When it comes to mitigating risk and prioritizing the health of all employees during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, health and safety measures like social distancing and mask wearing can’t be overemphasized.
But physical health and safety is only one part of a workplace pandemic response. Mental health resources must be at the forefront of employee wellness, says Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and CEO of SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) — the world’s largest HR association.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP
President and CEO, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
There are many employees struggling to work from home. How can employers help those working remotely?
Let’s face it: When work is home and home is work, it’s harder to develop relationships, collaborate, and even nurture workplace culture. Employers must acknowledge their role in supporting employees and encourage an environment where people feel safe to share their struggles.
Transparency is key to creating a positive workplace culture — especially in times of challenge and change. If your team is working from home — or even if you’re in the workplace — it’s important to communicate. For example, at SHRM, we host biweekly calls to update all staff at the organization. These calls are an opportunity to connect, for employees to ask questions about returning to the office, and to discuss challenges or other aspects of working from home. Not only is it a promise made to the team, it is a commitment I believe is essential to managing during this difficult time.
Stress is universal right now, from job stability, to health, safety, and family matters, and these issues are likely to persist beyond 2020. Lessen uncertainty with clear internal communications plans and, most importantly, follow through.
How should employers monitor employee well-being?
Employee wellness should be top of mind, and employers must recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health. In fact, SHRM research found 1 in 4 workers frequently feel down, depressed, or hopeless — yet more than 1 in 3 workers reported having done nothing to cope with these feelings.
Signs of stress include irritation, anxiety, and lack of motivation, and 22 percent of employees report having trouble concentrating. Employers should keep an eye out for key indicators through regularly scheduled check-ins. Encourage remote workers to turn on their cameras during virtual meetings. Staff surveys can also uncover employee struggles and needs, especially for those less inclined to speak up.
How can we help employees cope?
It’s important to make sure employees have access to and understand the mental health resources available to them. Telehealth and employee assistance programs can offer the support needed for a remote workforce. Encourage employees to speak with someone they trust about their concerns and emotions, even encouraging them to get a regular mental health check-up in the same way they schedule an annual physical. It is critical to provide resources that allow workers to feel safe and supported while reducing stigma around mental health in the workplace.
You can also model healthy behaviors, like maintaining a regular schedule and creating a clear distinction between work and personal time. Emphasize tips for stress relief, such as exercise and workday breaks, and normalize seeking help when it is needed.
How can we increase employee morale?
As an employer, it’s important to recognize and reward the good work being done — perhaps now more than ever. With many workers now remote, traditional methods may not be feasible. However, that shouldn’t deter you from recognizing a job well done. Now is the time for employers to go the extra mile to support their employees.
Small gifts and meal deliveries are great ways to boost spirits. If the company is facing financial difficulties, consider alternative methods of appreciation. Give your team a few extra hours off on a Friday. Send a thank-you card to team members or an email to the company outlining a job well done.
Recognition doesn’t need to be elaborate. Thoughtful, sincere gestures can go a long way in making employees feel valued and engaged while working remotely.