Continuing the Conversation on Mental Health and DEIB in 2021
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It’s hard to believe 2021 is right around the corner. 2020 has been fraught with trials and tribulations of the highest order. In addition to facing the extreme impact of the coronavirus pandemic on individuals and organizations, we have faced the civil and interpersonal unrest caused by systemic racism finally being broadly acknowledged following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor among others. We witnessed companies make bold statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and proclaiming how they would address diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in their organizations. However, we also saw a steep and significant increase in mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, addiction, and abuse brought on by the isolation of remote work, quarantining, stay at home orders and grief from loss of employment, housing, and loved ones. Yes; 2020 has been quite the year.
DEIB Considerations for 2021
As we approach the end of this year and the beginning of a new one, we must ask ourselves “what happens now?” More to the point, how do we maintain, or reignite, the DEIB momentum from earlier this year? How do we continue to support employee mental health, particularly while working remotely? In general, how do we move forward?
It’s critical to remember that DEIB practices within an organization cannot be viewed in a vacuum or as a “special initiative.” They must be ingrained into every aspect of business operations with intention. Times of crisis must not be used as an excuse to ignore this or to make statements of action that will not be upheld when they think no one is paying attention. The only way this works is for us to remain vigilant in holding employers accountable for their words and deeds. This includes calling out employment practices and work environments that are not diverse or inclusive, tracking promised actions, and addressing bad faith actors.
Employee Well-Being in the New Year
Unfortunately, early 2021 does not promise to be much better than 2020 in terms of the coronavirus pandemic and cases of COVID-19. As such, it is likely that organizations that have pivoted to working remotely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Though many of us have been working remotely for several months now, that doesn’t necessarily translate to it being any less of a challenge or having any less impact on employee mental health. These challenges may include having no separation between work and home, Zoom fatigue, being consistently alone or consistently around family/housemates and trying to manage online school for children while working. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the additional strains of illness and loss.
It is imperative to have resources in place to support employee mental health, regardless of whether you are in the workplace. In addition to providing access to an employee assistance program (EAP), it’s important to have regular check-in conversations with your team to ask how they are doing. It’s also important to practice empathy and be flexible when it comes to work hours, deadlines, etc.
Asking how employees are doing is not enough. Employers and managers must be prepared to act accordingly when they hear their employees are experiencing challenges. Contacting the EAP, taking some time off, reducing their workload, or changing deadlines are all explorable options. Make it clear year-round that your organization is mental health friendly and that there is no shame in experiencing a mental health challenge.
2020 has given us the opportunity to hold up a mirror to ourselves and our employers as it relates to how we deal with people, crisis, challenge, unrest, and uncomfortable conversations. If we didn’t like what we saw in the mirror in 2020, 2021 is the year to make a change.