Business, Success

May 14, 2020

Employee Mental Health During Lockdown: What Managers Need to Do Now

By Carine Lacroix

I recently wrote a post on LinkedIn about micromanagement during COVID-19 and received an overwhelming response. In just a couple of days, I had over 65,000 views.


My post addressed the question from an employee concerning the shift of management style of his boss since the lockdown, from micromanaging to ‘ultra-micromanaging’. It immediately touched a chord with many. In the words of one post reader: “omg yes! so many extra meetings scheduled, extra targets being added, so many more Excel spread sheets…completely takes time away from being able to do our jobs. I feel like working from home went to never leaving work.”


But what concerned me even more was her additional comment that revealed the negative mental health impact of this ‘intense management-style’ trend:


“I was furloughed a few weeks ago and while I felt an initial blow to the chest, I was a little relieved. Lol it was getting pretty intense and my anxiety levels were at an all-time high. I LOVE my company and boss. I cannot wait to get back to our normal though!”


Although this employee says she ‘loves her manager and the organization, the current pressure she is facing is stressing her out and causing chest pains and anxiety. This is serious. Should it continue, the impact on her mental and emotional health could be disastrous. What’s more, she is apparently not an isolated case. This social media share regarding a sudden shift happening in management style since the lockdown and rising anxiety levels was so relatable that as of today over 295 people liked it and over 25 people replied directly to her share. It’s natural to assume that some (or most) of them are also experiencing similar struggles. In sympathizing with her situation, they either feel similar pressures from managers, or feel she is being managed in an unacceptable way– or likely both.


Ask yourself if you are putting too much pressure on your employees


If you are a people manager, this should give you pause for thought. Ask yourself: “is it possible that my employees are feeling similar pressures from me? Could they be experiencing undue stress and other mental health issues due to my new lockdown management style?”


Despite your best efforts to get things done and drive productivity you may have altered things for the worse. Are you noticing a drop in your employees’ engagement, lagging motivation and poor participation during your virtual meetings? Are you seeing a significant drop in performance and productivity from even your star players since the lockdown began?


If you answer “yes” to at least two of these questions, it’s likely that the ‘journey of your staff in the organization’ — the ‘employee experience’– is currently jeopardized. Some might be in a state of stress or burnout. Others might be experiencing mental illness (e.g. anxiety disorders, depression).


Mental health issues: a common risk in the workplace


Mental health must not be ignored by either employee or employer. It requires fast and direct action. Left unchecked, mental health issues could have detrimental lasting effects on the individual and impede their ability to work productively. Factually, mental health issues are not a rare thing amongst employees. A recent study from Gallup , says 76% of workers suffer burnout at least sometimes. As of October, 4 2019 WHO indicates that approximately 450 million people are affected by mental health disorders, “placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide”.


Certainly, mental health issues can have devastating effects on the personal lives of employees. But it can also cause wreak havoc for the future of your organization.

Mental health issues in the workplace can cause:

  • A significant rise in employee absenteeism levels

  • A drop in staff creativity levels

  • A decrease in staff performance levels

  • Higher payroll costs

  • Increased turnover

  • Lost productivity

Unchecked, not only could mental health issues in the workplace impact your bottom line, it can also have a significant impact on the country economy as a whole.

Calculating the high cost of mental health issues

In 2018, Mercer advised that Canadian companies lose approximately $16.6 billion in productivity per year due to employee sick days linked to mental health issues. A 2015 US research revealed that workplace-stress costs an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the US – eating up as much as 8% of national spending on health care. In a 2019 WHO information sheet, depression and anxiety disorders were calculated to cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.


So, how can you safeguard your employees’ mental health right now?

How can you ensure that management pressures don’t contribute to a rise in stress, anxiety, burnout or breakdown, today and after lockdown ends?

Smart tactics to help lower and prevent mental health issues during lockdown

Here are some smart tactics to help lower and prevent mental health issues during lockdown:


1. Recognize how your management style can affect your employees’ mental health


The first step is understanding how your ‘management style’ can contribute to a negative work environment because staff mental health issues are tied to how employees are managed, and how they experience work daily.


But where do you begin in evaluating your own management style? Is it really that bad?


WHO and Gallup have identified factors that correlate with mental health issues in the workplace. Some of them are:


  • Unclear communication from managers

  • Poor management practices

  • Inflexible working hours

  • Lack of management support

  • Unmanageable workload

  • Unfair treatment at work

  • Unclear tasks or organizational objectives

  • Unreasonable time pressure

  • Limited participation in decision-making



2. Revise your management style to ensure a better employee experience

In order to safeguard and optimize your employees’ mental health, you’ll need to adopt a management style that focuses on creating and maintaining a good ‘employee experience’.


Here are few tips:


Tip 1. Listen intently to your staff and encourage them to talk about themselves.

Find out how your employees are coping during the lockdown and how they wish to be supported. Ask them, what preoccupies or worries them regarding work. What do they need from you to make their job easier – and how can you support them to optimize work-life balance?


Sincerity and openness are key. It may help to share some of your own worries and apologize if your stress has negatively affected their work experience. Be genuinely interested in them –and an attentive listener. These important conversations can happen in different ways:


  • Virtual one-on-one conversations

  • Group meeting to gather employee feedback conversations


The group meeting is especially valuable in generating ideas, guiding connectiveness and fostering mutual support among team members. Studies show that people with strong social support ( strong relationships) have a reduced risk of mental health issues.

  • Employee survey

Many employees may be afraid to have a straight face-to-face talk with you. An anonymous, confidential survey will help you gather candid feedback, capture trends and gather information you can use for better decision-making.

Tip 2. Champion a return to regular work routines and a manageable workload


Recognize that heavy workloads and work routines that include too many meetings can become counterproductive for your staff. A Microsoft study shows that it takes an average of 15 minutes to return to an important project after a phone or email interruption. Professor David E. Meyer confirmed that switching to a new task while still in the middle of another increases the time needed to complete the task by 25 to 50 percent or more, compared to what would be involved if the person was only focusing on that task alone.



Therefore, an excellent first step is to identify unnecessary activities and meetings and remove them from the calendar. Work with your staff to streamline procedures, simplify work processes and, when possible, eliminate time-intensive tasks. Most importantly, think twice before adding new KPIs at a time when your employees are struggling to work from home with kids doing schoolwork, making noise, needing hugs. Even though it is not business as usual, you need to manage them in a similar manner as you did in the office. Even better, with more latitude, flexibility and humanity.

Tip 3. Recognize and reward your staff

Ask yourself, when was the last time that you took the time to recognize your employees. If it was prior to the outbreak, it’s long overdue. After all, they have been working from home in challenging conditions and have still managed to deliver.

Track the impact individual employees have made in their respective roles and evaluate their behaviours, actions and results. Who has met or exceeded expectations? Who has demonstrated leadership in helping others with work or morale issues since the lockdown?

Smart leaders will integrate recognition programs tailored to the needs of employees right now. Go beyond the traditional “thank you from you the manager”, to offer employee rewards suitable for these challenging times, such as flexible hours or a full or partial day off with pay.

Flexible hours and time off: the best rewards for employees now

Under the current circumstances, working from home is not a reward, it is the ‘new normal’. Flexible hours, however, have become something to be coveted, more than ever. After all, many of us are now balancing work with caring for dependents who are now home 24/7. Flexible hours reduce the risk of stress or burnout associated with juggling work and family demands. Similarly offering a full or partial day off with pay can help your employees recalibrate and recharge. Both can serve as a powerful way to recognize and reward employees for a job well done.

Finally, every day ask yourself this: Is my management style today motivated by my fear of losing my own job or company – or my desire to save the company, save as many jobs as possible and safeguard the well-being of everyone on my team? If you answered the latter, it’s a sure sign you are an effective people leader who cares about mental health. None of us can function properly without it. So, what are you going to do to support your team today?


Carine Lacroix

Carine Lacroix

Carine Lacroix is the founder and CEO of Reneshone, a Toronto-based HR company specializing in optimizing the talent journey for growing and established businesses.