Navigating Staff Mental Health In A Pandemic

Silvia Damiano
14 September 2021
2 min read

It is no secret that many people are stressed out due to the Covid pandemic. However, part of the problem is that our mental health was not stellar before the pandemic hit, so now many workers find themselves needing mental health care more than ever. But what are leaders doing to help their staff navigate mental health?

Even though we try to separate work and home life, they are (for most people) interconnected. When we are stressed and tired at work, we bring that same negative energy home to our families and friends.

If mental health supports and EAP were lacking before the pandemic, unfortunately they are still widely unsupported now. However, some organisations are starting to listen to the plea for help from their employees, but is this response enough? And what about people who happen to work somewhere else?

Employee Benefits Are Changing Because Of Covid

There are some startling statistics about who has left the workforce because of the pandemic. One study in the United States found that between February and September 2020, around 1.2 million parents (mostly women) with children left the labour force.1

The stress and cost of finding care when schools shut down were too much for many families, so someone had to stay home. Companies have since realised they need these workers, so they must improve benefits to bring them back. 

Telecommuting, one of many forms of work-life flexibility, should no longer be viewed as a nice-to-have, optional perk mostly used by working moms. These common stereotypes don’t match reality — allowing employees to work remotely is a core business strategy today… We need to de-parent, de-gender, and de-age the perception of the flexible worker.

Cali Williams Yost

Many employers have made changes. According to the Harvard Business Review, 57% of senior leaders said they were going to prioritise care benefits to better support the work and life balance for employees.2 If companies are responding to the need for child care, are they responding to the need for more mental health care?

Mental Health Is As Important As Physical Health

A Kaiser Family Foundation study from July 2020 found that 53% of respondents were worried that Covid was negatively impacting their mental health.3 A more recent study (2021) from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 47% of surveyed adults still report mental effects due to worrying or feeling stress during the pandemic, with 55% of women surveyed reporting decreased mental health. Three out of ten women with children also reported that they needed mental health services but were unable to access them in 2020.

What can employers do to help the people who work for them? Many of the tenets of the i4 Neuroleader™ Methodology apply to mental health and taking these into consideration when planning can help leaders better address the needs at hand.

When leaders cultivate a brain-friendly culture in their organisation, they seek to improve the health and wellbeing (including mental health) of those they work with. 

Some ideas to consider:

  • Funding mental health: Many health care systems are woefully inadequate when it comes to mental health issues. Making changes within an organisation to better support and find the care that people need is important.
  • Determining what mental health and brain health really mean: When we don’t understand the terms we use, we cannot effectively help people find what they need. The purpose of having a healthier brain is to be happier with life as a whole, at work and at home. 

Now is the time for leaders to assess what is needed for those they employ and become embrace their own ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’!

It is apparent that many individuals are feeling stressed out because of a lack of access to mental health services. Wouldn’t we rather have employees who are secure in the knowledge that they have the care required for their families, and the services they need to be happier and more productive individuals in life?

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  1. Tedeschi E. The Mystery of How Many Mothers Have Left Work Because of School Closings. The New York Times, 29 October 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/29/upshot/mothers-leaving-jobs-pandemic.html (29 October 2020, accessed 15 August 2021).
  2. Allen T. The Pandemic Is Changing Employee Benefits. Harvard Business Review, 2021, https://hbr.org/2021/04/the-pandemic-is-changing-employee-benefits (2021, accessed 15 August 2021).
  3. Hamel L. KFF Health Tracking Poll – July 2020, https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/report/kff-health-tracking-poll-july-2020/ (2020, accessed 15 August 2021).
  4. Kearney A, Hamel L, Brodie M. Mental Health Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Update, https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/poll-finding/mental-health-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/ (2021, accessed 15 August 2021).

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Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.

Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.

Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership

In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.

Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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