Supporting Mental Health at Work During COVID-19

Stress and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly impacted workers, regardless of the industry they work in, the location of their work (remote or on site), or whether they work for a large corporation or small business. That’s why WorkSafeBC has released two resources to help address the mental health effects of COVID-19 in the workplace — a guide for employers and a guide for workers.

Learning how to manage stress and anxiety during the ongoing pandemic helps us all take better care of ourselves, support the people we work with, and be more productive in our jobs, explains Amenda Kumar, an occupational health and safety consultant in Prevention Programs and Performance at WorkSafeBC.

Top Tips from the Guide for Workers

“The focus in the workers guide is on what can they do to manage stress and anxiety, how to educate themselves on the unknown, and how to manage and set boundaries around what information they seek out,” says Kumar. “The downside of having access to so much information is that overload can take a toll on mental health.”

Key for employees, she says, is practising self-care strategies, which can help one regain a sense of control during times of stress. Some simple tips include the following:

  • Be conscious of your physical health, prioritizing regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep.
  • Practise stress-reduction activities, such as mindfulness and deep breathing.
  • If you’re working at home with a full house, find a quiet and private space.
  • Maintain social connections, whether by phone or virtually.

Highlights from the Guide for Employers

The guide for employers explains how the pandemic can impact mental health, suggests ways to support mental health in the workplace, and even offers tips on how to talk to employees about the subject.

“One of the best ways to reduce fear and anxiety with your employees is to have a conversation with them about how they’re doing,” Kumar says. “Make the time, be an active listener, and don’t downplay how someone might be feeling.”

As an employer, it’s important to provide consistent communication, encourage open and supportive dialogue, and, when possible, share good news with your employees.

Prevention is the Best Approach 

Trudi Rondou, senior manager, Prevention Programs and Performance at WorkSafeBC, says, “It’s been a year of changes and shifting public health orders, and people may not realize how it affects them. With these resources, we wanted to provide practical tools.” The goal is for “employees to understand what they can do to take of themselves and recognize the stress that COVID-19 has caused” and for employers to learn “what they can do to help employees as we all navigate these very challenging times.”

Often, people don’t believe there’s a preventive aspect to mental health — but Rondou believes that developing coping skills during less stressful times helps prevent the more difficult times from having a significant psychological impact. She adds that continued attention is needed as the pandemic moves through different phases.

If You Need Urgent Help

If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest hospital. You can also call the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC to talk with a trained volunteer at 1.800.784.2433. Help is always available.

Excerpted from “Mental health during COVID-19” by Marnie Douglas, WorkSafe Magazine (January/February 2021)

About WorkSafeBC

WorkSafeBC is dedicated to promoting workplace health and safety for the workers and employers of this province. We consult with and educate employers and workers and monitor compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.