3 ways managers can support employees during COVID-19

Although business leaders are best placed to provide direction and clarity during the coronavirus outbreak, line managers can offer more specific support for employees who are struggling

As a manager, you are responsible for the productivity, progression and wellbeing of your team. But what happens when a pandemic hits and you no longer have the daily face-to-face contact that helps you do your job? The coronavirus outbreak has turned the way we work on its head, and never has a manager’s role been more difficult, or more important.

Proving productivity during the coronavirus outbreak

Even for those companies who have had remote working policies in place for a long time, mass working from home may be an entirely new, and unwelcome phenomenon. As the coronavirus outbreak disrupts customer bases, supply chains and even entire industries, many organisations will be worried about productivity. This worry will probably land on the shoulders of managers and heads of department.

So how can you ensure that the employees within your remit are doing their best work when you cannot see them? The short answer is that you must trust them. The coronavirus outbreak has initiated the most comprehensive test of flexible working the world has ever seen, and it offers a unique opportunity to see how employees will rise to the challenge if you let them. “Managers should adopt a more participative leadership style,” says Angela Armstrong, resilience coach and founder of leadership development firm, Armstrong. “One which nurtures relationships and promotes initiative.” A manager’s main role, she says, is to prioritise workload demands and offer practical and emotional support. Something which is especially important when it comes to employee mental health.

3 ways to support employee mental health

01 Don’t stop the social

From virtual pub quizzes to conference call coffee breaks, the best way to combat loneliness during this time is to maintain connection with your colleagues. This could mean setting up one-on-ones, small team chats, or involving the whole organisation, just make sure it becomes part of the weekly routine.

Regular communication will also make space for people to be open when they are struggling. Armstrong suggests a quick way to establish who in your team needs to be prioritised in terms of their wellbeing. “A text-based ‘one word check-in’ via WhatsApp group allows managers to ask “how are you feeling?” each morning and get a quick update from everyone.” This can result in leaving those who feel ‘focused’ to get on with their day and following up privately with anyone who might be ‘overwhelmed’.

Another way to do this is to encourage colleagues all to share their daily “Form” score, a scheme devised by Stephenson where individuals rate their mental health out of ten. This should encourage members to think and talk about how they are really doing and open up a frank discussion within your team. Take this opportunity to build the mentally-healthy corporate culture the modern business needs.

02 Care over control

As a manager, you need to be firm and decisive when dealing with a team of people, but tone is everything, and when people are struggling, you must be able to adapt your behaviour to bring out the best in them. A ‘command and control’ approach may work for short bursts of fire-fighting, explains Armstrong, but day to day a more participative leadership style will bear more fruit.

03 Leave time for listening

When you are busy or worried, it can be difficult to prioritise time where all you do is sit and listen, but when it comes to employee mental health, this can be the most powerful and valuable thing you can do. Communication is key - but it is vital to create space where struggling individuals can talk to you, rather than with you, as a way to relieve tension or stress.

“We’re not all mental health experts,” says Chapman. “We’re not all able to diagnose and prescribe things, but we can listen. I think that’s the most important thing, the most powerful thing. It saves lives.” The value of creating channels or times where managers can simply listen to their employees, and allow them to offload cannot be overstated.