Unless you’re in the home fitness or video conferencing industry, your business has likely been negatively impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

While the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 13.3% in May from 14.7% in April, the highest unemployment rate on record dating back to 1939, more than two million Americans are still out of work. 

For the last three months, founders and executives across the country have been burning the midnight oil, examining and re-examining financial projections and spreadsheets, making difficult decisions about layoffs and budget cuts.

But with so much attention on the bottom line, the mental health of employees can get overlooked. And on top of a global pandemic and economic recession, we’re finally experiencing a much overdue reckoning with systemic racism and injustice in our country, which has disproportionately impacted the mental health of Black employees.

When is the last time you checked in — really checked in — with your team members? 

As former U.S. surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy, MD, explained in a recent interview with McKinsey, COVID-19 is disconnecting us further from our human relationships. That might cause a “social recession, with profound consequences for our health, for our productivity in the workplace.”

In order to combat this social recession, in addition to the economic recession, it’s critical for organizational leaders to prioritize the mental health of their employees. What does this look like in practice?

Requiring daily check-in meetings and virtual happy hours, while well-intentioned, can actually have the opposite effect, leading to “Zoom fatigue” and employee disengagement. Instead of assuming what’s best for your employees, ask them what they need and listen to them.

Your employees may need a mental health day or they may just need uninterrupted time to work, without the constant interruptions of Slack messages and video calls. They may also benefit from company-sponsored counseling or coaching support to help them through the challenges of the new normal.

In my therapy work with couples, “What do you need?” is such a simple but powerful question because it takes the guesswork out of relationships. And you can (and should) do the same with your employees.

Here are some more open-ended questions that you can ask your employees instead of “How are you?” in your next 1:1 meeting.

  • What’s your favorite part of the job right now? 
  • What are you most excited about right now? 
  • What’s your biggest stressor right now? 
  • What has been the best source of support for you during this time?
  • Any silver linings in your life over the past couple of months?
  • What would you take with you from your current work-life to the future workplace?
  • What do you miss most about pre-COVID life?
  • How can I better support you?

Research shows that engaged employees have better morale, are more motivated, and more productive, which will show up in the P&L at the end of the month. You can start today by asking, “What do you need?”

This article originally was originally published on the Founders Foundry.


  • Karen Bridbord, Ph.D.

    Licensed Psychologist and Organizational Consultant

    Karen Bribord, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Founders Foundry, where she offers executive coaching for company founders and organizational leaders. As a Licensed Psychologist and a Certified Gottman Therapist, Karen helps company founders and leadership teams build healthy, productive partnerships to facilitate business growth, eliminate obstacles to success, and reach their fullest potential. Throughout her career, she has specialized in organizational behavior, interpersonal relationships, and executive communications.