Stress is nothing new to anyone who owns or manages commercial facilities, but COVID-19 has added an extra layer of uncertainty and pressure that can sometimes seem insurmountable.
The pandemic has tripled the rate of depression symptoms in U.S. adults, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open, and the rise was much higher than after other traumatic events, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Facility owners and managers aren’t immune to these added pressures. Over time, this extra stress can manifest in depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions that impact every part of a person’s life, from the workplace to home life. Here’s what facilities leaders need to know about mental health in the workplace.
[Related: 5 Ways Buildings Can Improve Mental Health]
How the Workplace Impacts Mental Health—And Vice Versa
We spend so much time at the workplace that it’s bound to affect our mental health, just like any other environment where we spend a lot of time, explained Nick D’Amico, chief operations officer for Covenant Family Solutions, an Iowa-based provider of mental health services that also offers workplace wellness solutions. The workplace impacts workers’ mental health in many ways, including:
- Stress levels
- Workplace relationships
- Routines and predictability—how well can you predict what your day will be like?
- Equity and fairness
- A sense of control (or a lack of it)
All of these impacts existed pre-pandemic, but COVID-19 has thrown a few extra wrenches into the works. Facilities teams aren’t always able to work from home like many other workers have during the pandemic. This can be both a blessing and a curse—it puts facilities workers at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure, but also gives them a place to go during the day and lets them avoid the isolation of working at home.
In addition to the work-from-home quandary, some organizations have responded to the financial uncertainty created by the pandemic by reducing budgets. During past economic downturns, facilities budgets were first in line for cuts, which can create extra stress on a facilities team that’s already trying to do more with less.
“It never feels good to be looking over our shoulder,” D’Amico said. “If I’m worried I’m going to lose my job, that’s going to be more stressful and lead to more worry. Stress always exacerbates mental health concerns. Any time we don’t feel secure in what we’re doing, it’s going to lead to mental health problems. There’s a job security component to that, and an unpredictability component to it as well.”
In return, these impacts on mental health can affect the workplace. High stress levels, anxiety and depression can make it hard to focus as deeply on work, impacting productivity and creating a vicious cycle that can be hard to get out of.
5 Things Leaders Can Do About Mental Health in the Workplace
“It’s essential that leaders are well-versed in emotional health and they’re able to be well-tuned to their staff,” said Darin Rose, IFMA Fellow. “You need to check in and listen to what they’re saying.” Becoming interested in your employees on a personal level helps people feel and know they’re being truly heard at work, rather than simply participating in a transactional relationship, Rose added.
Leaders can also support the mental health of their teams by taking a few basic steps:
1. Increase awareness. Your employees may not realize that at any one time, 20-25% of us are struggling with a mental illness. Make sure people are aware that they’re not alone—depression and anxiety in particular are fairly commonplace and help is available.
2. Make resources available. Does your employer offer an employee assistance program (EAP) or other mental health resources? If so, do your employees know what’s available? Try posting flyers to share this important information with people.
3. Train other department leaders. “This is something a lot of companies don’t do,” D’Amico said. “Train leaders on how to identify behaviors that may be associated with mental illness and how to talk to an employee who may be struggling.” These behaviors include missing more work than normal, being more withdrawn or isolated than is typical for that person, and slipping work performance.
4. Don’t try to be a counselor. You don’t have to try to fix people—you’re not a therapist. “Just be the best listener you can,” Rose advised.
5. Check in periodically. Conduct individual and group check-ins with your team about all topics, not just mental health. This helps create an environment where people are free to share their concerns.
The uncertainty created by the pandemic may not end anytime soon, but thoughtful leaders can help change the conversation around mental health at work. A staff that can safely address mental health matters is a staff that’s better positioned to weather the storm together.