From loneliness and anxiety to difficulty sleeping and concentrating, many employees have experienced a slew of mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to the problem: The workday is now nearly an hour longer, according to a recent study. These challenges are perhaps why one survey found that 80% of workers would consider leaving their current job for a new position if it focused more on mental health.
Is your company doing enough to support the mental health of its remote employees? Here’s how to do more, better, for everyone’s sake.
Talk about it
Be open. One in five American adults experience mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, so it’s a safe bet some of your remote employees do too. Encourage company leaders to talk about the issue, whether broadly or from personal experience. They can help employees feel less alone, and they may even prompt people to ask for help.
It’s impossible to know what people are going through at home. Maybe they live with a family member who is at high risk for COVID-19. Maybe their partner lost their job. Managers can make a difference. Remind them to check in with remote employees daily and, if someone wants to talk, really take the time to listen and show empathy. Finally, educate managers about the signs that someone may be struggling, like significant changes in work product or personality.
Make it easy for employees to seek out support by distributing a list of available assistance programs, mental health support, telemedicine, benefits guides, and information about family leave and disability coverage. While you’re at it, consider whether your company’s offerings are sufficient. Does your healthcare package cover therapy and counseling? What about one-on-one coaching for managers and supervisors? Can you offer a well-being bonus for employees to use for gym memberships, meditation apps, or whatever helps them stay healthy?
Share stress-relief tips
Help employees lower their stress by introducing them to stress-relief techniques, like yoga and meditation. Hire a teacher to host live weekly sessions or offer free or discounted rates to Headspace®, Calm®, Peloton™, and other health and wellness apps.
Stay connected through tech
Employees can feel lonely when working remotely, but technology can bring them together. Create a “virtual water cooler” through regular live video gatherings, using platforms like Slack®, Skype®, and Google® Hangouts™. Not everyone will be able to join, but some will—and they might feel more connected to their jobs and their teams as a result. Also, consider offering optional virtual hangouts where employees can connect with small groups of peers and talk, off the record, about life at work and home.
Consider flexible work days
Many people are now working longer hours at odd times of the day, blurring the line between work and home. Microsoft® recently surveyed more than 350 of its remote employees during the pandemic and found that they spend 10% more time in meetings every week. Between 6 p.m. and midnight, the number of messages sent increased by 52%. Enable employees to set their own schedules whenever possible, encourage them to include breaks and exercise every day, and empower them to work outside the traditional 9–5 if needed. Helping people feel at ease about their responsibilities at home goes a long way.
Encourage days off
Everyone needs a break. Remind managers to encourage their teams to schedule a day off in the next month or two, so they can rest and recharge. And remind company leaders to take mental health days as well; it often helps when the example comes from the top.
Exercise can lower stress. So encourage your employees to walk, run, stretch, do jumping jacks—whatever it takes. Another idea: Institute weekly walking meetings, so your team can get their steps while catching up on work.
Offer continuing education
For remote workers, the days often blend together. Help break up the week—and keep your employees sharp and engaged—by offering online training courses that enhance their expertise and promote growth. You can also host “brown bag lunches” where colleagues present on various areas of expertise during virtual meetings.
Help employees thrive from home
Make sure all of your employees have what they need to work remotely. Do they need equipment or a better tech setup? Can you offer an ergonomics training session? Do parents have access to child care? Letting your team know you have their back can make a big difference.