A blog from the Ontario Library Service

Supporting Employee Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As Ontario’s State of Emergency continues, and its list of essential services shrunk, additional workplaces have shut down, leaving countless workers, including those in public libraries, laid off, put on temporary leave, redeployed, or working from home. Obviously, none of these is an ideal situation for those workers whose jobs are designed to provide service in a public space. And any way you look at it, the pandemic has created impossibly difficult decisions for employers, including library boards. Having to balance fiscal responsibility with loyalty to dedicated staff, whose work has temporarily halted, boards and CEOs have found themselves in the unenviable position of having to make very difficult decisions.

Even once the decisions have been made and the lay-offs have happened, challenges continue. Those who are still working have to get acclimatized to working from home, and figure out new ways of doing just about everything. This can be challenging at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic when there is every reason to be worried, anxious, preoccupied, and feeling isolated and disconnected. And for some, there is the additional burden of childcare and home schooling, while also doing one’s own work. There may be less than ideal workspaces in the home, competition for computers and devices, and Internet access might be spotty. The list of difficulties faced by the sudden remote workforce can go on and on … and on.

Well meaning employers are trying to support staff working remotely. It’s increasingly apparent, the longer this goes on, that part of the support involves having realistic work expectations. I think it’s fair to say that most people are not being as productive as they are under normal circumstances, and yet, for some, the very act of working from home creates more work. Managers, who are trying to support the staff offering virtual programming, for example, are coming to find themselves stretched very thin, with competing demands for their time. Problem-solving conversations, aimed at evening out the workload, and ensuring that no one’s workload is too demanding, is, perhaps, the best way to address workload concerns.

Another crucial part of support for staff – not unrelated to workload – is paying attention to everyone’s mental health. It is important to understand and relay to staff that we are not just trying to work from home. We are also trying to work during a pandemic, with its inherent inconveniences, challenges, risks and worries. Any combination of these takes a toll on one’s mental health, and it is incumbent upon every employer to ensure that staff know where to turn for help. At the beginning of April, the Ontario Government announced it was investing up to $12 million dollars to immediately expand online and virtual mental health supports, including www.connexontario.cawww.bouncebackontario.ca and the Kids’ Help Phone Line (1-800-668-6868). For more resources to turn to, see the Well-Being and Mental Health section of the professional resource on Programming, Staffing, and Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic, available in LearnHQ.

While it may sound cliché, the unsettling time in which we find ourselves, personally and professionally, requires us to look out for one another. Whether you’re a manager, or frontline staff, you can do your part by reaching out to colleagues, engaging in short conversations (even over email) and ensuring that everyone still feels connected to the library, is engaged in some meaningful work, and knows where to turn for assistance. These are, indeed, trying times and we need to get through to the other side together and be stronger for having looked after one another.

2 thoughts on “Supporting Employee Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. Connectivity and compassion are critical elements of social engagement at this time.
    Just listening helps – to fellow co-workers and patrons.
    The saddest cry is “I have run out of books to read” and there is nothing that I can do to resolve this except share from my personal library.

  2. So true, Michele. I know that a lot of people are struggling with that … the very population who has traditionally been our biggest supporters (seniors) are not, generally speaking, able to take advantage of the library’s online collections and services. It is tragic AND there is nothing we can do about it. Except listen with compassion and understanding.

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