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ALL IN THE FAMILY

Caring for employees’ mental health

/ 05:18 AM September 16, 2021

Since the start of the pandemic, requests for me to give mental health webinars, not just for schools or parent groups, but also for businesses and civic associations, more than quadrupled. Many young people, already vulnerable pre-lockdown, experience depression and anxiety.

My students are my priority, so I regret I cannot take on outside clients with mental health issues. For resources (psychologists, therapist groups, medical centers, etc.), our book “Lifeline: A Layperson’s Guide to Helping People in Crisis,” coauthored with four other licensed clinical psychologists, contains warning signs, risk factors, dos and don’ts, strategies on dealing with children, teens, friends, family, colleagues at risk. The book though is not a substitute for professional help.

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Aside from tweens and teens, many adults also report a lot of mental and emotional issues. Depression is alarming, but what is apparent is a spike in anxiety, which manifests as panic attacks, “freezing,” agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house, even for urgent errands), anger and irritability in the workplace and at home, among others.

A bit of fear is normal in the pandemic, I tell businesses, but when it becomes incapacitating, with employees unable to think, function or focus, then such anxieties need to be managed. Deep breathing, meditation, yoga can help alleviate physical pains. Challenging irrational thoughts, fact-checking social media, minimizing alarming news beyond our control can help keep our minds healthy.

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Proper diet, sleep, exercise provide a routine that “enables me to have a semblance of normalcy,” says the 70-year-old founder of a retail family enterprise. “Instead of constantly tuning in to the news, I read inspirational books to [make me] feel more hopeful and to keep me sane amid societal chaos.”

“Aside from catching COVID-19, many employees worry about job security,” says Catherine Tiu-Tan, in her 50s, a second-generation member of the electronics family firm Akari. “So we talk to our people. We assure them that as much as possible, for those whose jobs can be done from home, they are expected [to still do their share]. They are evaluated based on their productivity, rather than hours spent in the office.”

Open communication strengthens working relationships, which in turn works wonders for mental health. Early on in the lockdown, Akari already gave managers the best (even if pricey) smartphones, to ensure smoother collaboration.

More importantly, “we talk online with employees regularly and check up on them,” says Tiu-Tan. “Instead of endlessly discussing the pandemic’s statistics, we prefer to take everyone’s minds off this for a while. For the first few minutes, we discuss the latest movie, TV stars, etc. Only after we do [such kumustahan] do we discuss the tasks at hand.”

This tactic works, because the mood lightens, with employees able to better deal with work issues rather than personal fears.

Small tokens, usually unexpected, also show employees the company cares for them. “For those who need to report to work, such as the distribution staff, we sometimes send over siopao or ice cream to show our appreciation.”

Work concerns are one thing, family issues are another. Sadly, in webinars that are supposed to focus on work issues, I am often asked about employee concerns that revolve around the home: How can they help their children in online learning? How can they help mentally ill parents who refuse to seek help? What can they do if their spouses are having an affair?

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I increasingly have to discuss family and marriage issues in business webinars, which shows that in the Philippines, family and business issues cannot be easily separated. For parents concerned about distance learning and mental health, join us on Oct. 9, Saturday, at 2:00 p.m. for “Raising Independent, Resilient and Mentally Healthy Children in the Pandemic and Beyond: An in-depth discussion on learning, parenting and growth.”

Get “Lifeline: A Layperson’s Guide to Helping People in Crisis” from Lazada, Shopee, Anvil or Kindle.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” via Lazada, or the e-book on Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]

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TAGS: employees’ mental health, mental health webinars, pandemic
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