Post-Pandemic Mental Health at Work

—By Eliza Maharjan

A woman standing and a woman sitting both looking at a computer screen

Post-Pandemic Mental Health at Work

Working from the comforts of my home, I wonder, “What was the workplace like before COVID? And what has changed since the global pandemic hit?” One fine day, you were working at your office with your colleagues and Boom!! COVID hit, and the next day, you had to transition to the virtual work setting. The transition was off to a rocky start with the uncertainty of how employees can work from their homes. Over the last couple of years, remote working has been implemented by businesses. While it offered some people a better work-life balance and time savings by not having to commute, some expressed a loss of social connection. The businesses are slowing recuperating, and with an urgent need to learn to work remotely, the transition back to work post-pandemic has been slow. Regardless, the pandemic has shifted people’s priorities, and mental health is talked about more often because of it. One can barely forget the social isolation because of the pandemic, which has caused unprecedented stress for a lot of individuals. As a result, it has affected people’s ability to work and have meaningful engagement in their communities. We see an increased rate of burnout and mental health concerns among employees since the pandemic began. Yet very few are willing to talk about it to their employer. Companies that can pivot and adapt to the changing needs of employees will gain or maintain their competitive advantage. More and more employees prefer the flexibility of the workforce rather than having a hard and fast rule.

What can companies do to address mental health?

With the hybrid work environment, it is important to take extra effort to reach out to employees and be willing to learn, understand, adapt, and improve in supporting mental health. We now know that mental health is an important element in the workforce, and we have recognized mental health as an important topic to discuss, but we still have a long way to go. We need more on how to have meaningful conversations about it. Employers should take an active step in creating awareness and having mental health check-ins with their employees.

Mental health literacy is vital, and providing employees with mental health resources can go a long way. At Narratives, we have monthly check-ins with a mental health professional to ensure that our employees have a safe space to chat about the work and discuss questions surrounding mental health. Narratives offers paid wellness days, allowing employees to take time away and recharge.  At Narratives, there is also a designated “Wellness Room” where employees can take personal calls or take breaks whenever needed.

A lot of our work is focused on making space to amplify voices that may go unheard or unaddressed. As a workplace, and with the nature of some of our projects, we are often exposed to stories, experiences, and materials from people who have been exposed to various kinds of trauma. So, the work that we do is trauma-informed, where we realize and understand the impact of trauma and integrate the knowledge of trauma into our everyday work.  Being a trauma-informed workplace allows employers to understand and show compassion for their employees and can add significant depth to the environmental workplaces and practices.

A drawing of a head with many squiggly arrows moving outward from it

What can employees do?

Individuals are responsible to take care of themselves and their state of mind and should not be expecting their employers to take accountability for their mental health. An employer can provide the resources, but employees must seek out the help they need. One outcome of the pandemic is more and more people are leaning toward their workplaces for mental health support. Narratives has put in place confidential personal self-care plans that encompass physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and professional areas for each employee. Employees are encouraged to use it often to take care of themselves. Employees are introduced to breathing and grounding exercises that promote healthier mindsets and promote self-care.

So, what’s stopping people from accessing the resources?

There is still a stigma when it comes to addressing mental health in our society. Mental health means something different to different people, and it depends on people’s worldviews. People need to be rewired to normalize asking for help. The poor mental health of employees negatively impacts businesses. Having a workplace culture that is open to mental health conversations makes employees feel valued and reduces this stigma. 

Using performance feedback as a tool

Traditionally, managers are trained to give feedback, and juniors are trained to insist on feedback. We are setting ourselves up for failure if the feedback tends to be overly negative. It is important to have two-way communication and learning between both employers and employees. Performance feedback can be approached as a conversation to identify the potential for employee burnout or other work struggles, allowing for support to be implemented. 

Paving a new path

People spend a large chunk of time in their workplace, which can affect their mental health.  The emphasis has shifted to prioritizing mental health post-COVID, and employers are trying their best to provide a safe space for their employees like flexible hybrid work options. Employers can take measures to ensure that their work contributes to the positive mental well-being of their employees, but it requires ongoing support and commitment from the employees as these needs change continually. The future of the workplace demands more compassion and the normalization of mental health conversations.

Eliza Maharjan, Environmental Planner

Note: This blog post is inspired by a panel discussion, namely “Post-Pandemic Mental Health in the Workplace,” held on January 20, 2023, during an “ECO IMPACT 2023” Gala. The panel was moderated by Kimberley Burfoot (VP of Finance & Operations, ECO Canada), and the panellists were Michelle Berg (HR Partner & Chief Visionary Officer, Elevated HR Solutions), Kevin Pendreigh (Managing Principal, Canadian Environmental Operations. SLR Consulting), and Somia Sadiq (Founder, Principal Partner, Narratives Inc.)