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October 2020 Newsletter
In This Issue
  • Thanks for Joining Us!
  • Mental Health Snapshot
  • Considerations for Employers
  • Financial Stress and Loss Productivity
  • Quick Reference: 10 Tips for Taking Care of Your Mental Health
  • Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourself
  • Ways to Wellness: Small Steps Can Make a Big Difference
  • Coach's Corner: Practice Compassionate Leadership
October 2020
Volume 7, Number 10

Thanks for Joining Us!

October is here and so is the time for trick or treat. I think we are all thinking that we have been tricked all year! The result of this has left many of us struggling to cope with our current reality, whether it be isolation, job loss, inability to see loved ones, the loss of travel, postponement of weddings, grads, funerals and business woes, to the overall negativity we see and hear everywhere.

All of this can take a toll on our mental health; no one is immune to struggling when there is so much difficulty all around us. This month we look at a snapshot of Canadian's mental health and also exploring ways that employers can support their employees - and themselves - through these times. 

Keep reading for more learning!

Mental Health Snapshot
According to the September 2020 edition of the Mental Health Index, the mental health of Canadians continues to be significantly more strained than prior to the pandemic.

An uneven pattern is emerging with modest increases from April to July 2020, a decline in August and a return to Julyís score of -10 in September. The level of mental health in September remains concerning as it indicates that the working population is currently as distressed as the most distressed 4 percent of working Canadians, prior to 2020.

Individuals who recently returned to the jobsite had a lower mental health score (-11.0)
than those who either remained at the worksite (-7.1) or had always been and continue to work from home (-8.6). Individuals with the lowest scores are working from home as a result of the pandemic (-11.4), and those who are both working from home and at the jobsite (-12.9).

The most prevalent concern, and the top concern impacting mental health because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is related to finances (38 per cent). This is followed by the fear of getting ill with COVID-19 (34 per cent). Individuals that indicate loneliness as the primary concern (16 per cent) have the lowest mental health score (-25.8), followed by 12 per cent who fear dying from COVID-19 (-17.7), and 22 per cent who indicate overwork/work strain
as a result of the pandemic (-17.0).

The rate at which the mental distress of employees is rising is alarming. There are insufficient resources to assist, and as we grapple with what has become the new norm, employers and employees need to realize this fact and take action.

To foster a more attentive, empathetic, and ultimately productive workplace, employers must recognize this and act. Not because there is a legal duty to do so, but because there is a moral one.
- Natalie C. MacDonald
MacDonald & Associates

Considerations for Employers

As organizations focus on managing through the pandemic, addressing the potential for additional waves of COVID-19 and building resilience into their businesses to address social and economic disruption, ten key actions should be considered.

1. Communicate about mental health frequently and recognize that the pandemic has increased the level of mental health risk for all people. This helps remove stigma and builds awareness that each individual needs to be active in managing their mental health and supporting others.

2. Train or educate managers on the need for increased recognition during difficult times; the need for reasonable flexibility with respect to how work is done; and how to recognize and respond to signs of burnout.

3. Promote mental health resources such as Employee Assistance Programs, and in particular the digital resources within such programs to ensure no barriers to care, even with the continued concerns regarding contracting the virus when seeking care.

4. Consider internet-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which helps build the skills necessary for challenging times when anxiety is high.

5. Provide resources that support financial well-being and, in particular, emergency savings, given its strong impact on mental health.

6. Survey employees to determine the unique needs and challenges of your people, including isolation, and to measure whether your efforts to support them are having an impact.

7. Pay particular attention to those who have recently transitioned back to the worksite, given concerns about health, and personal re-adjustment.

8. Focus additional attention on groups that are most at risk, including parents, younger employees, lower income employees, people of colour and those who identify as female or other. Listening sessions and targeted education sessions provide practical value and show empathy.

9. Recognize that certain necessary employment changes may have increased the mental strain on employees, in particular, reduction in hours or salary. Individuals who have had their salary or hours reduced have a level of uncertainty and would benefit from additional attention to ensure that they remain connected, informed, and valued through this time.

10. Ensure that your organization is consistent in your efforts to support mental health among employees as inconsistent action erodes the benefits you may have realized prior to or early on in the pandemic. 

Financial Stress and Lost Productivity
During the lockdown, financial stress is top of mind for workers, some of whom have been laid off or had salaries reduced. Support for them is warranted from both payroll and HR departments, especially since this can have a direct impact the bottom line.

ďWeíve calculated that financial stress results in about $16 billion of lost productivity a year here in Canada and the reason for that is that about a quarter of working Canadians spend almost 40 minutes a day distracted by personal financial matters at work. That is a real impact on productivity,Ē says  Peter Tzanetakis, president of the Canadian Payroll Association.

ďRight now, about 55 per cent of companies actually have pay-yourself-first programs. That means thereís 45 per cent that donít. HR has been really focused for a number of years on supporting mental wellness of employees; for example, through implementing employee assistance programs. But, similarly, payroll can really play an important role in supporting employee financial wellness by providing resources to reduce financial pressures and stress.Ē

Dedicated payroll professionals and business leaders across the country can help by:
  1. Helping to establish solid, long-term savings habits for workers through the implementation of pay yourself first programs. Such a program sees employees work with payroll to ensure a portion of their paycheque is automatically deposited into a separate savings account. This encourages better money management, a higher rate of savings, and the steady accumulation of retirement funds, all of which contribute to financial wellness.
  2. Engaging employees to lower stress levels. Clearly communicating to employees on the steps the organization is taking to support them, especially during a crisis, is important. Given that half (48%) of all survey respondents believe their organization will undergo future layoffs, any positive news would be beneficial to alleviate concerns that they will remain on payroll. 
  3. Contributing to conditions that create certainty. For example: by having a clearly communicated payroll continuity plan in place, in the event of a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, and implementing a top-tier payroll system that helps pay-day run on-time, and gives employees the confidence of knowing that their paycheque is accurate every time.
"Slow breathing is like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm: the anchor won't make the storm goes away, but it will hold you steady until it passes."
- Russ Harris

A Note About Understanding the Mental Health Indexô Scoring       
A positive score on the Mental Health Indexô indicates better mental health in the overall working population, compared to the benchmark period of 2017 to 2019. A higher positive score reflects greater improvement. A negative Mental Health Indexô score indicates a decline in mental health compared to the benchmark period. The more negative the score, the greater the decline. A score of zero indicates mental health that is the same as it was in the benchmark period.
Quick Reference: 10 Tips for Taking Care of Your Mental Health
How can you cope and take care of your mental health when everything is up in the air and could change so quickly?  

Here are 10 tips that you might find helpful.

1. Distance physically, but not socially. Itís crucial for your mental health to stay connected with the people in your life. There are many apps for free video calls, such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

2. Stay informed - through credible sources. Knowing the facts of COVID-19 and learning what you can do to stay safe and healthy can reduce your anxiety because you will feel you have some power over your situation. Itís also important to stay up-to-date on the latest developments, new guidelines, and potential restrictions. Reliable sources include The World Health Organization, Health Canada, and Alberta Health Services.

3. Set limits and take breaks from all electronics. While itís important to stay informed, do set limits for yourself. For example, you could decide to check the news for 20 minutes at 9 AM and 4 PM. After your time is up, try to focus on something else. 

4. Plan your days and try to have fun. Try to do activities that you usually enjoy or pick up new hobbies if possible. Go outside for fresh air, read a book, or bake. Give yourself permission to laugh. It immediately makes everything look a bit better. Laughter also decreases stress and anxiety. 

5. Be physically active. You might not feel like exercising, but give it a try. Physical activity improves your mood and overall health and reduces stress and anxiety. Some gyms may be closed or restrictive, but there are plenty of exercise videos for all fitness levels on YouTube. You could also go for a walk.  

6. Eat and drink as healthy as possible. Many of us reach for comfort foods in stressful situations, but often those foods arenít good for our overall health and wellbeing. Do your best at finding as many healthy foods as possible. Also, drink more water and limit pop, coffee, and alcohol. 

7. Get enough sleep. We all know that sleep improves our mood and health. Try to go to bed and get up around the same time each day. To fall asleep quicker, donít use your phone or watch TV in bed. If something is on your mind and itís keeping you from falling asleep, try writing it down.

8. Do mindfulness exercises. If you havenít tried mindfulness before, now is a great time. Mindfulness reduces  - you guessed it - anxiety and stress, and improves health. Some of the free mindfulness apps include Headspace and Calm. All you need to do is find a quiet spot, 10 minutes of your time, and follow the instructions on these guided apps to get started.  

9. Challenge your negative thoughts. Negative thoughts can feed anxiety and stress. Self-defeating, negative thoughts can be so strong that you believe that they are actually true. To challenge your thoughts, start with writing them down. The next step is to ask yourself questions such as: Is this true? Has this thing that Iím worried about happened before? How did I cope?  How helpful it is to keep thinking this way?  Now try to come up with more balanced and realistic thoughts. 

10. Aim to think positively. You may feel like there isnít much positive in your life, but if you pause to think, you can probably come up with something, no matter how small it may seem. Mental health therapists recommend keeping a gratefulness journal for a reason. It reduces stress, improves self-esteem, and fosters resilience.  

Adapted from

Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourself
Employees often take their cues from HR teams, but itís essential that leaders take care of themselves, too. Think of it like an airplane: you must put on your own mask before assisting others. People operations are particularly stretched right now facilitating remote working, creating new policy, and evolving campus processes. If you are a people leader, ensure you are taking time to prioritize your own well-being.

Rather than simply reacting, taking moments to pause and check in with yourself will help you to be intentional in every interaction and make better decisions for your team, from a place of awareness and clarity.
Coach's Corner: Practice Compassionate Leadership

During times of uncertainty and high stress, itís helpful to remember that youíre not alone in how you feel. Leaders play a key role in helping to guide and support their employees in a kind and compassionate way. Everyone will deal with this situation differently, so in the context of recent events, organizations should enable and empower employees to make decisions around their own health that best suit them, whether that be work-from-home options and/or flexible schedules outside of normal hours.

Itís important to keep in mind that while weíre all in this together, each person has unique life circumstances that may cause more or less acute concern. For example, we cannot know who has vulnerable family members who may be at greater risk, or who already suffers from anxiety and experiences the uncertainty and fear more acutely. Leading with compassion and empathy is more critical than ever.

Practicing self-compassion during this time is also important. Be honest about how youíre truly feeling, and remember that if youíre not feeling well, youíre not only being kind to yourself by staying home, but youíre protecting those you work with as well.

Ways to practice Compassionate Leadership:
  • Look: Take time to check-in with your team. Look for the unsaid. How are people's energy levels?
  • Listen: Practice mindful listening. Give your team space to be open and honest about how they feel, both mentally and physically.
  • Feel: Everyone is going to be feeling a range of different emotions. Taking the time to acknowledge how someone else is truly feeling empowers us to respond with kindness.
  • Respond: In times of high stress, it's easy to let frustrations get in the way of skillful communication. Pause and give yourself space to respond in a skillful and kind way.
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About Wendy Ellen Inc.
Wendy Ellen Inc. specializes in providing human resource and benefits management skills to small to mid-sized companies on an as-needed basis. From recruitment, Human Resource policy development and legislative compliance, employee retention and engagement, individual advisor/coaching, succession planning to employee development and performance, Wendy Ellen Inc. will help you protect your most valuable resource, your people.
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