How leaders and Co-Workers Need to Shift Their Approach to Workplace Mental Health in 2021

By Marlene Milczarek

Convenience stores and gas stations have experienced unusual demands and challenges throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Essential employees have worked long and hard hours providing access to basic food essentials like milk, or gas so that other can commute to and from their essential jobs. In fact, c-stores and gas bar workers have felt a lot of stress and may have increased mental health needs since the start of COVID-19. 

It’s important that as business leaders, HR leaders and even co-workers we recognize and respond to this. According to experts, the psychological toll of working in essential public spaces during the pandemic has been and continues to be significant. 

Frontline healthcare workers report high levels of anxiety, high levels of an anxiety diagnosis, as well as high levels of accessing treatment for anxiety and high levels of resiliency in overcoming these challenges. More than ever business leaders and managers are wondering what they can do to better support their people.

Why a pandemic is so stressful?

Fear and anxiety over a new disease and the thought of what could happen are overwhelming. They stir strong emotions in adults and children. Pair this with the media frenzy that is taking place and we have a recipe for anxiety that is hard to match. As dictated by the WHO and CDC, public health actions such as social distancing can make people feel isolated and lonely. Social distancing also increases stress and anxiety to otherwise mentally healthy individuals. 

What’s the role of the employer and co-worker in this?

The pandemic may have become the impetus that was needed for leaders to actually move from a stage of just talking about mental health, to a place where they’re actually taking tangible, sustainable action for the mental health of their people. 

“We really have to stop telling people who are unwell to go get help,” says Stephane Grenier founding partner and CEO at Mental Health Innovations (MHI), a consultancy that leads innovative and sustainable change in organizations to enhance the mental health of their people.

“While most services aimed at supporting employee mental health are well-intentioned, what we have to keep in mind is that when people are unwell, they have a tendency to isolate and not want to do the very things we are asking them to do,” says Grenier.

In a common workplace injury scenario, we would never put the onus on a worker to seek first aid themselves, explains Grenier. Rather, co-workers would gather around the person and support that person to get them the help they need. Someone would take the initiative to help their injured coworker.

So why is it different with mental health? That’s what business, HR leaders and even co-workers need to start asking themselves. Imagine when someone within the organization is capable of saying, “wait a minute, Leslie’s not herself today. I’m going to reach out and ask her how it’s going, and I’m going to be there for her.” 

“We need to pivot and create a culture inside every organization where people who are well are capable of recognizing those who are unwell and supporting them,” says Grenier. 

Now, more than ever, the HR department needs to not only stay abreast of changes in compliance issues due to COVID-19, but they also need to be actively providing resources to staff for mental health awareness and support. Co-workers in any company can also be there to offer support and guidance for fellow workers to help recognize and address feelings of stress and anxiety. 

As we move into the new normal, it’s important to remember that not everyone shows stress or emotions the same, so providing strong human resources support, mental health awareness and education to all staff, and being a supportive coworker can help all workers feel heard. 

Coping with stress in a healthy way will make all businesses, employees and communities stronger. 

Marlene Milczarek is a freelance writer and founder/chief strategist of SPINNING IDEAS, a marketing consulting firm basedin Acton, Ontario. Hercareer spans over 16 years in marketing, helping businesses grow revenues, improve their branding and sales enablement tools. Marlene holds a chartered marketer (CM) designation from the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA), and has a bachelor of journalism from Ryerson University.You can connect with Marlene on 

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