COVID-19 has forced millions of employees to not only shift from office work to full-time remote work but also change their entire approach to work. This change has inevitably caused a lot of fear, confusion, panic, and stress among employees.
For some, it’s the fear of job stability at a time when layoffs and furloughs can increase feelings of anxiety and stress. It can also open the door to a host of questions that need to be answered regarding the impact of COVID-19 on business continuity, job security, and workload bandwidth for those employees who are still working (and are now doing the jobs of those employees who may have been let go).
When we asked HR professionals to cite the biggest challenge with managing remote and distributed employees, 14% of them said their employees had trouble maintaining boundaries between home and work life, and 7% said they found it difficult to help employees minimize stress, anxiety, and burnout. These are real problems that employees are facing right now. It’s up to HR teams, managers, and leadership to take a proactive role in helping employees manage their mental health and well-being.
Educate and Train Managers to Lead with Compassion
To help tackle these mental health challenges, HR teams can educate managers and set protocols in place about the appropriate times to contact and schedule meetings with their direct reports/teams. I would advise managers to avoid scheduling meetings that cut into their employees’ early mornings and evenings.
Additionally, adjusting and adapting their standard communications methods, frequencies, and styles will be of great benefit during times of crisis. Instead of sending important updates via a long e-mail to all staff, break up the updates into shorter, digestible snippets that are informative, engaging, and interactive. If employee morale has dropped or frustrations seem to be at an all-time high, HR teams can share motivational or inspirational messages and quotes every Monday and Friday as a way to raise their spirits.
During these turbulent, unpredictable times, a manager’s role is to listen, ask questions, practice patience, and allow employees to express their concerns and fears openly and safely. By showing employees that everyone is in the same boat, it will go a long way toward alleviating the stress they might be feeling.
Most importantly, managers should make a proactive effort to make themselves available for one-on-one conversations with individual employees, be it for a quick 10-minute sanity check or a progress catch-up to ensure employees feel they have what they need to perform their job.
Create a Safe Space for Employees to Seek Out Information, Answers, and Support
Oftentimes, employees feel uncomfortable speaking up or letting themselves be seen as vulnerable. There are many reasons for this. For one, they might worry about being construed as unprofessional or weak. But more often than not, these are self-imposed fears and doubts and have nothing to do with how others actually perceive them.
At one point or another, everyone experiences self-doubt—it’s what makes us human. HR teams should remind employees of this and encourage them to embrace whatever they’re feeling. It’s perfectly OK not to feel cheery and optimistic every minute of the day, especially in times of crisis. HR should also allow a safe and confidential space for employees to talk about how they’re feeling without the fear of reprisals.
Use regular one-on-one meetings to check in with employees and discuss more than just their daily tasks, projects, and performance. It can be extremely valuable for those in a management position to check in regularly with their direct reports to gauge how they’re adapting to the new normal of remote working and how social distancing is affecting them emotionally.
Communicate as much as possible. The more frequent, the better. Since we instituted mandatory work-from-home at Doodle in early March, I increased our weekly all-hands meeting to twice a week (Mondays and Wednesdays). We keep these minutes more focused and limited to 30 minutes each. In the Monday meeting, I try to keep it focused on a maximum of three topics with a few key speakers from across the organization.
However, I’ve reserved the Wednesday all-hands meeting solely as an open Q&A forum for staff. It’s a safe space for them to talk about anything they want. For example, some employees take the time to give a shout-out of congratulations or thank a fellow colleague for being collaborative in a project. Meanwhile, other employees use the time to ask questions about when we, as a company, will reopen our offices and what that transition will look like.
In the last Wednesday all-hands we held, one of the employees simply asked people to say how they were feeling in that exact moment by using a rating scale of 1–10. And everyone started to chime in. We talk openly, candidly, and freely in these all-hands meetings, and no question or answer is judged by anyone.
It’s all too easy to be hyper-focused on your day-to-day tasks when working remotely. But it’s important to pay extra attention to your employees and be vigilant about noticing any behavioral changes that might indicate something is wrong. It could be something as simple as a normally extroverted, talkative employee suddenly becoming quiet and less socially engaged. Pay attention to these types of cues. It can be difficult for many to seek help when they need it, so encourage employees to look out for one another.
Ignoring Mental Health Can Have Serious Consequences on Business Continuity
For most modern companies, health care includes access to therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health specialists who can help employees navigate their feelings of anxiety and stress. But beyond that, there is a plethora of mental health applications, hotlines, and informational assets that HR should make their employees aware of on an ongoing basis.
Organizations can also create internal initiatives that promote transparency and support for employees struggling or seeking assistance with mental health and reinforced communication that there should be no concerns about seeking aid.
Ignoring mental health can imply the company doesn’t consider it a priority and can create a stigma around seeking help. The worst thing a company can do is create a culture that ends up discouraging those who need help from seeking it out. Not only could it lead to a drop in productivity and morale, but the business could also be genuinely putting someone in danger. If someone came into the office with a broken arm, you wouldn’t ignore it and tell the person to help move boxes; you would encourage him or her to get help. Mental health should be no different.
Renato Profico is the CEO of the enterprise scheduling tool Doodle. A qualified executive with 20 years of professional experience in digital companies, he most recently held the position of CEO for 4 years at a job platform network in Switzerland—JobCloud. In addition to his extensive leadership experience, Profico is an expert in business-to-business sales, marketing, business development, customer relationship management, and organizational structure and development. Connect with Profico on LinkedIn and with Doodle on Twitter.
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