Supporting Your Staff’s Mental Health in Trying Times

The stress experienced by community association managers can pose serious problems for their employers, including reduced productivity and staff levels. “We’ve had managers quit because they were burned out,” says Paul Grucza, director of education and client development at the Seattle-based management company CWD Group, Inc.

Are you taking the steps you should to understand and help your employees deal with their mental health issues?

The Current Environment

A 2021 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey found that 41 percent of employed Americans feel burned out from their work. Not surprisingly, association managers are among that number.

Ken Bertolucci, president of NS Management in Skokie, Ill., thinks the problem pre-dates the pandemic for managers: “Dealing with burnout and owner anger is the biggest challenge in this industry. I’ve thought that for a while, and COVID has made it worse.

“Our people are feeling stress because owners are more on edge and angrier. People who are normally rational are more upset about things that aren’t crucial. That pressure rolls over onto our managers.”

This atmosphere is taking its toll, and you can see that in the expedited burnout rates for managers.

“Previously, burnout in the industry generally happened around seven years in” Grucza says. “If you made it past that point, you were a seasoned veteran. Based on polls, surveys, and statistical analysis I’ve been involved in, the average burnout time is now 18 months.”

Problems with owners aren’t the only contributor to this state of affairs. According to Grucza, the shift to remote work also has played a large role. While some of CWD’s managers have thrived working remotely, not everyone has fared as well.

“Some folks have difficulty with structure when left to their own devices and don’t have the at-home motivation,” Grucza says. “Some employees really only thrive in a ‘live’ environment where you come to an office and you’re with your colleagues to provide you the support you need to succeed.

“The remote environment itself has driven some over the edge. We lost two managers to that during the pandemic.”

The SHRM survey backs up Grucza. It found that employees who “telework” often experience more depressive symptoms compared to those who don’t telework.

What You Can Do

One positive development is that mental health issues are slowly but surely becoming less stigmatized, in the workplace and elsewhere.

“There’s an awareness of mental health; people are talking about it,” says Jamie Dokovna, a shareholder in the Florida law firm Becker & Poliakoff who practices employment law.

“It’s becoming a jumping-off point for more employers to take initiatives. You don’t have to be a big employer to have a mental health policy that creates awareness about mental health and lets people know the employer has resources if any employee needs it.”

Whether you implement a formal policy or take more informal measures, you should consider several components:


Be flexible, and be proactive about it — don’t make your employees come to you if, for example, they need to time off that isn’t available under your standard leave policies.

“We’ve supplemented our compensation package with what I call ‘COVID PTO,’” Grucza says. “If you get sick, you just stay home until you’re better and can work again. We don’t count that against their PTO, so it gives them another layer of protection.”

His firm has also granted what Grucza terms “mental health time,” essentially paid leave to re-set mentally. “We’ll allow up to two months. Staff will co-manage an absent manager’s communities while that manager gets themself feeling better so they can come back refreshed. Six of our managers have availed themselves of it.”


Think about expanding your training offerings to cover topics that can create stress.

“We just did a training on how to deal with high-conflict people who are looking for a fight,” Bertolucci says. “We’ve also done training on setting boundaries. We want to give good service, but we don’t want our clients to think they’re going to get a 15-minute response for a non-emergency on a Saturday.”

Bertolucci recommends break-out sessions for such training. “We get the best feedback when we break into smaller groups, give them a topic, and let them debate and discuss how they would handle it. Being able to share with their peers and get feedback has been the most beneficial part.”

Live interaction

Firms that are still operating remotely need to provide opportunities for their staffs to interact face-to-face — or as face-to-face as possible.

“We do group open-mike counseling sessions on Zoom where we just let them talk and tell us what they’re dealing with,” Grucza says. “We talk through the issues people are encountering and come up with suggestions.

“We’ve also done game nights, happy hours, and amateur night all on Zoom. It gives them an hour or two of connection time back to the mothership.”

Availability of resources

Your employees can’t take advantage of resources if they don’t know about them, so make sure you inform them of what’s out there, whether through the company or elsewhere. This also will help de-stigmatize the use of such services.

“We have a wonderful gamut of mental health services available almost for free through our health insurance,” Grucza says. If you’re not sure about what your health plan provides, check with your broker or the insurer directly. You might be surprised at the tools your employees can tap for minimal or no cost.

Legal Considerations

Beyond the business motivations to try to help your employees, Dokovna says there are legal reasons.

“Depending on the number of employees, there are certain legal parameters you need to be aware of, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” she says. While the ADA generally applies only to employers with at least 15 employees, local disabilities laws may have lower thresholds.

The reasonable accommodations mandated by disabilities laws can come in many forms.

“Someone can say they’re seriously burnt out and don’t know if they can come back to work,” Dokovna says. “The most conservative thing you can do is engage in an interactive process. Maybe they need a few days off. I’ve had managers tell me they haven’t taken a vacation in more than a year and a half. They haven’t had the opportunity to disconnect.”

Gender discrimination is another legal risk. According to the SHRM survey, working women have experienced burnout at significantly higher rates than men.

“The pandemic has been an extraordinary burden for a lot of working women,” Dokovna says.

“If you have a universal policy — even it’s not intended to discriminate — you could have disparate impact claims if it affects women differently. For example, if you’re not flexible with employees who have to care for sick family members, that might impact your female employees more than your male. You have to be mindful of what it looks like.”

One law that you don’t need to be concerned about? The oft cited and misunderstood Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). “HIPAA rarely impacts employers because they’re not covered entities,” Dokovna says.

Related Articles