Saying Hello to Mental De-stress

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Hung_Chung_Chih

Thanks to COVID-19, mental health is now at the center of HR efforts. 

Stress from being secluded at home and being close to the family for 24 hours — coupled with job and health anxiety — is taking a toll on employees. 

These not only matter to their productivity at home, but will make a tremendous impact when employees get back to the workplaces. It can also have lasting side effects such as aggravating depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — similar to soldiers mentally exhausted by war.

In a World Economic Forum article, author Dr. Elke Van Hoof, professor for health psychology and primary care psychology at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, called the COVID-19 measures the largest psychological experiment. She writes that while the world focuses on medical health, the little attention to psychological health will come back to bite us in “three to six months.”

One way HR leaders are looking to deal with the mental stress is by getting their employees involved in offline community initiatives. 

#HelloNeighbour challenge by Circles.Life is one example. The challenge encourages employees to post notes of encouragement on their windows for their neighbors to see. They can then share their efforts on social media. 

“The initiative came about during one of our internal brainstorms for fun, company-wide activities that employees can do at home with their families. Many are feeling the additional psychological stress of being stuck at home or having cabin fever, and we wanted to spread joy as much as we can,” says Megan Yulga, head of Creative Shop at Circles.Life.

The simple effort makes employees see themselves as part of a community (and not alone), while helping them to stay off online. 

“We are seeing many brands trying out virtual initiatives since everyone is constantly ‘online’ now — during and after work hours. So we brought it one step further. #HelloNeighbour is meant to be an ‘offline’ initiative to get people to unwind from the pressures of virtual work environments,” explains Yulga.

It is not the first time Circles.Life organized such efforts, but most were focused online and on policies. 

“We’re not going to lie, we have jumped on the bandwagon and provided employees with online engagement initiatives during lockdown,” says Yulga. They include virtual happy hours, yoga sessions, regular 1-1 check-ins with managers or department HR leads, online contests, voting on who’s prepared the most creative lunch set, etc. 

“These activities are fun, casual and, quite frankly, very necessary to help everyone stay connected and excited for the new day,” she adds. 

Circles.Life was also one of the first in Singapore to roll out Self Care leave for the entire organization, including Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan. During this extra day off each month, employees are encouraged to disconnect from work and spend time with their families. 

The #HelloNeighbour initiative underscores Circles.Life concern over mental health during lockdown where “lines do blur between personal and work environments, and this can affect one’s well-being and mental state.” 

“For instance, as an employee, some may also play a dual role being a parent, a child, a partner or a guardian for their nephews or nieces. We have placed professional resources well within the reach of our employees, before they even have a reason to ask for help,” Yulga adds. 

Meanwhile, online social media is helping #HelloNeighbour to catch on fast offline. 

“Given that social media is a public domain, naturally, this got picked up by friends and families with Circles.Life employees, and it just became more widespread,” says Yulga.

These matter as Circles.Life itself faces severe business challenges. A Business Times article noted that the company saw less than 5% of their global headcount laid off. But the company framed this as an ongoing downsizing exercise that began in November 2019. 

“I believe this initiative has brought all of us within Circles.Life closer together, with us being more open to sharing each other’s concerns with one another. Along with the other initiatives within Circles.Life, our employees have appreciated the efforts put in place to support their well-being,” says Yulga. 

When employees get back to work, such initiatives can offer a foundation to deal with the extra set of return-to-work anxieties.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Hung_Chung_Chih