Mental health professionals to bosses: Let your staff vent

It’s been nearly a year since business offices across the country shut down and employees began working from home. With your new routine, what have you missed most about being in the office?


The friendly camaraderie? Face-to-face meetings? Perhaps, the free coffee?


Surprisingly, some of the most lamented work routine losses have been the things we once loved to hate.


Like commuting.


And, venting between co-workers.


Both practices could be annoying, but in hindsight, also surprisingly effective at letting employees decompress or blow off steam, according to local mental healthcare professionals, who want supervisors to bring back those opportunities and let their staff vent.


Venting can help people cope with virus-related pressure, SouthCoast service providers said in a recent conversation about mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.


“We all know this has been a horrendous year and people are just having a really hard time dealing with isolation and not having those support systems,” said Pam Bolarinho, LICSW, director of emergency services at Child & Family Services, Inc. “You could have suffered from mild depression but gone to work (every day). You were socializing with your peers, so you were kind of going through that every day routine. But now you're working remotely from home and you don't have those peers that you can talk to.”


Suddenly the supports that let you cope with your mild anxiety or depression have disappeared, leaving you more vulnerable.


Co-workers may still be connecting during virtual meetings, but usually without the ability to express their feelings, complain about things that upset them, and get reassured or comforted by a colleague or friend.


“Sometimes the problem becomes bigger than it really is because we're not discussing it with anybody,” said Rev. David A. Lima, executive minister of the Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford, about the strain people are feeling now. “What happens when you're really going to tell the boss off and yet one of your coworkers says, ‘Hey, are you OK? Are you alright?...It lets the pressure off. So that's why it is important to reach out and talk to people that you're concerned about.”


“Nobody wants the meeting after the meeting, because then that just means that employees are gossiping or they didn't like what happened during the meeting,” said Matthew Boyd, Mobile Crisis Intervention program manager, Child & Family Services, Inc. “But it's really important that if you are hosting a meeting for your team remotely that you back off of the meeting or give it a new host and allow them to have some water cooler time.”


“They need to be able to talk as people,” he continued. “Everyone has their colleague that is close to them or important to them, and they vent about their personal life.”


Supervisors can support their staff by encouraging these connections after virtual meetings. It’s best if they leave the meeting, letting the connection continue or assigning another host. Those in the group can choose to break off into smaller groups in which they feel comfortable, or simply chat about their personal experiences as a group.


“Have a conversation,” said Boyd. “Don’t bash the supervisor...but have some time. Have some time to just be, to be human.”


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