Your workforce might be starting to come back into the office or they may be working remote for the foreseeable future. Workers at all levels are under tremendous strain during the pandemic. Besides helping them stay connected and productive at work, they also need your support for their mental well being, too.
Support Open Communication and More Autonomy
Research shows that stress can rise when workers are faced with too many unknowns. If they don't know your plans for a phased reopening, for example, they may stay up into the night imagining a range of nightmare scenarios. Instead, open communications — yes, even about the worst-case scenarios or hard-to-face facts — can help alleviate that worker stress.
What employees also crave, especially in times when so much seems out of their control, is a bit of power and autonomy to affect just something in their day. "Although managers may be less able to reduce job demands during this pandemic, they should be able to empower their workers by giving them greater autonomy and decision-making authority, and doing so can make a meaningful difference," writes Mark Bolino at Psychology Today.
This might look like offering flexible schedules to let employees run their own day (helpful while juggling childcare, remote work and the demands of social distancing). Or it could include promoting ways that employees can decide how to phase in their own return to the office, instead of demanding a return for everyone all at once.
Support While Coming Out of Quarantine
Everyone responds to stress differently, and the pandemic is also affecting our lives in very different ways. Your employees might have fears returning to the office because of an at-risk child or parent or are suddenly faced with caring for a sick family member. You can help employees by supporting them as they come out of quarantine. This path may not look like a straight line. You'll need to be flexible as needs change.
The CDC notes that while the reactions to stress might manifest themselves differently in every person, some of the steps everyone can take to ease some of that strain. This might mean helping employees take advantage of existing wellness plans and health care like counseling and mental health support. You might provide time off for exercise, meditation and vacation breaks that support time away from work.
- Some ideas for exercise during quarantine or during gym/pool closures.
- Meditation apps like Calm and Headspace offer free and subscriber options.
- Mental health resources like helplines, text and online support.
Encourage Positive Coping Strategies
This is the place for the fun stuff! We all miss hanging out with your coworkers, or at least having the option for hanging out. If your office has to stay remote or only open partially, there's still way to plan virtual hangouts. These could be as simple as video meetings that are also happy hours, trivia contests, BINGO games or an employee talent show. Blowing off steam and having some laughs with your coworkers seems like something that was only possible in a movie at this point in 2020, but it still is possible to do it safely.
Coping shouldn't be all about too much of a bad thing, like loads of alcohol or long nights up trying to meet new heightened workloads. Encourage positive coping that includes moderation on the bad stuff, increasing the good stuff and reaching out for help when needed. Having support in the form of mentors, accountability buddies or regular check-ins with supervisors or HR staff can be helpful not only during quarantine, but in the long-run for employees as well.
With your help, you and your team can weather the unpredictable storm that is COVID-19.