Project Management

Is Mental Health on Your Risk Register? It Should Be

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It’s Up to You and Your Teams: Turn and Face the Strange

By Cyndee Miller

With the global death toll now over 410,000, COVID-19 is recognized as a clear and present danger to public health. But lurking just beneath the surface is another disturbing—often less visible—crisis: the damage to our mental health.

People aren’t just living with the fear that they or someone they love might get sick. They’re also dealing with extreme economic uncertainty and the prolonged isolation that comes with social distancing and working from home. And then in the past few weeks, we all bore witness to the murder of George Floyd and the painful reckoning of a world trying to dismantle systemic racial injustice and inequality.

It’s a lot for the human psyche to bear—and the weight is clear: More than 40 percent of people said their mental health had deteriorated since the pandemic began, according to a global study by SAP, Qualtrics and Mind Share Partners in April. And 66 percent reported higher stress levels since the outbreak.

Many project leaders would count themselves among that group at least part of the time. I know I do. It’s just the reality of our current situation—and acknowledging our struggles with mental health (hopefully) lessens what is still too often seen as a stigma, especially in the United States.

No matter how you’re feeling, part of being a good leader is recognizing what your team is going through. Yet the survey found less than half (47 percent) of people say their manager is tuned in to their well-being.

It takes empathy, emotional intelligence and active listening—none of which are especially new, of course. But they’re fast emerging as power skills for project leaders. With so many teams dispersed and working virtually these days, there’s been “a lot more talk and a lot more understanding around things like well-being and mental health,” PM Network® columnist Lindsay Scott recently told Projectified.

Even before the pandemic hit, Scott remarked in an earlier episode of Projectified that she was seeing an increased focus on “pastoral care of teams” in the U.K., where she’s director of recruiting firm Arras People. “As a project manager, it is up to you to be making sure that your team is not under undue stress or under stress for long periods of time.”

Showing you care doesn’t just generate warm fuzzies—it can reduce business risk. In the study mentioned above, those respondents who said their manager isn’t attuned to their well-being were 61 percent more likely to say they’ve been less productive since the coronavirus outbreak.

Forward-looking companies are taking action to increase access to care. Consulting giant EY has been using employee feedback to steadily expand mental health services since launching its We Care program in 2016. The goal is to better equip HR professionals and managers to identify and respond to subtle changes in behavior, like a decline in job performance, which can indicate poor mental health. As part of a recent project that targets impaired sleep, for example, EY created a digital sleep assessment and enhancement tool. Employees who score high for disrupted sleep are invited to participate in a customized, digital cognitive behavioral therapy program.

Since EY launched We Care, employee use of the company’s internal mental health support team has risen more than 100 percent. “That’s a reflection that our people are getting care and getting it early,” EY Assist director Michael Weiner told PM Network®.

PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara suggested ways to cope with loneliness and stress as project leaders work remotely on The Official PMI Blog. Be good to yourself in simple ways, he says, such as “eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and going outside for some fresh air.”

Another piece of advice: Stay connected—but not too connected. Technology can be both a gift and a curse, Prashara writes. “While social media allows us to share news and keep friends and family close, it can also create needless anxiety by amplifying misinformation and negative rumors. My advice is to consume social media sparingly and thoughtfully.”

What strategies are you using to stay informed about your team’s mental health and help those who are struggling? And most importantly: How are you doing? Let me know in the comments.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: June 10, 2020 12:38 PM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Impressive!Thanks for the post

Great discussion Cyndee. Mental health deterioration is an insidious thing. And in the current environment if we as managers are not feeling great, then it makes it even more difficult for us to help others.

Very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for sharing. As someone who always feels that I've got it and that I can power my way through most things, I must admit that the pandemic, working from home while living alone, and the anxiety of feeling like I have to educate those around me about what it means to say Black lives matter, I am feeling the effects of mental health deterioration. But even still, this is a helpful reminder to check in on my team and to be in touch and present for what they may be going through and feeling.

Very important and easily forgotten aspect of work and life. Thanks for sharing.


Tremendous article , thanks for writing. And so relevant for today. I especially like empathy and staying connected. Mindfulness is key. All the best.

Thanks, I remember which made me become sorry about the systemic racism, COVID-19 issues, and the way social media affected our lives in general. In fact social media has also a benefit to us concerning being ample source of information.
Engdaw A.

Thanks, well said the basic things.
Stay connected in any way but excess is not good anytime.

Kamlesh Kumawat

Thanks for sharing this informative article, Cyndee Miller. Staying connected and empathy are the keys while working from home during this pandemic.

Thank you for sharing this interesting topic with us. This problem can be easily overlooked at many companies.

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