David Robeck is the president and CEO of Bridge Counseling Associates.
Employers tout their medical benefits but often avoid an employee’s personal life. Both are important factors for employers to consider, especially now when so many employees are physically distant from their peers. Working from home has many benefits for employees but it has drawbacks as well. Mental health problems, such as depression, marital strife, and strain on the family, for example, are on the rise.
Consider Rob and Linda Sanchez. They are organized and successful working parents, but when the coronavirus hit, neither were prepared for how their lives and behaviors would change. Rob is a finance manager who could work from home, as he did most evenings. Linda is a regional retail manager, so her work stopped – deemed nonessential. On conference calls, both of their employers grumbled about their expected financial losses but never considered the mental health toll on their employees.
Initially, it was fun for the Sanchez’s to have their teen son and daughter at home as they hunkered down. However, it soon became clear that neither Rob nor Linda were prepared to live so closely, and certainly not to their teenage children.
Linda’s employer nearly abandoned her, but she continued to reach out to her fellow staff with information and motivation. But as weeks of isolation passed, she could barely respond to their inquiries and struggled to stay positive. Rob soon realized that his home office felt more like a prison cell, so he volunteered for shopping and cooking duty just to get away from an overly stressed supervisor whose demands routinely ebbed and flowed with news stories and business changes.
When their anxiety became too much, the arguments with the teens turned daily and their neighborly front-porch cocktail parties poured them into bed a little tipsier each night, they called a therapist. They asked for help before their family was permanently damaged. The Sanchez’s don’t live in Nevada but if they did, their solution may not have been so apparent, or even available. Mental Health America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, ranks Nevada number 51 in the nation for behavioral health services. Mental health, problem gambling, and substance abuse are not subjects discussed in most workplaces here, unless a problem arises.
Direct supervisors, however, seldom miss the family details and can help maintain sound mental health among employees. Some managers let parents take an afternoon to coach their kid’s soccer or attend a school performance. Others approve poorly scheduled doctor’s appointments even if there is no PTO available. Supervisors accept liability for these workarounds but are paid back with extra hard work and deep loyalty. A mental-health day under sick leave is nice, but sometimes a listening ear and half a box of tissues is nicer.
Another friend shared a story that changed her management style entirely. She had called to check on Mike, a former employee knowing he had taken a sick day. When he quickly announced, “I’m dying,” she apologized and hung up, not realizing those would be his last words to her. He wasn’t describing his discomfort that day, but an undisclosed terminal illness from years of drinking. Everyone knew he had a problem, but if behavioral health services had been offered, his outcome might have been different.
With COVID lasting longer and adding stress to lives, one might ask, “How are my employees doing?” If they have continued to take your calls or show up for work, they have already shown you their cooperation and loyalty. Happy employees appreciate respect and recognition. Employers have power and, like parents, can lower anxiety, curb depression, and empower workers to remain strong. Perhaps a few kind words are due to your staff today.