Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a shift across the world to paying more attention to mental health. Even those who didn’t struggle before are now finding it especially difficult to cope with the unique challenges and stressors presented by the pandemic. For us here at TextNow, for example, the pandemic means we will all be working remotely until further notice. This disruption to our normal daily routines has — not surprisingly — caused a lot of extra stress and anxiety for most of us. With that said, supporting our employees’ well-being has always been a top priority for TextNow as an employer, so luckily, we were well prepared to address the unique circumstances that arose as a result of the pandemic.
Right at the onset of COVID-19, we began sending surveys out to our employees to measure how everyone was feeling in terms of their stress level, mental health, and physical health. Results showed the organization was experiencing a moderate level of stress. By May, however, our employees’ mental and physical health survey scores were unfortunately declining.
We don’t like it when numbers go down. We like numbers going UP. How do we get the numbers to “trend upwards”, as the engineers like to say?
In the past, we partnered with a local company called Shift Collab, who provides mental health workshops, presentations, and trainings to organizations throughout North America. In May, we decided to bring them in to host an interactive virtual session called Managing Overwhelm that provided tools and resources for employees to use to help manage their feelings of being overwhelmed. During the session, employees were asked to submit an anonymous answer to the following question:
“What’s keeping you up at night right now?”
Here are a few responses we received:
“We’re not working from home, we’re at home during a pandemic trying to work.”
“General worry about life and the loss of normalcy. Uncertainty of when and if we will get back to where we were.”
“Pressure from everywhere — work, home, kids, family, health…it’s a lot.”
“I am concerned that the adverse effect of COVID on the economy will end in us losing our jobs and our savings.”
This virtual session really brought us together as a team. We learned that a lot of us were going through similar struggles, and we were not alone.
Since May, we have partnered with Shift Collab to host two other virtual sessions including Practical Mindfulness and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome to again provide our employees with the tools and resources they can use to improve their mental well-being.
In June, the Joint Health & Safety Committee launched an optional step challenge that lasted for the full month. This not only got people up and moving to improve their physical and mental health, but the initiative also offered some friendly competition amongst colleagues, which brought us together while working remotely, reducing feelings of isolation.
In the first week of July, our CEO gave all employees the latter half of the week off to recognize Canada Day and Independence Day. Having this time off also gave everyone a chance to disconnect and recharge without having to worry about work.
As the colder weather and holiday season approaches, we have opened up our Waterloo office (up to a max of 20% capacity) to allow our employees to leave home and work in a safe space if needed.
We have also launched a mental health initiative focused on practicing gratitude to help us focus on the positives in life. Employees are encouraged to post anonymous gratitude journal entries on a company collaboration page, and to participate in bi-weekly gratitude discussions hosted by yours truly. Mental health check-in polls have also been posted in our #mentalhealthatwork Slack channel on a weekly basis. It’s not only made people more comfortable opening up at work, but it encourages employees to reach out to one another, thus reducing those awful feelings of isolation.
It’s important we continue to support and encourage employees to take care of their mental health even after the craziness of COVID-19 is done and over with. It is also important we continue to measure the health of our employees and ask how we can better support them.
After all — you don’t exercise because you’re sick, but because you want to build strength and resilience, and lessen the chances of becoming ill in the future. It’s every bit as important to be just as proactive about your mental health.
My hope is, by continuing with these initiatives, we can greatly reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health, especially in the workplace.
I will fully admit, it is very difficult to open up and be vulnerable at work, but hey, we spend most of our waking hours working. The lines between personal and work life are becoming even more blurred as a result of the pandemic. Why not help make the workplace a safe space where employees can share their struggles and seek support from their colleagues?
Mental health is for everyone, not just for the mentally ill!