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Finding Calm in the Chaos: Employee Mental Health, Remote Workforce, and COVID-19

December 29, 2020 | By Courtney Enloe

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How often have we’ve heard the phrase, “it is a marathon, not a sprint,” when it comes to managing our expectations during the COVID-19 pandemic?

This phrase is usually tossed about when it comes to a long-term situation and we imagine ourselves as a marathon runner at the start line.

There is a specific start time in a marathon and a specific distance to the finish line, and what we choose to do in between those two is in our control. However, this is not the case for many of those working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While we know the start date; for some, there is no end-date in sight – and it may feel like the goalposts are ever-moving. There is hope on the horizon as two vaccines have been rolled out. But how can you help employees who are struggling now?

It should come as no surprise that our bodies are under an enormous amount of stress. Many teams are working from home for the first time. Employees with children engaging in distance learning have the added challenge of also being a teacher while working full time. Managing a household, while combating the fear of the unknown, can lead to increased anxiety and/or depression. This often leads to self-care methods that are not healthy:

  • lack of sleep;
  • loss of routine;
  • comfort eating;
  • alcohol consumption;
  • and more.

If this sounds familiar to you or a member of your team, know that others are experiencing the same setbacks.

Employee Mental Health

When was the last time you really checked-in with your team? What is the frequency of virtual coffee chats, happy hours, or one-on-one meetings that don’t just consist of work chit-chat, but instead asking the important question: How are you really feeling? If it’s been a while, then now would be a great time to begin that engagement again.

A recent study conducted by Human Resources Executive highlighted some very troubling data about those working from home and very likely could align with your team’s mental well-being.

  • 75% of employees are feeling burned out;
  • The risk of depression has risen 102%, with that number 305% for workers between the ages of 20-39;
  • Employees are most worried about losing their jobs, taking a pay cut, or seeing their 401(k) balances shrink.

When working from home, our home is our office and our sacred space – so these fears could be inhibiting aspects of your team and causing burnout. When employees experience job burnout they aren’t performing to the best of their ability; they often feel stressed, or exhausted. Encouraging your team to find ways to banish this burnout before it happens will be critical to avoid disengagement, productivity loss and worse yet, attrition.

Finding Ways to Banish the Burnout

Think back through the last month or two and take a few moments to answer the following questions:

  • Have you felt mentally or emotionally exhausted, yet powered through it because you thought that was expected of you?  What about your team?
  • Can you think of specific examples of when or how this took place?
  • How did it make you feel? How did your team react?
  • What could or should you do differently in the future?

Banishing burnout is no easy task – and thankfully, employers are putting a focus on employee mental health and well-being in light of the stay at home mandates. While some employers may be behind and are trying to roll out programs in early 2021, others have already moved swiftly to provide their employees’ resources to improve work-life balance.

Here are some ways employers are using resources to help remote employees (both first-time and veteran) find calm in the chaos.

Free Therapy Sessions

Many large insurance carriers have partnered with companies to provide employee mental health services as an added perk of employment, even if you don’t subscribe to the company plan.

An example is the Employee Assistance Program. The EAP offers a limited number of in-person visits to a therapist based on a single issue at no cost to the employee – and even extends this offer to members of the employee’s household, such as a spouse or child.

If the issue requires immediate attention, a telehealth visit is available for about 30 minutes as many times as needed, 24 hours per day and seven days per week.  Most therapists are in-network and take various insurances, so if an issue needs further discussion, visits can continue at a nominal cost.

Saying ‘Thank you’ is FREE

Being a supervisor to a remote workforce can be difficult, especially when a bustling and lively office gives energy to projects. Remote work can lose that sense of teamwork and often leave employees feeling like they’re in their own bubble.

Feeling removed from direct contact with the team can cause strain and burnout – so make sure to praise good work when it’s done.

Saying something like “Great job stepping up on that last call and making your concerns known” will go far, and congratulating a job well done will go further with a direct report. In-person and remote employees want the same things: acknowledgment of a job well done and knowing their contributions matter and are important.

Flexible Scheduling

The phrase work-life balance should be more than just a bullet point in the company manifesto, but rather something encouraged at all levels of the organization.

A true work-life balance allows for employees to flex their schedules to meet the needs of their households. For example, parents may need more flexibility to tend to a distance learning child, to make sure they’re up and running before starting their own workday.

Ask your team what hours work best for them – you may be surprised that some of your team would rather start at 7 a.m. and others want to finish their day at 6 p.m. because of scheduling conflicts. Allowing your team personal time and ownership over their schedules not only goes a long way to build trust but also can keep your team performing at their best.

Take Regular Breaks

In an office setting, we’re encouraged to schedule breaks and socialize to build cross-functional relationships.  That should not be any different for a remote employee.

Remind your team to take lunch and regular breaks. Breaks allow your team to rest, reset, and recharge.

Encourage them to do something else, such as take a walk outside or go into a different room to read a book or watch television.

Encourage Use of Vacation Time

It can be easy to forget that while working from home that we’re still working.  Remote employees may need a reminder to take time off, especially during the holiday season. Remind your team to use their vacation days and to enjoy the time off without feeling pressured to check email while out of the office.

Employee Mental Health: The next steps

Employee mental health is no longer a “dirty word” nor something to be ashamed of. Now is the time to encourage all employees – in office and remote – to take charge of their mental health and thrive during the pandemic.

For more information on encouraging employee engagement for your remote workforce, download these two free tip sheets today:

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