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Five ways that business owners can help their employees to cope during this challenging time

17 May 2020: The continued global spread of COVID-19 is affecting people in a variety of different ways, with many feeling a heightened sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Confirming this to be the case locally, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) recently noted a spike in calls since the start of lockdown from people feeling anxious, lonely, worried and depressed.

In light of this, while businesses adapt to a new normal, caring for employee mental health and supporting workplace wellbeing should be a top priority. For business owners who may need help in navigating this, here are five ways to help your employees cope during this challenging time:

1. Ramp up internal communication efforts

Regular, clear, and open communication is vital to managing the high levels of uncertainty that are likely being felt by employees. When doing this, however, it’s important to consider the sensitive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic – considering both the health and economic factors that are at play.

2. Relax some of the rules

Taking too much of a “business as usual” approach could be counterproductive to employee wellbeing. If there ever was a time to be flexible with schedules, non-essential tasks, and sick leave – now is it. This is especially relevant for employees who are parents or looking after elderly family members and may be struggling more than usual to juggle their work and family responsibilities.

3. Be wary of employee burnout

The risk of burnout – the state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion – is at an all-time high right now. As an employer, you should therefore be encouraging managers to look out for warning signs of employee burnout within their teams. These signs include irritability, cynicism and the inability to focus on important tasks at hand.

4. Offer support

Employers should be proactively offering to help employees that appear to be struggling, by encouraging them to take breaks during the workday, or even some time off to disconnect if this seems necessary. However, when it comes to managing employee mental health during a pandemic, there are limits to the support that employers themselves can offer. It is therefore important to be well acquainted with the free resources available in the country, such as online counselling and helplines, and signpost them clearly for employees.

5. Look after your own mental wellbeing as well

As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup. In this context, you cannot support the wellbeing of your employees if you are not looking after that of your own. During stressful situations, self-care is often the first thing people let go of, so while you’re prioritising the wellbeing of your staff, ensure that you are coping too. After all, this is a challenging time for everyone.

About the Author: Ben Bierman

Ben Bierman has been our Managing Director since 2015. He joined our company in 1990 and has risen through the ranks occupying various positions ranging from being a management accountant, Head of Information Technology and Chief Financial Officer. Ben is an avid reader, enjoys classical music and being in the outdoors including for hunting trips. He is our go-to-spokesperson for our SME Confidence Index, SME sector policy and trend matters, and business leadership articles.

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