The COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced a wide range of business continuity and workplace issues, but arguably none more important than employee wellbeing.
We are all confined to our homes. But not all of us are in the same situation. Some of us have the luxury of living with our families, where everyone can divide household responsibilities among themselves. Whereas, others have sick and elderly family members to provide care for and ensure that they do not contract Covid-19, apart from shouldering the major responsibility of household chores. Some living by themselves and are experiencing absolute and complete solitude for the first time in their lives.
The true test of an organization lies in how it is able to support its employees in times of a crisis. Now, more than ever, it is the duty of employers to ensure that work is not an additional cause of stress for their employees.
The crisis has created a tsunami of uncertainty all over the world:
- Will my company survive?
- Will I still have a job?
- Is my income going to be hit while my bills stay the same?
- how long will I be furloughed?
- Will I still be working from home in six months’ time?
- Will we ever work the same way we did again?
This kind of uncertainty can seriously impact a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. But there are very practical steps that can be taken to minimize stress and anxiety and help employee wellbeing.
Because employee wellbeing is multi-dimensional, solutions should encompass the physical, psychological, and social aspects of health and wellness. Below are some suggestions:
Understand how people cope with uncertainty
Lack of certainty is one of the biggest challenges during this pandemic. People don’t know if their health or the health of their loved ones is at risk. They don’t know if their jobs are safe. They don’t know what changes are in store.
Implement various measures through innovative employee engagement programs to ensure that employees are empowered to manage stress. These programs are designed for short- and long-term employee wellbeing and include:
- Well-designed and transparent communications
- New leave policies
- Real-time collaboration using various online communication tools
- Emotional and professional coaching via industry leaders and life coaches
- Mental health support
- Digital technology like AI chatbots hybrid workplace
- Engaging, empowering, and energizing the workforce via motivational speakers, experts, etc
- Online learning to help employees stay updated
- Employee awareness campaign to promote hygiene
Form clear and empathetic leadership
There will be no return to the ‘old normal’ and leaders do not have the answers to this long-term uncertainty, but in order to maintain the initial levels of positivity from employees, business leaders must continue to engage and communicate with empathy.
Leadership development models must focus on care, human connection, and resilience, otherwise following can lean to the following situation:
- Fallout of a stressed workforce
- Working under uncertain conditions with no end in sight
- Means burnout could become another epidemic of sorts
- Affecting both employers and society
Provide one source of information to avoid misinformation
People are taking in information to try to give themselves a feeling of control, but this keeps them in a hyper-alert, potentially anxious state. Whenever they read something that sparks a pang of anxiety, their brain releases cortisol, the stress hormone, into their system.
By seeking out too much information, we flood our systems with stress, which triggers and perpetuates the fight or flight response which essentially perpetuates anxiety.
To combat this information overload, it’s best to encourage employees to seek one source of truth, both in the organization and outside of it. Your information should come from leaders, and you should provide it consistently on one key channel.
Retention, productivity, engagement, and caring
Investing in employee wellbeing is the right thing to do, but if you need another rationale think about your customers. The time-tested adage of “Customers do not come first, employees come first…if you take care of your employees, they will take care of customers,” has never been truer than during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Business investor Mark Cuban prophesized that the way companies treat workers during the pandemic could define their brand for decades. Peter B. Gustavson School of Business conducted an annual brand trust survey. It revealed that consumers put a premium on how companies treated their employees during the pandemic when it comes to brand trust.
By improving the health and wellbeing of their employees, organizations not only create a more motivated, engaged, and high-performing workforce, they ensure customer loyalty and brand goodwill. In short, happier, healthier, loyal, and productive staff deliver stronger customer experiences.
Watch for signs of isolation and deteriorating mental health
You not only need to watch for signs of isolation and deteriorating mental health in those around you but encourage managers and team members to do the same. This is an easy time for people to isolate themselves, which is a common coping mechanism for mental health struggles.
There are some common signs of deteriorating mental health, particularly low mood and anxiety, that you can watch for. They can be broken down into thoughts, behaviors, and physical feelings.
Bringing your team back into the fold
leaders must be alive to the reality of a significant crash in workforce productivity and happiness, as stress levels and fear of the unknown rises. It has never been more important for leaders to be present among their staff and offer reassurance and transparency often before doubt can multiply within their workforce.
Leadership development models must focus on care, human connection, and resilience. Otherwise, the fallout of a stressed workforce, working under uncertain conditions with no end in sight, means burnout could become another epidemic of sorts, affecting both employers and society.