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Fostering a Culture of Caring in the Workplace
Showing genuine care and concern to employees in times of crises will make a positive difference on how employees react during challenging times. From a mental health perspective, what should Human Resource leaders expect today, since they are constantly being challenged to cope, readjust and stay resilient during these uncertain times?

Lead with compassion
After many months living through the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are struggling in unprecedented ways. Employees deserve to feel like their company truly cares about them and their well-being. They are looking to their employer as a source of understanding and support. Managers and supervisors have been tasked with carrying much of the weight during the pandemic. When employees know their employer cares, they are likely to be more productive at work and much less likely to experience workplace burnout.

So, how can Human Resource leaders support the emotional needs of their teams? Here are some suggestions:
• Engage with employees on a personal level to build rapport (Ask: How can I support you? How is your family doing?)
• Share all available resources to reinforce work-life balance (support hotlines, self-screening assessments and information about your own EAP program, if applicable)
• Be humble, honest and sincere. Feel free to share your personal experiences or challenges, especially if you sought professional help yourself. You will be “normalizing” the idea that it’s OK to seek help when needed.

Fostering healthy coping
• Clearly communicate your organization’s policies and procedures (such as FMLA, PTO) that can help support employees through tough times.
• Give employees explicit permission to take short, mental-health breaks when needed (walks and other small acts of self-care).
• Offer flexible work scheduling, whenever possible.

Take care of yourself first
Many company leaders, including HR personnel, have been working more since the pandemic’s start, while dealing with similar challenges employees are facing (stress, anxiety, shifting work and home-life responsibilities). Leaders are tasked with navigating a two-pronged problem – their own potential burnout and their direct reports’ burnout. Everyone is different, but we all react to stressful situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Our reactions may include physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral reactions.

Physical reactions:
• Less energy and enthusiasm
• More trouble sleeping at night
• Changes in appetite or weight
• Changes in personal hygiene habits

Emotional reactions:
• Becoming cynical, pessimistic
• Hopelessness
• Moodiness
• Angry outbursts
• Losing interest in friends, family and favorite activities

Cognitive and behavioral reactions:
• Withdrawing from people
• Substance abuse
• Compulsive behaviors (gambling, shopping, internet overuse)
• Missing work or other important commitments
• Planning self-harm (suicidality)

If an employee is feeling suicidal or having thoughts of harming others, you must promptly address this issue. Call 9-1-1 if the situation seems urgent. We don’t ever want to ignore a serious situation.

Stay the course
Providing consistent engagement, communication and expressing care and concern will help your organization maintain a productive workforce as we move forward with the pandemic and beyond. Remember to:
•  regularly connect with employees, either virtually or in person
•  share available mental health resources
•  role model positive, self-care in your own life

How leaders behave and communicate during a crisis makes a significant difference in how employees respond and react. Adapting to changes is inevitable as we move forward. Leadership always sets the pace. Promoting a company-wide culture of caring — one that normalizes seeking support when needed — will leave a lasting impression during these challenging times.

“People don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  -Will Rodgers

By Pauline Krutilla MS, CEAP, Director, Advocate Aurora Employee Assistance Program

To look for a robust EAP for your organization, check out Advocate Aurora’s Employer Solutions.  A solution customized to your company’s culture could also include employer clinics, wellness, occupational health, executive health programs and more.

 
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