Lessons from a CEO Roundtable: Managing Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

As a leader, it is essential that you take the time to regularly check in on your own mental health as well as the mental health of your team members. Mental health is a significant issue in the best of times, and people are obviously dealing with a considerable amount of additional stress right now. Daily routines no longer apply and we are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, uncertainty, and isolation. 

During one of our CEO Roundtables, several excellent ideas were shared on how business leaders can help alleviate employee stress:

  • Be deliberate in your communications. Now, more than ever, it is vital to stay personally engaged and connected with your team. Ideally this will include one-on-one communication in addition to group calls. Be authentic in expressing your feelings and provide employees with an opportunity to express their own feelings and anxiety. One way to do this is by initiating conversations with “How have you been?” or “How do you feel?” before moving on to business issues. Another idea is to schedule biweekly calls – one focused on work and one to check-in on personal and family well-being.


  • Be flexible. It’s important to allow employees now working from home the opportunity to disengage during ‘work hours’ and have time for themselves. One way to do this is to provide flexible time around core hours. Meaning, if an employee wants to take time in the middle of the day to focus on personal care or family – that’s OK – as long as they get their work done later. And remember, with all employees, you can’t expect the same level of productivity during the pandemic as before this happened.


  • Connect on a non-work level. A virtual social engagement (or ‘happy hour’) that allows employees to interact and connect on a non-work level can help alleviate isolation, build a sense of team, and create a sense of normalcy. The purpose of these calls or video conferences is NOT to talk about work, but instead focus on personal engagement, sharing, and care.


  • Acknowledge and celebrate. Small things matter. Ask yourself, “Are there any small things I can do to recognize and celebrate the people on my team?” One idea is to acknowledge people still going in to work, or working in the field, with a gas or restaurant gift card. Also, ensure you find time to commemorate positive personal events like team member birthdays, anniversaries etc.


  • Have and communicate a plan. Make sure employees know that you are thinking and planning ahead. Keep them well-informed and answer any questions that they may have.


  • Most importantly – don’t make assumptions. It is important not to make assumptions about people. Not everyone experiences or expresses stress in the same way, and some employees may require more support than others. Be aware of any ‘unique stress’ an employee may be facing. Ask yourself, “Who might be struggling on my team and how can I maybe help them?” Make sure that you provide your people and their families with access to mental health resources in case they require assistance in managing their stress.


Here are some additional tips from our CEO discussion to help you—and your employees—manage personal stress during this challenging time:

  • Monitor your physical activity and pay attention to how long you’ve been sitting. Adapt your fitness routine to something that can be maintained while self-isolating, even if it’s just walking.
  • There is an overload of COVID-19 information out there and avoiding and streamlining sources of data can help your mental health. Choose one or two direct sources of information and stick with them.
  • Remember to unplug. Too much technology can be exhausting and cause burn-out.
  • Focus on setting a new personal goal, taking on a new productive project, or developing a new skill.
  • Give yourself permission to feel and release a range of negative emotions (anxiety, stress, sadness) but remind yourself to also focus on what you are grateful for.
  • Draw on your personal network for strength, and remember to check in on each other frequently.



Closing thought


Be mindful that your employees are looking to you to be a ‘beacon of light’ that provides direction, guidance, and support. You need to turn up the volume on understanding and vulnerability while still communicating strength and control. Sharing struggles that illustrate authentic empathy will humanize you and create a stronger bond, while your resiliency and leadership will reassure employees of your ability to steer your business through the current crisis. This can be a difficult balance to strike, but finding a middle ground is a worthwhile effort.