consider re-evaluating roles and responsibilities to accommodate changes in the workplace. Whether your business is a restaurant that had pivoted to takeout only, a shop that closed its brick-and-mortar location and went online, or a salon that’s serving clients while social distancing, almost every business has had to deal with change. That means the roles and responsibilities that worked before may not work now. Help ease anxiety among your workers by adjusting your expectations of their performance, roles, or assigned responsibilities to meet the demands of the “new normal.”
3. Put self-care policies in place to assist employees with their mental well-being. Making a few changes for the good of your employees doesn’t have to be complicated. Maybe it’s planning for extra coverage, so your team can take a quick time-out during the most hectic time of day. Or, maybe it’s a quiet space where employees can go when they feel overwhelmed. Maybe it’s time off each month for a wellness activity, like visiting a doctor, spa, or therapist. A little creativity could reap big returns in employee satisfaction and well-being.
4. Establish a flexible culture that accounts for work-life changes driven by COVID. Consider, for example, how to accommodate working parents whose children are schooled at home. Can they work from home? Can you adjust working hours to accommodate a half-day at home and evening work instead when the kids are done with schoolwork? The point here is to be aware of the concerns taking your teammates’ time and attention, and be creative in accommodating those concerns.
5. Express appreciation and create a culture of gratitude. Recognize and thank your employees for how they’re contributing to the survival of your business. Many businesses have shut down – some permanently. Keeping a business afloat is the result of great teamwork. So celebrate the commitment, the creativity, and the resilience your team has shown during the pandemic. And browse these ideas for celebrating your staff and caring for your employees during the COVID-19 crisis.
Feeling a certain level of stress or anxiety as a business owner right now is understandable. You’re far from alone. But living in a state of increasing stress or anxiety can impact your health and the people around you. Remember, now more than ever before, to prioritize your mental well being.
Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing contained herein should be construed as medical advice. Please refer to www.cdc.gov and www.who.int for further information with respect to the coronavirus and COVID-19, and steps you can take to mitigate the related risks.