How Weekly Mental Health Check-ins Help Coworkers and Friends

In mid-March of 2020, I made a big announcement: Avid Bookshop, my bookstore in Georgia, would not be allowing any browsers inside. Instead, we’d do phone and online orders only. When I made this announcement, I wondered how we’d function for several weeks like this.

Then “several weeks” turned into a few months. And, at the time of this writing, it’s now been nearly 11 months since I had customers in my normally-bustling shop.

I’m very thankful to still be in business and to have been able to meet payroll every pay period during the pandemic. But being a boss is difficult in good times, let alone during a global pandemic happening in the midst of political upheaval.

Weekly check-ins

My staff and I started to have weekly virtual meetings, and my operations team and I decided to start every meeting with a check-in focused on mental and physical health. While I’ve always been frank about wanting to support people’s health, we’d never met as a team so often and with such a deliberate focus on mental health.

Much to my delight, I actively look forward to our meetings. On days I have a severe migraine attack that prevents me from attending, I’m genuinely disappointed to miss a meeting. On days when I’m recovering from a migraine and can’t find the words I want to use and feel kind of dumb thanks to the brain fatigue, my coworkers are encouraging and kind. No matter where I am physically- or mentally-speaking, these virtual staff meetings are a bright spot in a pretty isolating, scary time.

A focus on health

As I mentioned, each staff meeting starts with a health check-in. Some weeks, the check-ins take up most of the meeting. Sometimes all the booksellers need a lot of time to talk about what’s bothering them; other times the check-ins are brief and we get to the logistical part of our meeting faster. (During the logistical/procedural part of our meeting, we talk about how sales are faring, what procedures we can improve, how our customers are doing, how we can work together more efficiently, etc.)

Closeness and support

In an isolating, difficult year, our check-ins at the start of each meeting have become one of the most significant parts of our work. The booksellers have both an explicit and implicit understanding of which coworkers need a little more support that week, and we’ve become closer to each other than before. This closeness makes it easier for someone to ask for help with an overwhelming task, and it makes it less daunting for even shy folks to speak up to ask for or offer assistance. We know each other’s strengths in a deeper way, which allows us to function as a team better.

We don’t know when the pandemic will end; we don’t know when customers will be able to walk into the bookshop again. We don’t know how we’ll be faring financially one month or six months or twelve months from now, but we do know this: we’re going to keep up with the regular all-staff meetings, and we’re going to keep checking in with each other.

What new routines or connections have you made that help you feel supported even on days your migraine disease is making things hard?

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