Learning & Development Asia 2024
The 10 basics of managing employee mental health in quarantine

The 10 basics of managing employee mental health in quarantine


Society often perceives people with a mental health condition as having a weakness of character. While many try hard to stamp out this so-called mental health stigma and to convince that mental health is a sign of strength instead, here is a refreshing point of view towards the subject of weakness brought by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. 

In his film Stalker, the main character contemplates, "Weakness is a great thing, and strength is nothing. When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it's tender and pliant. But when it's dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death's companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win."

One interpretation of the quote is that weakness is not necessarily a negative thing, and it can be a starting point of greatness ahead.

That said, in a period of life in which people are more prone to mental illness, City Mental Health Alliance compiled a fact sheet for employers to support mental health and wellbeing while in quarantine:

1. Seek feedback from employees: There is no one-size-fits-all solution as different individuals will be tackling different challenges during quarantine. Simply asking and listening to what your employee’s specific needs and concerns are the best way to start.

2. Be flexible: Be aware of time zones of where your employees are based and, where possible, arrange meetings during times that are within normal working hours for all participants. It’s likely your employees will be using screens to interact with family and friends so where possible, try to limit long zoom calls to prevent screen fatigue. It also may be more challenging for employees to present or conduct external meetings so consider workload commitments and whether these may need to be adapted accordingly.

3. Stay connected: Encourage employees to stay connected and have regular one-on-one or team check-ins with them via digital platforms. Keep them informed of any policy changes and how these may affect their specific circumstances.

4. Be supportive of family circumstances: While in quarantine, employees may need to find solutions for childcare, home-schooling or alternative forms of support for family dependents. Employees may be sharing a hotel room with children who may demand their attention during a conference call. Be patient and understanding of unusual circumstances and provide support where possible.

5. Be aware of family emergencies: Some employees may have travelled abroad for family emergencies and may be dealing with a wide range of emotions while in quarantine. Consider what support may be required, for example, offering reduced working hours or some time off.

6. Provide IT/remote workstation support: Help your employees adjust to their new work environment by providing IT support, necessary hardware and any relevant infrastructure such as an office chair or back support for them to work efficiently during their quarantine. Be aware of potential Wi-Fi limitations at certain quarantine locations and consider providing them with solutions such as boosters.

The NGO interviewed Linklaters' senior HR advisor Lucianne Powell who travelled abroad during the pandemic. She cited the company had offered interest-free loans regarding quarantine costs and flights for employees below manager level. During her quarantine in Hong Kong, she was asked whether she had an adequate workstation in her hotel room and was couriered a screen, keyboard, mouse, and a headset within the same day. She also received a fruit hamper from the company's senior management. 

7. Maintain a clear line of communication: Ensure a clear and regular line of communication between your employee and different stakeholders within the organisation. Consider having one point of contact to minimise stress and conflicting messages.

8. Promote your support channels: Being in quarantine can bring up a range of emotions and it can be a stressful time. Ensure that your employees are aware of the support resources available, for example Employee Assistance Programmes, insurance coverage, in-house counsellor support and links to resources.

9. Be aware of pre-existing conditions: Be conscious of employees with pre-existing mental health or other physical conditions. Consider how you might be able to support them and treat them with compassion and respect.

10. Brighten up their day employees: Employers will likely experience highs and lows in quarantine – consider sending them small gifts (such as snacks or fruit) to support them through the period and/or reach out to ask if they need anything.

To further understand how to create a healthy workplace, sign up here for our mini-series "Managing Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace" compiled by mental health practitioners and business professionals. Each module will focus on sharing insights and equipping HR practitioners with practical tools and techniques to enhance the overall mental wellbeing of your organisation and address real-time issues that can help drive organisational performance.

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