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How to Help Employees Deal With Pandemic Stress

Ideas to help your team handle pressure from the pandemic

by Nikhil Bendre

Across the board, the COVID-19 pandemic has established its presence as a primary stressor in our lives. Every little thing that we do now requires the extra consideration of whether or not we could end up catching the virus. As we continue to navigate this pandemic, worrying about things such as hitting deadlines and attending meetings can seem trivial. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to stay afloat while remaining productive and keeping whatever sense of normalcy that we can hang on to. Now more than ever, it’s important for HR managers to prioritize the mental well-being of their employees, as stress and burn-out is at an all time high. Generally speaking, mental health has declined by 31% since the start of the pandemic. In an attempt to help counter this consequence, here are some suggestions that you can implement into your organization to help prioritize your team’s mental health.

Policy Adjustments

Upper level management has the potential to alleviate a lot of pressure in times of isolation. Employees are sure to appreciate superiors who are conscious of the current challenges and are willing to adjust accordingly for the benefit of their team. It all begins when managers understand the simple connection between happy employees and high-quality work. The world’s primary villain at this point is the virus. That’s why step one for managers should be tweaking their Sick Policy. 

Julia Newman from
FixThePhoto recommends, “Create an all-inclusive sick leave package that takes into consideration the coronavirus.” We have to worry about illness in a way that we haven’t seen before – not just on the individual level. Your employees may contract COVID, someone in their family/household may contract it, or they may even have the occasional COVID scare where they learn that they have been exposed. Being mindful of this and remaining flexible should be the obvious route. If you’re ready to update your sick leave policies, HR document management software like GoCo helps you add new fields, documents, and acknowledgements digitally, and report on the data you collect from employees. When your team member or a loved one tests positive, understand that that will be the first priority. Having a means to track COVID-19 paid leave in your HRIS can also make the approval process easier for both team members and for HR. 

Meetings

Meetings are arguably one of the most time consuming aspects of the work day. We all have experiences where meetings draw on for much longer than they need to, and frankly, a lot of meetings would translate just as well in an email. Consider implementing “meeting audits” to determine which meetings are necessary, and how to reconfigure your goals and agendas. This is why adjusting how your organization handles meetings could be beneficial for everyone involved! The most obvious switch would be to simply shorten them. If they usually last an hour, aim for 45 minutes. Make it a point to prepare beforehand to ensure that you’re using your employees’ time wisely and efficiently. Another policy you may consider adopting could be to stop scheduling meetings on Fridays! This lightens your employees’ load and gives them one less thing to worry about before they leave for the weekend. If you’re looking to take on a more drastic measure, consider making Fridays half-days all together!

On the other hand, carving out time for fun meetings could be a good idea. Staying connected is difficult with remote work, so hold virtual social events to boost morale and to wind down! Take a look at our
11 Virtual Happy Hour Ideas blog post for some more inspiration.

Work/Life Boundaries

Just because we’re working from home does not mean that we should feel like we’re living at work. Remote work blurs the line between productive and personal time, so emphasizing that line to your team is crucial. It may be wise to forbid emails and any other type of professional communication at night and on the weekends. Wrap everything up by 6:00 PM and then pick it up the next day. Also, make sure that time off is truly time off. If someone is out of the office, stress the importance of respecting their absence. If something really can’t wait, shoot that team member a message – 99% of the time, it can wait.

Family is one of the most important entities in times of hardship. Working from home makes no difference if parents are too busy to actually spend time with their little ones. Mike Skoropad from
United Tires recommends staggering the shifts of parents and having them start a bit later in the day so that families can get their invaluable time together.

Employee Appreciation

Regularly letting your team know that they are valued, both for what they do as well as for being themselves, can go a long way. There are lots of ways to show your team that you care. The most important goal would be to foster an environment where your employees never have to question their worth. By consistently respecting them and their work, you are building the foundation for a more positive and productive operation. This environment can be achieved through regular positive reinforcement, shoutouts, and general recognition of good work. 

Another route you may consider taking is sending your team tokens of appreciation. Harriet Chan from
Cocofinder added that all employees in her organization received safety gifts, such as masks and hand sanitizer, to help them endure the pandemic. Check out our 33 Mailable Gift Ideas for Remote Employees article for a variety of employee gifts at an array of price points!

Personal Steps

In addition to policy changes, allow your employees to implement some personal measures into their work day to help them handle the stress. While change at an organizational level is incredibly helpful, different people have different needs. One idea may be to block certain recurring times on your calendar as “Busy” so that others don’t go in and overwhelm your schedule. We love how Aylon Steinhart from Eclipse Foods thinks about this. He makes sure, “to give employees a break from the constant meetings so that they can get more work done. They know if they need anything or have any questions, they can reach out.To support this, management should be understanding enough to support these much-needed mental breaks. When your calendar gets hijacked, your time is not your own. This is a boundary that should be acknowledged and respected.

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In the age of COVID-19, it’s imperative that we see our employees as people and friends first. It takes a village, and we’re all quite literally trying to make it out of this alive. One thing that managers can do to help immensely is to understand that their employees’ mental well-being is just as important as their physical health. Here at GoCo, our managers have implemented a number of measures to ensure that employees are staying healthy both mentally and physically. We hope that you find these tips helpful in maintaining a positive work environment through these dark times.

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