How leaders can help home workers to stay mentally healthy

Human Resources COVID-19

Many of us are currently working from home in an attempt to contain the coronavirus and guarantee business continuity.  At the same time, we take care of our families, get distracted by news updates, worry about the future, check our phone 100 times a day. And at the end of the day, we feel tired but not always contented. Because hey, did our work make sense today? Was what we did satisfying? 

Gabriel García Márquez already told us how to maintain love in the time of cholera, but how can leaders help their employees to stay mentally well and productive in the time of coronavirus?  


However exceptional this current situation may be, in essence, this is a question about motivation. How do you keep your employees motivated in a context that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous? 

Science to the rescue. Decades of research in psychology show that it is the fulfillment of three basic psychological needs that results in autonomous motivation and psychological well-being (self-determination theory; Deci & Ryan, 2000). In other words, three things (also referred to as the ABC needs) need to be fulfilled for well-being and productivity to follow.

 Let’s take a closer look at these three needs.

1. Structured autonomy

People need to be able to initiate their own actions, to choose their behavior, to decide for themselves what they invest in. This hardly seems a problem these days.

  • Working from home, employees can choose when they work, on what and at what speed.
    But autonomy without any structure can be counterproductive. Especially given the uncertainty and ambiguity of the situation we are in. So provide that structure. Clearly indicate what you expect from your team members, make clear agreements, discuss with your team members how you will organize the work.
  • Even more than under normal circumstances: explain the underlying rationale for tasks and why they need to be done. Clarify how certain assignments are connected to other tasks, to the final outcome, to the larger picture. In other words, facilitate understanding of the importance of investing time and energy in the tasks at hand.

2. Belongingness

People need belongingness. They need to be loved by others, to have warm, close relationships.
  • See the opportunity for your employees to spend more time with their family. Do no ask them to compensate in the evening for every lost hour playing with their children or taking care of their family. (see our previous blog post with tips to facilitate your employees).
  • Create opportunities for your employees to virtually connect to each other. Organize virtual team meetings or coffee dates. Start a conversation on how they find meaning in their work and how the team or the organization can create meaning in these challenging times. Encourage Skype one-to-ones with colleagues in other departments. Create a WhatsApp to share the funny moments that come with this extraordinary situation.

3. Competence

People need competence. They need to have control over the output of their behavior, to be able to complete tasks, to succeed.

  • Set clear goals with clear deadlines. Divide large projects into short-time, manageable chunks. Having a clear goal helps your employees to focus and cope with distractions. And needless to say, some clarity is most welcome these days.
  • Make sure all (digital) tools and necessary information are easy to access. Ensure employees know when and how they can reach you and other colleagues to discuss work related topics. Create duos of coworkers who can help each other in mastering the art of virtual meetings, online learning, social media communication. See this as an opportunity to learn and develop new skills.
Do you have any best practices or concrete examples of how you organize your work based on these three basic needs? Or do you have a question? Let us know via kathleen.vangronsvelt@ams.ac.be.