Written by: Emily Young // May 22, 2020
Last updated: May 22, 2020
As a leader in your organization, you’re faced with a tough challenge. How can you maintain productivity (and profitability) when workers are chronically stressed due to COVID-19? The answer is simple: Take care of your employees’ emotional and mental well-being. Read on to learn six ways to improve employee wellness for productivity during the coronavirus crisis.
The Link Between Anxiety and Productivity
Due to the coronavirus crisis, we are facing a lot of uncertainty. That makes us anxious, explained Paul Spector, a distinguished professor emeritus at USF with a background in organizational psychology. “If all of a sudden your world is in turmoil and you don't know day to day what's going to happen, there's always the fear that something bad could happen," Spector said.
Employees are dealing with very real concerns in nearly every aspect of their lives: Will they get sick? Will they lose their jobs? When will the world return to normal?
This constant stress makes it much harder for employees to be productive. “Worry is distracting,” Spector said. “If someone is anxious about something, it's sapping their energy and sapping their attention. So instead of focusing on work, they're distracted. They may make more mistakes. Their level of productivity may go down because they're having trouble concentrating.”
As a leader, it’s your job to take care of your team’s well-being. It’s also smart for business. “From an employer's perspective, it's worth their while to reduce stress and anxiety as much as is feasible to do,” Spector said.
You can take the following six actions to support your employees’ mental and emotional health during the coronavirus crisis:
6. Be Flexible
Understand that your team “may be working under less than ideal conditions,” Spector said. Be flexible in assigning projects and understand that employees may not be able to handle their usual workload if they’re also juggling children or health crises. Help your team prioritize tasks and decide which projects can be put on hold until later.
5. Check In
It’s crucial for us to practice social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19. But loneliness is hard on our minds and our bodies; one study has shown that “lacking any social connection may be comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day as a risk factor for mortality,” according to this New York Times article. Employees who live alone may feel particularly vulnerable.
Try to create a sense of online community for your team. Consider offering a daily, 30-minute video conference for any employee who wants to join. “I think that's a good way for supervisors to keep in touch with the people that are working for them, and also for employees to keep in touch with each other,” Spector said. “People don't feel so isolated.” Keep the focus on connection and community and save discussions about work projects for other meetings.
4. Ask Employees What They Need
You can reach out to groups of employees through your daily video conferences, but it’s also important to check in one-on-one. Ask team members what you can (reasonably) do to help them during this crisis. “Don't make any assumptions, but just ask people, you know, what do you need that we can do for you?” Spector said.
3. Show Employees You Trust Them
If you haven’t worked with an off-site team before, you may have trouble adjusting to the concept. In fact, you may be tempted to use software that monitors remote employees to see if they’re really working. But this “Big Brother” approach will only increase workers’ stress. Plus, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. “People act the way you expect them to act,” Spector said. “Assume people are going to do the right thing, and just give them the tools and let them do it.”
2. Offer Virtual Wellness Resources
You already know that employee wellness matters: “More than 90 percent of business leaders say that promoting wellness can affect employee productivity and performance,” according to a survey cited in SHRM. Recognizing the need to prevent employee burnout, companies are getting creative, offering everything from meditation to “smash therapy” (destroying a piñata). But now the coronavirus crisis has plunged us into a virtual existence, making it more complicated to support employee well-being. After all, you can’t exactly schedule lunchtime yoga sessions or give workers access to the company gym. But it is possible to offer wellness resources from a distance.
Mental Health Resources
Remind employees about the virtual wellness resources provided by your company. For example, if you offer a program that includes mental health counseling, let employees know how they can access the service online. Supervisors should also be paying attention to any signs of emotional or mental distress in their team members. “There are some people who are going to deal with mental health issues having to do with this (crisis),” Spector explained.
You can also offer employees access to digital resources, whether subscriptions to mindfulness apps like Headspace or company-wide virtual yoga sessions.
Physical Health Resources
“Exercise is really good for stress,” Spector said. “If you do something rigorous, it tends to take the edge off anxiety and depression.” Encourage employees to exercise by providing them with inexpensive equipment they can use at home, such as yoga mats or exercise bands.
Remember that your employees are transitioning to a new, less-than-ideal workspace in their homes. “All across America, former cubicle dwellers are slouched over dining room tables or sprawled on sofas, pecking away at laptops,” explained this Washington Post article. Spoiler alert: Our bodies don’t like it. If you have the funds, reimburse your team for ergonomic equipment such as standing desk converters or wrist-friendly keyboards. It is an investment, but consider how much more productive employees will be if they aren’t fighting neck cramps.
1. Take Care of Your Own Wellness
Your employees aren’t the only ones struggling with uncertainty and stress. You are, too. And you can’t help anyone else unless you are emotionally well-balanced.
To take care of your mental wellness, Spector suggests limiting news consumption and keeping to a routine: “Even though you're not going to work … try to keep at least some elements of your life pretty similar to what was going on before.” Find time for relaxing activities, whether mindfulness exercises, yoga, or just “watching funny cat videos.”
We know the world is uncertain, but our programs and resources are as solid as ever. USF is ready to help you develop your full leadership potential with our professional development programs. Explore USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education website, or contact us at 813-974-0950. We’re here to help.