/ Creating a Culture of Emotional Wellbeing in a Changing Work Environment
Creating a Culture of Emotional Wellbeing in a Changing Work Environment
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, what we used to associate with employee engagement has radically shifted. The traditional elements comprising company culture-social events, volunteering, and celebrating internal achievements pale in comparison to the priorities that HR leaders now have at the top of their agendas — protecting employee health and safety, while maintaining the values and practices that the company embodies. How human resources leaders define and implement employee engagement will have even greater weight as we all endeavor to return to work in the new post-pandemic environment.
HR leaders, uniquely to other members of the C-Suite, have perhaps the most in-depth view of the people in their organization, and people, after all, will be key to any successful get back to work strategy. According to LifeWorks’ 2018 Workplace Outcome Suite Annual Report “employees who are distressed or struggling with some aspect of their health or well-being spend more than one-third of their working time being unproductive.” In fact, the reduction in productivity can be two times less productive compared to the typical ‘healthy’ employee.
Whereas before the pandemic, HR leaders were primarily focused on employee retention and recruitment, they now face an entirely different set of priorities. CHROs now have an obligation to help employees operate on the heels of traumatic world events. This means that long-held views of productivity will have to shift as employees acclimate to a hybrid work from home / return to office reality that often involves juggling household responsibilities like domestic caretaking with meetings and tasks.
For HR leaders across organizations of all shapes and sizes, workforce mental and physical wellbeing and safety will be of utmost importance as the return back to the physical office begins to take shape.
Encourage Self-Awareness Through Identifying Stress Styles
Prolonged uncertainty can leave employees feeling stressed and anxious. In previous articles, we’ve talked about procedural steps to take which can address employees’ fear of working in a post-pandemic world. But what about emotional wellbeing in addition to physical safety? Unmanaged stress can create serious mental and physical impacts on employees, which drives down productivity and can even create a toxic work environment. But, as behavioral scientist Tanya Tarr points out, “Stress doesn’t need to become toxic.”
Stress can actually become a force for good in the workplace, if managed the right way, “In fact, stress can forge strong relationships of trust and create high performing teams if the stressful situation is navigated correctly.” A key aspect of managing stress properly is to understand that “not all stress is handled in the same way.” This is where human resources can help individuals and teams to utilize stress assessments to empower employees in becoming adaptive leaders as they return to the office. Success in fully returning to work means helping employees learn how to adapt to their teammate’s needs, including being able to spot and support different stress styles.
Stress assessment allows people to determine their stress style: Fight, Friend, Freeze, or Flight. Most people are familiar with the first two types of stress response—Fight or Flight. But Friend and Freeze are just as important to understand. The Friend stress style involves seeking others out for mutual support. Freeze stress style involves slowing down or ignoring stressors as a means of self-preservation.
By understanding the different stress types, human resources leaders can empower employees to become self-aware and understanding of others’ behavior in the changing post-pandemic work environment. Fostering greater empathy between coworkers leads to better trust and collaboration, key to a successful get back to work strategy.
Other ways that HR leaders can address mental and physical safety upon the return to the office include:
Equip your workforce with PPE — First and foremost, protecting the physical safety of your employees will be the top priority for any business leader. In the post-COVID office environment, access to adequate PPE will be an essential element in preventing the spread of the virus. At Domo, we have taken all elements of the PPE process — from procurement to disbursement to real-time tracking, and created a PPE Inventory Management App, so that your workforce remains equipped and safe.
Keep employees up to data on changes to the facility — Humans are creatures of habit. While reconfiguring office furniture to allow for greater distance between employees may seem like an obvious step in the get back to work plan, employees will have to be kept up to date on changes to the work environments they were once used to, and be continuously reminded of these changes — both in setup and in practice. For example, common areas such as cafeterias, meeting rooms and break rooms may have capacity limits and social distancing requirements. Keep employees updated on both changes to office setup and new protocols around sanitization and safety with Domo’s Facilities App, which racks building sterilization, areas of heavy use, and reminders when cleaning or maintenance are required in real-time.
Provide up to date compliance training for new protocols and procedures — Depending on the industry in which you operate, your employees may either be very familiar with compliance protocols in heavily regulated areas such as finance or healthcare, or completely unfamiliar. For many verticals, this will be HR’s first time implementing a far-reaching new compliance program — and one that is essential to how the organization will operate and protect its people upon the return to the office. Utilize our Training and Compliance App to train employees on new safety protocols and behaviors, and get employees certified on new procedures so you know who is ready to come back.
Make sure that employee health as a priority does not fall to the wayside — Although COVID-19 cases have dramatically decreased in most metropolitan areas as a result of the enforcement of social distancing guidelines, employee health must not fall off of the agenda as employees begin to return to the office. This requires not only tactical steps such as Temperature Scanning and Contact Tracing, both offered as part of Domo’s Get Back to Work Command Center. It also requires a change in culture. Prior to COVID-19, many employees may have come into work under the weather, especially in times of high stress or performance evaluation. In the new post-pandemic work paradigm, employees’ health will be of utmost importance — and coming into the office with a fever, or even overworked and stressed, will be forbidden as employers do all they can to prevent the spread of the virus. HR leaders will have to drive this point home — emphasizing the need to stay home while sick, frequently wash hands, and report any fever or other COVID-19 symptoms to HR.
Encourage mental wellbeing in addition to physical — Previously, many employees showcased their professional commitment by being “on” and available 24/7, working nights and weekends to fulfill superiors’ expectations. During quarantine, many Americans working remotely experienced ‘productivity burnout,’ or stress caused by being expected to be always available while working from home, while balancing household duties. It’s hard for people to separate work from home life and that is causing mental and physical stress. HR leaders should encourage employees to take vacation whenever possible, unplug at night and take breaks throughout the day. Normalizing these new or changing these productivity expectations will need to come from and reinforced by Human Resources. To supplement these efforts, Domo’s Productivity Indicators app allows HR executives to understand how employees are working using digital and physical productivity indicators, such as entries into the building, VPN logins, and Zoom meetings attended, and intervene if any productivity concerns are expressed.
Promote Access to and Use of Support Services — Make sure employees know how to access Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) where resources are located and who to talk to internally whether in-office or remotely. EAP services often go unused, because employees don’t know about them or do not understand what they actually provide. Many employees may even feel there’s a stigma about using these services. When possible, C-Suite executives to be open about their support of employees making use of EAP—this behavior must be modeled from the top.Although many EAPs are accessible online or via an app, many employees still want to pick up a phone or talk to someone in person. So it’s important that HR Departments openly communicate about the availability of the services to ensure employees know how to access and utilize the benefits, while also helping to reduce any stigmas that may be attached to using them.
Leverage technology to even the playing field of returning to work — With today’s advancements in data and technology, HR leaders don’t have to rely on conjecture to create far-reaching, uniform, trackable get back to work plans. The availability of data-backed insights to support conclusions around the level of comfort that employees have reached in the context of new health and safety guidelines, coupled with a mobile-first suite of apps that enable real-time communication, will be key to ensuring that all employees from rank and file to C-Suite are united in their approach to returning to work.
Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there
The reality created by the pandemic means that nearly everyone is attempting to operate while also in a chronic state of hypervigilance, which is taxing on cognitive abilities and physical health. It benefits the company for employees to be happy, there is no case in modern history (that we know of) that shows a direct correlation between unhappy and worried employees and a successful company. The idea of “behind the scenes” has various connotations for some but in this post-pandemic world, what you don’t see happening may actually be a good thing. Before you walked back in, through the doors that you’ve seen possibly a thousand times–a plan was put in place, and it was done so for the benefit of you and your colleagues’ safety. Your company may be in the business of making revenue, keeping shareholders happy and maintaining excellent brand reputation — but they can’t do that without you.
Check out some related resources:
'Future of Work' E-book: How to Safely Reopen the Workplace
A Decentralized Future – A Case For Consideration
Privacy Considerations for Safely Getting Back to Work
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