Marian Spencer is the Head of Operations, People and Culture at Black Dog Institute and a member of the 100% Human at Work network. Below Marian shares her thoughts on how to help your teams manage anxiety and stress amidst a pandemic. 

I recently  joined the 100% Human at Work community to share some ideas for supporting employee’s mental health during this pandemic, particularly in relation to the increased levels of stress and anxiety being experienced by many.

Health anxiety is often driven by irrational thoughts, but at the moment a lot of the anxiety being generated by COVID-19 is quite rational and understandable, and a lot of it is shared by us all. Those of us who lead organisations and teams will have a vital role to play in supporting people and intervening early where we can, to prevent stress and anxiety escalating and causing more serious health problems.

Research tells us that three things that predict the onset of Mental health problems for front line workers are:

  • Not getting adequate information
  • Not being or feeling like there is adequate protection
  • Being asked to do things that supervisors are not

Bearing all this in mind I think the following four approaches will help:

1. Authentic leadership

Sharing your own anxieties, struggles and vulnerability can be a very impactful way for a leader to make their team members feel OK about sharing theirs as well. 

It can be hard for people to speak out especially amongst the many who are managing really well – we need to make it OK not to be OK – these are really weird times, it’s not surprising some are struggling. 

50% of people suffering with a mental illness don’t seek help – these are the people we need to find. Listen out for the silent ones and don’t let the voices of those thriving in lockdown drown out those who are suffering. Never be afraid of asking someone if they are OK, just do it with authenticity and kindness.

2. Clear, consistent communication 

Create an internal communications strategy that delivers regular clear information using two or three channels. Be honest and share whatever you can about job and financial security, people hate to be in the dark and uncertainty increases anxiety. You may not always know the answers or have good news, but evidence shows that when people have whatever information is available they are empowered to deal with it better. 

Be down to earth and share information about mental health in order to reduce stigma. Openly acknowledge the fact it can be hard to speak up, and let people know how to get help if they need some.

3. Safety

Helping people feel safe will be particularly important as organisations plan a return to workspaces. There are a few things you can do here:

  • Providing PPE and hand sanitizer
  • Find out what people need to feel safe, what are their biggest concerns?
  • Sharing your planning process for returning to the workspace and incorporate feedback
  • Have and communicate contingency plans to deal with the ‘what ifs’
  • Provide infection control and COVID-19 literacy training so staff are empowered with the best information (for example this Australian government training)
  • Try to be flexible and enable those who are concerned to work from home for longer.

4. Encourage good wellbeing practices

Equip staff with the tools and time to support their own wellbeing, including emotional and physical wellbeing, self-care, and provide opportunities for people to keep social connections going. Laughter and some fun should not be underrated.

Hopefully these are a good start for you but if you want to find out more you can take a look at our mental health and wellbeing framework.


To learn more about the 100% Human At Work network and their efforts to create a better future of work – with support from Virgin Unite and The B Teamread more blogs from our content series.