As a national technology staffing firm headquartered in Manhattan, everyone in my company is working from home. We’ve accepted this as our new normal for the meantime, while we all wait patiently for plans to be implemented and restrictions to lift. That being said, we need to embrace the fact that people want to get out of their homes. Mental health is the most important aspect of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic; none of us have experienced the shutdown of the workplace nor the return to it, so maintaining sensitivity to our employees’ needs is crucial above anything else, especially when trying to keep them engaged.
Employees need to do their jobs, because business still needs to be running smoothly; that’s unavoidable, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be open-minded. Treat each employee as an individual, because each will react differently; some will be business as usual, some will be fearful, and even others will have many peaks and valleys. Take it one day at a time, and take everything in stride.
Taking time off. In fact, the best thing you can do to keep your employees engaged at work is to encourage them to disengage when they need to. Encourage people to take necessary time off to figure things out; set a precedent that breaks are not only acceptable, but encouraged. I personally advocate for giving employees Fridays off (if you can) in the same way you might have done summer Fridays, or remote Fridays in the past. If you’re living somewhere where restrictions are starting to lift, or you have remote employees across the country, encourage them to go out as soon as restrictions are lifted and they feel safe doing so. Tell them to enjoy their weekends, and make a point of asking everyone what they did over the weekend bright and early Monday morning. (Of course you should encourage your employees to follow their own local laws and health ordinances.)
Break time. Mental health is directly related to our physical health, so they should both be a priority. In addition to encouraging mental health breaks throughout the day, encourage your team to do things like take walks (with precautions), meditate, yoga, push-ups — anything to help set their mind at ease and help them focus. Send all your employees a healthy lunch one day, and encourage them to make sure they’re drinking enough water (we can always be drinking more water). Motivate everyone to keep themselves healthy (we did a company-wide workout challenge).
Stay in touch. This isn’t to say that you should allow your employees to not do their jobs. If someone is not working and not communicating about it, that’s not acceptable. Make it a point to over communicate everything: tasks for the day, how their personal lives are going, whether they need some time to just breathe. Implement check-ins throughout the day and schedule more virtual meetings. Your employees need to know that this isn’t just one more speech from the head of a company; you need to mean it, and they need to see it put into play. Actions speak louder than words.
The talent. On that note, coach people to have that same sensitivity with candidates they talk to on the phone. They should be asking about people’s families and lives in addition to screening for jobs. Everyone is only human, and everyone needs that extra touch of kindness in order to stay afloat, especially these days. Patience and compassion are key.
We have learned from Covid-19 that the most important things in life are health, family and friends. We shouldn’t be expecting employees to put in insane hours like they were before the pandemic without prioritizing their mental health. As much as everyone is working from home, they are also trying to survive a pandemic, and that requires sensitivity. If it means a staffing firm makes a couple fewer placements at first, that’s okay. Giving your employees freedom means they don’t have to fight for it; if you give someone something, they won’t feel like they have to take it. They’ll feel heard, appreciated, and valued. When your employees feel valued, they’ll work harder, and their time spent doing their job will be time spent as an engaged and loyal employee.