2020 is the gift that keeps on giving. Nobody had expected the year to play out the way it did so far. We still have another 7 months to go.
I’ve been struggling to take in everything that has been happening so far and I’m not the only one. After talking to several co-workers, customers, and friends, I feel like the large majority of people have been shaken up by current events and are struggling in their personal lives in their own unique ways.
We’re also going through some mental health challenges in the workplace, at an unprecedented scale. Everyone can feel it amongst each other. Oddly enough, it’s been this big elephant in the room in many companies that nobody wants to talk about publicly. Most companies are not prepared for their employees to go through mental health crises at this scale, and it’s been showing. This is just something they’ve never had to think about until now, because so many unprecedented events are happening all at once.
The Employee’s Mental Health in 2020
Remote work is awesome when it’s an active choice and things are open. I’ve been working remotely since August of last year and loved the freedom and mobility it provided me. I could choose to work in a workspace office when I wanted to, visit a variety of local coffee shops, or even travel around the world and still find a way to be productive.
When it’s a forced choice and everything around you is closed, it is not awesome. What doesn’t help is that there are several major outside events going on at once. Mainstream media isn’t helping, as everything they’ve been doing seems to have had some political spin attached to it.
It was already hard to not keep the days blurred. It was already hard to feel like we were on house arrest for three months in tiny studio apartments. It was already hard to stay focused at work with all the modern distractions available to us while we were isolated away from our teams.
How We Can Address This Issue
Most companies won’t admit how unprepared they were to get blindsided this hard. I don’t blame them. In a matter of months, they’ve had to figure how to transition to being remote first, layoff a large amount of staff, struggle for financial survival, and now figure out how to boost the morale of the rest of their troops as the world seems to be falling apart on the outside.
Ease Up On Timelines
I was working a full time job and another part time job during what seemed like a civil war during the first week of June 2020. I remember different people asking me for deliverables while I was struggling to comprehend what was going on in America. How can anyone realistically give their full attention to work at this time?
Mental Health Days
I remember when mental health days just meant taking a random day off just to relax and regenerate. There’s nowhere left to go nowadays so people are less inclined to take mental health days just to stay at home and relax.
We should take this year as an opportunity to redefine and improve mental health days. The emphasis should be on doing something that actually improves our mental health. Employers should give people freedom to attend peaceful protests and marches instead of work if that would contribute to their mental health. Employers should be prepared to recommend material for people to read, watch, or listen to if we think it would improve their well being for their own sake.
Last but not least, employers should be able to pay for services that would directly improve their employee’s mental health such as therapy or counseling. Mental health days need to be mandatory.
Preventing The Next Crisis
Even though we all live in our little bubbles at work, we’re still all members of a much larger society that seems to need to change in many ways for the better.
What I saw this year was a lot of reaction that was a result of a refusal to be proactive when we had the easy opportunity to. We knew a lot of jobs could have been done remotely for years and yet still required folks to come into the office. We knew that there was inequality in the workplace and in broader society and decided to procrastinate on the issues until things were escalated to where we are now.
These were very important lessons that I’m sure many will learn from in the future.