April 06, 2020
Ma. Tonirose D. Mactal, PhD, RPsy
The abrupt changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic gave very little time for many to prepare and make the necessary adjustments. Many were unable to continue working and have no means to earn a living. Others were mandated to adopt a work-from-home arrangement where many challenges may also impact productivity. The uncertainty of the future, the adjustments that everyone should adopt, and the ever-present possibility of contracting the virus, make it difficult for many to cope.
Ateneo CORD’s C.A.R.E.S. is a first-aid protocol for mental health that describes how you, as an organization, can extend much needed assistance to your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. C.A.R.E.S. stands for (1) Check for imminent danger, (2) Actively listen without judgement, (3) Reassure and inform, (4) Encourage to seek professional help, and (5) Support self-help strategies.
Check for imminent danger – It is important that you (i.e., line managers and supervisors) stay connected with your employees and make your presence felt. Doing so gives the latter a feeling that you are concerned about their welfare. Regular kamustahan through SMS, emails, and social media will allow you to determine who among your employees are in need of assistance during this time.
Actively listen without judgement: The disruptions and uncertainty that everyone is facing can bring about feelings of anxiety, fear, and panic. While you communicate with your employees, it is imperative that you do not downplay, disregard or criticize their feelings. Remember that people think, feel, and behave differently. What is important is that you listen with an open mind and respect what is being expressed. 
Reassure and inform: Part of your conversation with your employees should be devoted to learning about their coping mechanisms given their current resources. What you want to do is to validate their efforts in handling the situation they find themselves in.   Do not forget -- it is equally imperative that you find time to introduce healthier alternatives (a.k.a. “inform”) should your employees talk about problematic coping strategies (e.g., smoking, drinking, inactivity). Gently remind them that keeping their body healthy is also a key protective measure not only against contracting the virus but also against developing mental health issues.
Encourage to seek professional help: As mentioned, individuals react to stress in different ways. Should you discover that your employees are already exhibiting high levels of emotional distress or are unable to function because they are overwhelmed by anxiety and panic (this may be especially true if someone close to them has fallen ill or they themselves are sick), this is the best time to suggest that they get professional help. Many are feeling isolated at this time and this feeling can trigger hopelessness and helplessness. Therefore, you want to make sure that intervention is available. Whenever possible, prepare a list of reputable online counseling services that your employees can avail of.  
Professional help can also come in the form of more knowledgeable people within the organization. If the cause of anxiety or uncertainty stems from employment concerns, make sure that you can refer them to the right unit, such as the HR or Finance Department. Regardless of the kind of help your employees may need, what you want to strengthen at this stage is their proactive attitude in problem-solving. 
Support self-help strategies: Equally critical is that everyone practices self-care. Aside from coping mechanisms already in place, you want to encourage your employees to adopt practical but valuable strategies that will promote overall health.  There are many things that they can do within the confines of their homes. By supporting self-help strategies, you are boosting their abilities to take care of themselves, not be overwhelmed, and maintain their sanity while so much uncertainty hangs in the air.

The C.A.R.E.S. protocol is a simple and straightforward guide that anyone in the organization can adopt as we collectively fight, not only the physical threat of the COVID-19, but also its overall impact on our mental health. Knowing that people are the most important asset of an organization, it is critical that employers convey genuine concern and compassion toward their employees. During these difficult times, what employees need to know is that their employers truly care for them.
Dr. Toni Mactal is a licensed psychologist and Ateneo CORD’s Customized Services Unit Director. She is also a full-time faculty member of the Ateneo de Manila’s Department of Psychology. For inquiries or comments, you may email cord.soss@ateneo.edu