Reducing Stress at the Workplace
It’s been more than half a year since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and life as we knew it fell by the wayside. The immediate shock of facing such an unprecedented event turned into lingering stress as schools, businesses and offices closed their doors, leaving many out of work – at least temporarily – and nervous about an uncertain future.
As months went by, people adapted, more or less, to a new normal. Students attended classes online, many employees worked from home and some enterprising businesses found new ways to bring in revenue. As summer turned into fall, a large number of people returned physically to their schools and workplaces, elevating stress levels once again – because the virus is still out there.
Whether employees have just returned to your workplace or they’ve been working on site the whole time, you’ve no doubt ramped up procedures to follow public health guidelines, including allowing for physical distancing and promoting some serious hygiene. While you’re looking out for your employees’ physical health, don’t forget to check in on their mental and emotional well-being. For some, the pandemic is becoming almost old hat. But for many, it’s still a pretty new situation…and still a pretty scary one.
If your employees are back on-site, there are a few things you can do to help ease some of the stress that comes with working (and going about life) in a pandemic.
Communicate openly, honestly and ongoingly: With many businesses dealing with employees working from home – often for the first time, managers needed to up their communication processes to ensure operations ran as smoothly as they did when people were physically at their desks. Having employees back in the office is no reason to ease up. In fact, good communication may be even more important. Keeping employees informed – about the business, about their work, about where they can get help if they’re feeling ill or stressed – will help ease some of their worries and may allow their minds to better focus on the tasks at hand.
Consider adding or changing existing benefits: Showing your employees they can get the help they need, when and if they need it, can go a long way towards reducing stress and supporting employees’ mental health. Knowing there’s support if they get sick or someone in their family gets sick is one less thing to worry about while they’re at work. Some insurance carriers have added mental health supports to existing plans during the pandemic, making it easier for employers to provide this benefit.
Train supervisors and colleagues on how to support employees. Checking in on the well-being of employees should now be part of a manager’s or supervisor’s to-do list. Leaders should know how to read behavior or, at the very least, recognize when someone is in emotional distress. Here are a few things to watch for:
• More irritable or quick to be defensive
• Rarely or no longer actively participate at meetings
• Calling in sick much more often
• Stopped socializing with their colleagues
• Become overly serious or somber
• Having out-of-character outbursts
Managers also need to understand what’s within their control and when they need bring in other resources to help. Consider bringing in a mental health professional (either in real life or virtually) to provide some base tools to all employees to support others at the workplace.
Be flexible. Following public health guidelines, like staying home when you’re sick or keeping sick kids out of school, is more stressful when someone’s faced with following rigid rules at work. Let employees know your business can adapt to their current situation, whether it’s allowing employees to work from home or letting them be flexible with their work hours.
Be vulnerable. We keep hearing the phrase “we’re all in this together”. Show your employees you mean it by sharing your own concerns and challenges. Encourage employees to talk about their fears by sharing your own concerns – let them know that you too are worried about your kids going back to school or that you’re also feeling anxious during these strange times.
And these are strange times indeed.