The term ‘working from home’ has never been quite so literal. Prior to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this could mean working from the library or a coffee shop, hot-desking at a co-working space, or catching up on emails during a working lunch.
However, coronavirus changed all that. It shut many of us in our homes for the most part, and although some things are returning to ‘normal’ in some parts of the world, a large chunk of the workforce is still putting in their 40 hours from the comfort (or for some, discomfort) of their own homes.
At a time when businesses are facing huge financial losses, future financial uncertainty, disruption to supply chains, and the prospect of making staff redundant, it’s important to keep up with employee wellness.
What the Statistics Say
Even during the best of times, mental health is something that many people struggle with. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that it represents one of “the most burdensome health concerns in the United States.”
Unfortunately, mental health conditions are worsened during times of national crisis. Several studies have shown a link between large-scale disasters and increases in depression, substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other things.
According to a survey conducted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is exactly what’s happening this time around. The survey found that:
- 91 percent of employees working from home reported moderate to extreme stress.
- 69 percent said that now is the most stressful time of their entire career.
- 62 percent said they’re losing at least one hour per day in productivity due to COVID-19 related stress.
What Can Be Done?
Mental health problems and general work-related stress are not just bad for the worker, it’s also bad news for organizations’ bottom lines. In 2019, before the pandemic, the World Health Organization estimated that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion a year. In the current climate, this figure is likely to be significantly higher.
Therefore, it makes sense for business leaders to provide more support for their employees who may be suffering the mental stresses of isolation and the physical challenges of home-based working, such as juggling deadlines with childcare and working from makeshift workspaces.
But what can be done? Where should business leaders focus their efforts?
Provide Guidance to Employees About Health and Wellbeing
Make sure that your employees know where they can find information, guidance, and support for their physical and mental health. Ideally, organizations will have a dedicated individual or team tasked with managing this aspect of human resources. This person or team acts as a central point of contact and provides an open line of communication for employees who can open up about how they feel, what’s causing them problems, and what can be done to help.
Don’t just rely on self-reporting, though. This is a two-way street and two-way communication is essential to building trust. It’s vital that employee wellbeing is monitored and tracked with structured and regular opportunities for employees to check-in with team leaders, managers, and colleagues.
Encourage Managers to Engage in Agenda-Free Discussions
While many businesses are firing on all cylinders right now in a bid to stay ahead and overcome a flurry of new challenges, managers shouldn’t discount the value of candid, agenda-free discussions with their team members. When video calls and meetings are all strictly business, they leave no space for general chat and this can make things more draining.
It’s important to understand that during this unusual time, colleagues will have a whole range of weird and wonderful home-based work setups. From kids running around ragged to those living alone and working in complete silence, the sudden loss of the office community has hit some very hard. That’s why managers should be looking to schedule short, casual team catch-ups that have zero work agenda. Instead, these should serve as a way for colleagues to check-in with one another and feel connected with one another.
Accommodate Different Needs
The move from office to home has the potential to negatively impact performance. It’s therefore vital to ensure that employees have the right infrastructure, flexibility, and support in place to do their jobs to the best of their ability in spite of the current circumstances.
If you’ve got a team member who’s struggling to work through the usual 9 to 5 workday due to challenges in the home such as childcare, try to accommodate them the best you can. Perhaps you could allow them to take an hour or two out of their workday and let them catch up in the evenings?
A Strategic Priority
It’s important to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is like no over. It is not a singular, transient event; every indication is that it is here for the foreseeable future. This makes it difficult to estimate with certainty what kind of short and long-term interventions will be needed to support employee wellbeing.
But with everything that’s at stake, developing ways to measure and support employee wellbeing and mental health is something that business leaders should be making a strategic priority.