Employer’s Guide to Maintaining Employee Wellness Post COVID-19

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As offices prepare to welcome back employees, managers are well aware of the fact that a lot has changed under lockdown. The plain reality is that one may successfully keep the virus away from the workplace, but there isn’t as much as a single desk over which pandemic-related stress hasn’t cast its shroud. Picture these staggering numbers:

43% of Indians now suffer from depression, says a GOQii study

122 million Indians lost their jobs during March 2019 and April 2020, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMEI), as reported by Business Standard

Back in 2019, the WHO defined burnout as “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Today’s burnout is fuelled by multiple stressors – layoffs, blurred work-life balance, pay cuts, isolation, worries about family members, the fear of uncertainty, and so on. Moreover, for months now, employees have had to work out of spaces never designed for office work – kitchen tables, bedrooms, living room floors, garages, terraces, etc. In this way too, COVID-19 has also taken a physical toll on your workforce.

As an employer, it’s key to realise that stress-imbued work cannot be the new normal. Navigating this extraordinary scenario requires adapting to new, improved standards of employee wellbeing. To keep your workforce strong in mind and body post COVID-19, here are 10 tactics you can rely on.

1. Lead your team with empathy and trust

With elevated stress levels all across, it is crucial to understand that you’re working with an emotionally fragile workforce. Being empathetic involves the conscious decision to walk in others’ shoes, and along the path of listening, connecting, and finding meaningful solutions. Alongside empathy, place trust. It is a stimulator of good employee morale and a guardian of psychological safety. The pandemic has resulted in adjusted work modes and timings, and cultivating honesty and openness, while also being flexible and not micromanaging, is sure to push loyalty high.

2. Dispel the stigma surrounding mental health

The stigma surrounding mental illness can be demeaning to the one who is viewed as ‘different’. Now is a good time to educate employees that there is nothing wrong in seeking mental help. In fact, to go from theory to practice, consider having the services of a counsellor or psychologist at your workplace and structure in time for your workforce to avail help. The results of this exercise may boost productivity in ways that may surprise you!

3. Start a crisis fund for employees

Financial strain is a tangible reality for workers hit by pay cuts, layoffs, or medical bills. Having a mechanism to help those in dire circumstances shows you truly believe that it’s the people that make your company what it is. It’s about giving your workforce a buffer, something to fall back on, and being proactive in tending to your employee’s overall wellbeing. A zero-interest fund or a lump sum of advance salary payments are ways to help your team deal with unexpected events.

4. Support your front-line workers more

In an army, being on the front line means that you’re closest to the enemy, always at the risk of attack. That’s precisely the scenario many employees have found themselves in amidst the pandemic. Today, it is mandatory to protect your front-line workers, in fact all employees, by providing the necessary gear and keeping your workplace safe. But, perhaps, you can go the extra mile for your front-line workers: Reduced work hours to prevent exhaustion and increased wages in lieu of ancillary costs could be two starting points.

5. Promote community building activities

Humans are social beings and hence, any investment made here is bound to generate positive results. Community exercises help knit together an intellectually-cohesive and emotionally-stronger team. Virtual settings can help in community building – don’t rule them out! But don’t make them the only option either, because, after all, humans are physical beings too. For all its upsides, ‘social’ on the internet can cut a very mean figure of what social life is in the real world. Instead, come up with a combination that works for your team and offers real value.

6. Provide free financial coaching

A lot of employees who hadn’t ever given thought to financial planning now see its worth and a lot who had planned for the future astutely now realise the need for an external, expert perspective. Having on-site financial planning services at your workplace to assist your employees deal with the aftermath of pandemic-related financial woes can help keep your workforce mentally at peace and emotionally-driven. This could be a one-time service or an on-going feature at your office.

7. Stock up on healthy yet tasty snacks

With the widespread increase in health consciousness it is a good idea to let the best practices settle into every area of your workplace, including the pantry! Having fresh fruit, yoghurt, mixed nuts, kale chips, and the like, supercharging your office is a better alternative to circulating foods that are high in sodium, trans fats, and calories. Wondering if a small fix will make a big change? There’s nothing like giving it a try!

8. Offer on-site fitness facilities

Employees, now with keener health awareness, realise the importance of physical exercise. Unhelpful work from home conditions, being sedentary for long periods of time, gym closures, and stay-at-home measures have all meant that everyone is eager to be physically in shape once again. Zones for aerobic exercise, athletic clubs, and even walking tracks can give your employees avenues to get fitter. Do make sure to carve out some time for such selfcare, and if your office cannot accommodate an on-site facility, try working out a paid pass to a fitness service.

9. Strengthen your employee benefits program

Companies are right in looking for places to cut costs but, perhaps, the employee wellbeing program is not something to tamper with. In fact, you may want to inflate your budget here, so that you do not have to shell out excessively on healthcare costs in the future. While this is about avoiding being ‘penny-wise, pound-foolish’, it’s also a means of offering your employees comprehensive support—physical, mental, and emotional.

10. Circulate curated health content

With the ease of dissemination of information through social media and yet the concurrent dearth of trustworthy and reliable news, it’s safe to assume that your workforce is vulnerable to the infodemic of misinformation out there. An alternative: Have a team of professionals put together curated daily news and, perhaps, even a weekly company-wide newsletter. Feeding your team with the right information is vital to being on the same page and working together.

With these 10 methods of keeping your employees strong in body and mind, you can devise a solid plan of re-opening your workplace. Put these tactics into practice and you’ll be sure to see productivity and positivity quickly following in their wake!

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