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Managing ‘Coronastress’ Issues at Work: How Severe is it?

Managing ‘Coronastress’ Issues at Work: How Severe is it?

The past 18 months has taken a severe toll on our mental health. The pandemic has pushed many beyond their limits from social isolation, fears over job security, working from home, deaths of near ones, and various other stressors.

Around the world, we’re witnessing a rising trend of mental health conditions, increased calls to helplines amidst the pandemic. Remote work is often accompanied by higher risks of poor work-life balance, burnout, and isolation from colleagues at the workplace. This has sparked a new phenomenon coined as ‘Coronastress’ – stress occurring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Closer to home, Malaysia is seeing similar trends as 1 in 3 Malaysians suffer from a mental health condition. Despite the high prevalence, more than 80% of workers with a mental health condition choose not to seek professional help, owing to a lack of resources and the fear of being seen as “unprofessional at work.”

Employees’ mental health affects more than just their personal lives, and impact often bleed over to the workplace. More than 60% noted losing at least 1-2 hours a day in productivity due to  COVID-19—related stress. As a result, employers are starting to emphasise creating healthier work environments. But ensuring support for employee mental health goes beyond acknowledging the issues or allowing a ‘mental health day’.

Instead, changes need to be implemented across various processes to ensure optimum effectiveness and efficiency of employees while keeping them engaged enough to be motivated about their work.

Overwhelmed, stressed, burnt out; what’s the way out and who’s liable?

Before you start thinking of the possible ideas, it’s imperative to realise the problems and identify potential issues that your solutions can address. While not everything will be within your purview to manage from an organisational standpoint, knowing the various struggles of your employees would enable you to create better processes and ideas that are more empathetic.

With all its crises, challenges, and problems, the pandemic has worn down our mental defences. Multiple news articles have been published on how many people have been struggling with mental health, and some have resorted to taking drastic actions as an outlet.

While not everything will be within your purview to manage from an organisational standpoint, knowing the various struggles of your employees would enable you to create better processes and ideas that are more empathetic.

Employees are feeling the pinch from battling feelings of loneliness exacerbated by lockdown regulations and social isolation, financial stress, to poor work-life balance. While not all these struggles can be deemed purely ‘work-related’, employers and leaders can help mitigate potential stressors.

During the pandemic, many employees complain about back-to-back virtual meetings and the pressure to continue working or responding to messages past their work hours. As 63% of Malaysians struggle with work-life balance while working from home, boundaries need to be introduced and respected by both parties.

Additionally, employees feel burnt out due to unclear requirements from their bosses and managers. There’s a level of frustration as instructions change with little notice and ambiguous explanations while they’re expected to comply with the changes without knowing the actual expectation. This uncertainty with their work performance often breeds worry and stress about their work performance.

A new era for mental health at the workplace

According to World Health Organization, mental health is a state of well-being in which individuals realize their abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life,  work productively, and contribute to their community.

As mental health discussions have begun to take the forefront of employer concerns and worries, some leaders have already started implementing various measures and policies to aid and support their employees. Whether they start implementing simple boundaries such as “no work correspondences after 5 pm on weekdays” or providing access and compensation to seek professional help, organisations aim to do what they can to support their workers in these volatile times.

However, these initiatives, while a step in the right direction, are not enough.

In order to meet employee needs of sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces,  employers need to enact real cultural change. This can be achieved through a multitude of several ways though most would include the act of changing some processes within your existing workflow.

Going back to the earlier example of the lack of clarity on job expectations, to address this would be to improve the communication between managers and their individual team members. By implementing practices such as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) with the founder of Catherine Chen into your team’s workflow, it helps to align everyone and ensures that clear expectations are set so that employees don’t have to stress about what they’re working towards.

Additionally, OKRs are better able to boost their productivity and develop positive habits and a growth mindset which helps in alleviating negative self-talk, thus improving their mental health.


The successful implementation of such systems where the focus is on achieving clear shared goals they have set with the company, allowing them to distinguish and prioritise their work tasks easily, helps employees alleviate their stress as they’re better able to manage their time and tasks.

Frequent check-ins

It is also essential to have frequent check-ins amongst team members to keep everyone on track. With meaningful conversations and understanding employee needs, you will be able to identify any potential issues early on and implement solutions before they become bigger problems.

Ensuring that there is an open line of communication between management and staff encourages a more positive work culture. Workers feel more comfortable in voicing their opinions and concerns with their supervisors without fear of repercussions and will benefit from knowing that they are heard in the workplace.

By improving the working conditions and putting practices in place to drive better employee wellbeing, organisations are better able to achieve a high-performance culture that’s able to successfully attract and retain their talents. In fact, one of the key reasons why companies such as Google and Netflix are deemed as such great places to work is because they understand employee wellbeing and are able to effectively engage them.

Coronastress doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. As offices begin to open up again, it’s important to ensure that your employees are feeling great physically and mentally.