Employment and Jobs

How can I help my employees manage increased stress?

November 18, 2020  • Vivian Vázquez, Ranita Jain & Jenny Weissbourd

Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19: A Resource for Small Businesses

#4. How can I help my employees manage increased stress?

This question is an excerpt from our downloadable brief, “Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19: A Resource for Small Businesses.”

Employees may face challenges ranging from financial stress to fear of illness to new education and care responsibilities. For many workers, these pressures are not new but have become more acute with the pandemic. Small business owners have expressed that they are especially concerned about their employees’ wellbeing during these extraordinarily challenging times and want to find ways to support both worker and business stability. Below, we share strategies and tools small business owners are using to support their employees’ mental health.

Communicate to your employees that you care about their wellbeing

The small business owners we spoke with have made a point of telling their employees that they understand that these are unprecedented times and that they want to be supportive as workers navigate increased pressure and a variety of unknowns in their lives. There are many ways to communicate this, including asking questions and showing empathy, providing safe channels for feedback, and finding ways to offer increased flexibility.

Review and expand benefits and policies that support psychological health at work

If available, remind employees about your employer-sponsored employee assistance plan. Share details about the plan and encourage them to use these resources or connect them to other free options, such as national helplines. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides free help via text and a useful guide for navigating mental health during COVID-19. The EEOC has also provided guidance on providing accommodations to employees whose pre-existing mental health conditions have worsened during the pandemic.

Create space for community building

We heard small business owners finding innovative ways to create safe space for sharing, staying connected, and strengthening employees’ support networks. For example, some businesses have been organizing virtual or outdoor get-togethers and team-building activities. Casey Spigel, co-owner of Forever Wireless, hosted Zoom get-togethers with his furloughed employees. “I really liked them and wanted them to stay on board,” he says, “and the only way to keep checking in was to maintain a relationship. Every other week for eight weeks, we chatted. It helped us bring people back.” Be mindful that if an activity occurs during non-work hours, some employees may not be able to participate.

Ask employees what kinds of practices would support their emotional wellbeing

Getting some fresh air during a work break may be restorative for some, and others may appreciate the opportunity to have more team check-ins to combat loneliness and isolation. You can encourage workers to come up with ideas that may work for them and for the larger team and communicate that you are actively listening to their concerns and feedback.

Small Business Perspectives

“From the beginning, we established communication. Employees know they can talk about anything at any time with us. We won’t question if they are really sick, we trust if they say they aren’t feeling well. So being supportive and understanding is the biggest thing—anything they tell us, we will really listen to. Any time they need to take off for mental health, that can happen, and our leave policies lend towards that.” –Khari Parker, co-owner of Baltimore restaurant Connie’s Chicken and Waffles


IMPORTANT: Please note that this resource is not legal guidance about workplace safety. This guide does not provide technical information about regulations that businesses must comply with for reopening. Individual business owners are responsible for complying with their local jurisdiction’s evolving guidance related to COVID-19. The National Safety Council provides a range of resources that you may find helpful, including federal guidelines and state-specific resources regarding COVID-19 and the workplace.


Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19

  1. How can I reassure my workers that we are following appropriate safety guidelines?
  2. How can I create an equitable and inclusive environment for my employees and customers?
  3. How can I help my employees communicate and implement safety measures with customers?
  4. How can I help my employees manage increased stress? (you are here)
  5. How can I help my employees get to work safely?
  6. How can I recognize and respond to my employees’ caregiving responsibilities?
  7. How can I support my employees’ financial stability?

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The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.