Mental Health Managers Guide to Support Staff

To comply with state orders, follow public health department recommendations, and protect the health and safety of faculty, staff and students Miami University has recognized the need for flexibility in our work schedules.  In response to ongoing departmental requests and guidelines associated with COVID-19 the Remote Work policy has been introduced.

However as a manager this may mean that a portion of your staff may be on campus and another portion working from home.  For some this will be a seamless transition but for others having a split workforce can present some challenges.  However, were you aware that:

In addition to the portion of the website that details “Your Miami Benefits During the Current Pandemic, https://miamioh.edu/human-resources/,” Your Healthy Miami account offers a COVID-19 Relief Kit to full-time employees.  The kit contains activities and a variety of resources to assist employees with subjects like nutrition, staying active and keeping calm.

Impact Solutions (EAP) Employee Assistance Program

Impact Solutions offers a wide variety of resources and services in addition to telephonic mental/behavioral health counseling. This benefit is available to ALL full-time and part-time Miami employees including anyone living within the household (i.e. foster children, grandparents, in-laws, etc.). Go to MyImpactSolution.com, enter “Miamioh” or contact Impact Solutions 24/7: Call 800-227-6007.

LiveHealth Online Psychology/Psychiatry

If you are a participant of the Miami health plan and you’re feeling anxious or having trouble coping on your own and need some support, you can have a video visit with a therapist using LiveHealth Online (a telephonic app associated with Anthem).  In general, appointments can be made in four days or less through:

  • Engage App
  • LiveHealth Online phone App
  • Livehealthonline.com
  • Or by phone at LiveHealth Online at 1-844-784-8409 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a  week.  Evening and weekend appointments are available.  You can get help for anxiety, depression, grief, panic attacks and more.

If you are not a participant of the Miami health plan or eligible to participate on the health plan, LiveHealth Online is still an option and offers transparent pricing for primary care and mental health services.  Registration is free and there are no monthly fees.

How Managers Can Support Remote Employees

As much as remote work can be fraught with challenges, there are also relatively quick and inexpensive things that managers can do to ease the transition. Actions that you can take today include:

Establish structured regular check-ins (daily if possible)

Many successful remote managers establish a daily call with their remote employees.  This could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls, if your employees work more independently from each other, or a team call, if their work is highly collaborative. The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable, and that they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with you, and that their concerns and questions will be heard.

Provide several different communication technology options

Email alone is insufficient. Remote workers benefit from having a “richer” technology, such as video conferencing,   gives participants many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face. Video conferencing has many advantages, especially for smaller groups: Visual cues allow for increased “mutual knowledge” about coworkers and also help reduce the sense of isolation among teams. Video is also particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations, as it feels more personal than written or audio-only communication.

There are other circumstances when quick collaboration is more important than visual detail. For these situations, provide mobile-enabled individual messaging functionality (like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, see Miami IT resources Remote Work Technology Toolkit) which can be used for simpler, less formal conversations, as well as time-sensitive communication.

And then establish “rules of engagement”

Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams. For example, “We use videoconferencing for daily check-in meetings, but we use IM when something is urgent.” Also, if you can, let your employees know the best way and time to reach you during the workday (e.g., “I tend to be more available late in the day for ad hoc phone or video conversations, but if there’s an emergency earlier in the day, send me a text.”) Finally, keep an eye on communication among team members (to the extent appropriate), to ensure that they are sharing information as needed.

We recommend that managers establish these “rules of engagement” with employees as soon as possible, ideally during the first online check-in meeting. While some choices about specific expectations may be better than others, the most important factor is that all employees share the same set of expectations for communication.

Provide opportunities for remote social interaction

One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to structure ways for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely. This is true for all remote workers, but particularly so for workers who have been abruptly transitioned out of the office.

The easiest way to establish some basic social interaction is to leave some time at the beginning of team calls just for non-work items (e.g., “We’re going to spend the first few minutes just catching up with each other. How was your weekend?”). Other options include virtual pizza parties (in which pizza is delivered to all team members at the time of a videoconference), or virtual office parties (in which party “care packages” can be sent in advance to be opened and enjoyed simultaneously). While these types of events may sound artificial or forced, experienced managers of remote workers (and the workers themselves) report that virtual events help reduce feelings of isolation, promoting a sense of belonging.

Offer encouragement and emotional support

Especially in the context of an abrupt shift to remote work, it is important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their struggles. If a remote employee is clearly struggling but not communicating stress or anxiety, ask them how they’re doing. Even a general question such as “How is this remote work situation working out for you so far?” can elicit important information that you might not otherwise hear. Once you ask the question, be sure to listen carefully to the response, and briefly restate it back to the employee, to ensure that you understood correctly. Let the employee’s stress or concerns (rather than your own) be the focus of this conversation.

Research on emotional intelligence and emotional contagion tells us that employees look to their managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crisis situations. If a manager communicates stress and helplessness, this will have what Daniel Goleman calls a “trickle-down” effect on employees. Effective leaders take a two-pronged approach, both acknowledging the stress and anxiety that employees may be feeling in difficult circumstances, but also providing affirmation of their confidence in their teams, using phrases such as “we’ve got this,” or “this is tough, but I know we can handle it,” or “let’s look for ways to use our strengths during this time.” With this support, employees are more likely to take up the challenge with a sense of purpose and focus.

Content adapted from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) as on the Impact Solutions website.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Lack of face-to-face supervision

Both managers and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Supervisors worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently (though research indicates otherwise, at least for some types of jobs). Many employees, on the other hand, struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication. In some cases, employees feel that remote managers are out of touch with their needs, and thereby are neither supportive nor helpful in getting their work done.

Lack of access to information

Remote workers are often surprised by the added time and effort needed to locate information from coworkers. Even getting answers to what seems like simple questions can feel like a large obstacle to a worker based at home.

This phenomenon extends beyond task-related work to interpersonal challenges that can emerge among remote coworkers. Research has found that a lack of “mutual knowledge” among remote workers translates to a lower willingness to give coworkers the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations. For example, if you know that your officemate is having a rough day, you will view a brusque email from them as a natural product of their stress. However, if you receive this email from a remote coworker, with no understanding of their current circumstances, you are more likely to take offense, or at a minimum to think poorly of your coworker’s professionalism.

Social isolation

Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work, with employees missing the informal social interaction of an office setting. It is thought that extraverts may suffer from isolation more in the short run, particularly if they do not have opportunities to connect with others in their remote-work environment. However, over a longer period of time, isolation can cause any employee to feel less “belonging” to their organization, and can even result in increased intention to leave the company.

Distractions at home

We often see photos representing remote work which portray a parent holding a child and typing on a laptop, often sitting on a sofa or living-room floor. In fact, this is a terrible representation of effective virtual work.  Ensure that your remote workers have both dedicated workspace and adequate childcare before allowing them to work remotely.  In the case of a sudden transition to virtual work, there is a much greater chance that employees will be contending with suboptimal workspaces and (in the case of school and daycare closures) unexpected parenting responsibilities. Even in normal circumstances family and home demands can impinge on remote work; managers should work with their teams to understand and adhere to established work from home guidelines.