How Companies Can Protect Workers’ Emotional Health in a Crisis

How to enhance connection and community for employees working from home.

Posted Mar 18, 2020

With millions of people working from home during the pandemic or on leave without pay, helping employees maintain emotional health over the duration of the crisis is going to be a challenge, yet a necessity. In such trying times, it is important to identify true leadership and innovative thinking and give it a platform so other leaders can enhance their own leadership and managerial tool-kits.

The following is a letter the CEO of a small company (300 employees) sent to all managers and senior leadership after 70% of employees began working from home or were put on unpaid leave (getting government subsidies).

In addition to the plans he lays out below, he has been posting video messages to all the employees on a regular basis in which he keeps them informed, and offers encouragement and support. Going forward, he will also be featuring messages that include advice for managing loneliness and anxiety and for maintaining emotional health.

I provide more information about the CEO and his background below. Here is the letter:

To all Managers and Leadership,

We are a community. We work together—we spend more of our waking hours with each other than we do with our families—that makes us a community. And in the coming days, a lot of people will need to feel they belong to a community, to have a sense of community.

The whole world is dealing with uncertainty: What’s going to happen? How long this will go on? We’re inundated with reports of dramatic events unfolding by the hour. We feel stressed and apprehensive and some of us feel overwhelmed and anxious.

Being socially isolated, secluded with family in a confined space, or alone without physical contact, all further aggravate mental distress.

This is a global crisis in which for most of us, the risks to our emotional and mental health outweigh the risks to our physical health. Having a strong sense of community during this time will create a psychologically protective layer that will help us deal with the challenges and emotional distress to come.

A community is built on goodwill, good faith, and good citizenship. It is a space in which those who can — give, and those who need — receive. And I mean emotional giving. Because by giving emotionally to others, we strengthen them and allow them to join the "givers" and take the place of those who need a break to focus on self-care or receive support themselves. It is especially important to remember that giving empowers the giver as much as it does those to whom they give.

I intend to continue running the company like a community, especially during these hard times. I want everyone in the company to feel connected and engaged, whether they’re working outside the home, working from home, or on leave. To that end, we will employ different initiatives such as creating a buddy system for struggling or socially isolated employees so they can be matched with volunteers who will be in touch with them regularly, having weekly competitions (e.g., the best "before and after" closet-rearrangement-pic), and maintaining weekly team meetings via video conference for all employees whether currently working or on leave, in order to preserve social ties and connection among team members and maintain a sense of community. And I will need help.

You are the managers, so I’m starting with you: Those of you who feel able (mentally and otherwise) to give (emotionally) to others, please inform me privately and I will delegate missions and tasks. To be clear, if you do not feel up to it, no explanations or apologies are necessary — no one will be keeping score. In fact, I will not tolerate anyone judging how much another person is or is not able to give.

The leadership, the caring you’ve already shown these past days fills me with pride. We are truly fortunate to have so many wonderful people in this company. Together, we’ll get through this.

With love,

Gil W, CEO

The CEO of this company happens to have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and decades of experience working as a leading organizational consultant in his field. And for the sake of full disclosure—he is also my twin brother. However, I had absolutely nothing to do with this current initiative. Rather, when I saw the letter he sent out, I asked his permission to write about it so other leaders and CEOs can consider various ways to help their own workers and managers protect their emotional health in these trying times.

Stay healthy both emotionally and physically.

*Letter translated by Gil Winch, Ph.D.

Copyright Guy Winch 2020