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How to support employee wellness during a pandemic

Now, more than ever, employees need your help guiding them forward 

During this unusual and unpredictable time, employees are looking up to leaders and executives for answers and support. Whether working from home or working the front lines during this pandemic, they need trust, compassion, stability and hope. Those four things will go a long way toward steering your team forward. 

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Olivia Curtis, Wellness Specialist for G&A Partners, was recently featured in a Society for Human Resource Management article, “SHRM Research: COVID-19 Takes a Toll on Employees’ Mental Well-Being” and shared her thoughts on employee well being during this time.

“Unfortunately, many remote workers experience feeling ‘out of sight, out of mind’ or, even worse, feeling as if their work and dedication are being questioned since they are not physically in the office each day,” Olivia Curtis.

“These employees can feel as if they must work twice as hard to prove themselves and get recognized for the work they do,” she said. “Employees in this situation often find that the lines between work and home become blurred. They put in more hours than the average office worker, and they experience higher levels of stress due to being ‘on’ all of the time.”

Looking for ideas about how you can best support and communicate with employees during these unprecedented times? Curtis shares the following tips for employers and managers.

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What are some strategies employers can use to address the anxiety and feelings of isolation their employees may be feeling as they shelter in place or practice other social-distancing techniques? 

The key to addressing and lessening the anxiety and loneliness employees may be experiencing at this time is to over communicate and overdeliver. Management, especially, should be visible, involved and transparent. 

Over communicating to employees can include tactics such as:

  • Providing regular email updates from the executive team
  • Conducting regular management check-ins that include time to “catch up” to make these calls more personal
  • Holding team meetings via teleconference
  • Providing a place where employees can go to find answers to their questions
  • Using tools like online group chats and arranging virtual “lunch breaks” to encourage productivity and social interaction

It’s also important for employees to know what resources they have at their disposal to further aid and support them during this time. They should be made aware of company benefits such as employee assistance programs, telemedicine services and health coaching, and then informed how and when to use them. 

Overdelivering to employees can include ensuring that all processes and files are digitized and available to remote workers. IT can no longer run over to the desk of an employee who needs assistance and employees can no longer walk over to the Human Resources department to ask questions. To remedy this, IT can create how-to videos on tools that remote workers can use frequently, and HR can collect all pertinent paperwork and information and keep it in a central location that employees can access. Being able to quickly and easily find a solution to their problem will leave employees feeling supported, empowered and connected.

Not everyone has a Wi-Fi connection or a large bandwidth at home to support live-streamed meetings, etc. What are some other ways employees can ensure mental wellness at this time?

If employees are struggling with loneliness, anxiety or depression, there are many ways to improve mental wellness and lessen the impact of these feelings. One of the most effective actions employees can take to address mental health is to focus on their physical health because these two are very closely related. 

Employees should ensure that they are regularly getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, eating healthy meals and snacks, moving their bodies 20-30 minutes per day (even if just to take a quick walk to clear their mind), and getting outside to get fresh air.

Employees can also:

  • Regularly meditate and focus on deep breathing
  • Take breaks from consuming news stories or information on social media
  • Schedule time to unwind and participate in hobbies and activities they enjoy
  • Connect with others by any means at their disposal whether that be by phone calls, texts and video calls or, if they do have Wi-Fi, by joining online support groups, team meetings, or other forms of communication

Curtis recently shared her insight with Houstoniamag in the article “6 Tips for Physical and Mental Wellness While Working from Home.”

Are there EAP resources that employers may want to point employees to, such as counseling via phone?

Absolutely! Depending on what benefits an employer offers, they can point employees to the employee assistance program for 24/7 phone counseling or live chatting, helpful webinars, and online assessments, courses and resources. Employers can also offer telemedicine services and resources through a wellness program that includes services such as health coaching, health and wellness tips, online courses, health challenges and more. 

How can employers alleviate the pressure some employees might be feeling at this time to “prove themselves” since they are not at work, which could be causing them to put in long hours and further blur the line between work and home?

Unfortunately, many remote workers experience feeling “out of sight, out of mind” or, even worse, feeling as if their work and dedication are being questioned since they are not physically in the office each day. Because of this, these employees can feel as if they must work twice as hard to prove themselves and get recognized for the work they do. Employees in this situation often put in more hours than the average office worker and experience higher levels of stress due to being “on” all of the time. 

To combat the added stress and decreased work-life balance, remote employees might have to take intentional actions to protect their mental wellness and prevent burnout. Some helpful tactics could include:

  • Setting a schedule for work and leaving the work space at the end of the shift while disconnecting as if leaving the office for the day 
  • Keeping the at-home work area separate from the living area (Make it an inspiring space that encourages creativity, productivity and happiness.) 
  • Communicating regularly with coworkers through email, video conferencing (video lunch dates can be fun!) and chatting applications 
  • Making time to unwind and practice self-care  

What can employers do to help their employees working on the front lines (such as those in healthcare and others who must interact with the public because of the work they do)?

We are all indebted to those who serve on the front lines during this pandemic. Employers of these individuals can make a special effort to protect their workforce since they are faced with increased risk through continued interaction with the public. 

These measures can include adhering to the regulations set forth by the CDC such as staying informed about the local COVID-19 situation, transparently communicating with staff, having an emergency plan in place, screening patients and visitors, exploring alternatives to face-to-face triage and visits, ensuring proper use of personal protection equipment, employing strict cleaning processes, and encouraging sick employees to remain at home. 

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