The pandemic set the world on a roller coaster, no doubt. The good news is that many workplaces have reopened and employees are getting back to work as vaccinations ramp up. Others never closed, pivoting to remote and hybrid structures that may have permanently altered the workplace.
Even so, it is undeniable that the physical and emotional tolls of the pandemic have been significant. Of those who got the virus, some are still suffering from long-term health conditions; meanwhile, the impact of the pandemic goes beyond those who contracted COVID-19, bringing challenges such as stress, anxiety and exhaustion to many employees.
What can employers do to help? These strategies for people management can help employees cope, focus, engage and, hopefully, thrive.
Don’t try to get ‘back to normal’ too soon
Given the impact of the past year on the workforce, this may not be the time to try an immediate “return to normal.” Besides, our concept of how to get work done has radically changed, including how we think about time, boundaries, work/life balance, technology, communication and performance.
Mental health was already on the radar prepandemic, but now it’s right in front of us. Of the 1,500 U.S. workers surveyed in Indeed’s recent Employee Burnout Report, 67% believe the feeling of being burned out has gotten worse during the pandemic, and 52% are feeling it right now. Interestingly, more of those who work virtually say their burnout has gotten worse during the pandemic (38%) than those who are working on site (28%).
In short, we’ve learned that working from home presents new challenges, from being unable to unplug to the blurring of responsibilities. Meanwhile, the report shows the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, many of whom have exited the labor force or reduced their hours.
Now is the time to reboot your workplace, creating programs that focus on outreach, contact and communication. Start by revisiting the core values embodied in your work culture and assess how your organization has supported its workforce. Were managers listening to their teams, and was someone there to hear the managers, as well?
Coming through a crisis is an opportunity to do better. It may seem like another disruption, but it’s a way of improving the foundation, assuaging anxieties and bringing everyone back together with a new focus on well-being.
Create a safe, supportive work culture
But what does this look like in practice? Above all, create an open and inviting work environment where no one has to hide their worries. Include plenty of outreach, from one-on-one manager check-ins to short surveys and town hall-style discussions where people can express appropriate concerns.
Provide plenty of opportunities to promote belonging and community, including frequent feedback and recognition. As the vaccination rollouts continue, it may even be possible to start thinking about when you will once again be able to hold in-person events, such as safely distanced retreat or volunteer days. Consider offering on-site therapeutic options, such as destress and meditation programs.
Organizations should also consider putting policies in place to support employees suffering from ongoing physical and mental health issues: flexible schedules, remote work and additional paid time off. Provide room for employees to access telehealth or leave the workplace to visit off-site practitioners.
Offer robust health — and mental health — benefits
It's estimated that tens of thousands still suffer from long-haul COVID-19, in which aspects of the virus turn chronic.
Some are finding relief after getting a vaccine, but there’s not enough information to understand how, or even why. Others are stuck with debilitating conditions such as heart and lung weaknesses and physical impairments.
Further, a just-published study found that 34% of COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed with a neurological or psychological condition within six months of their infection — and not all cases were among those who had been hospitalized. Top on the list were anxiety (17%) and mood disorders (14%).
So as your workers return to the office, remember those who may still be suffering from the effects of the disease. Be prepared to be flexible; and if you don’t have comprehensive mental health benefits in place, now is a good time to consider adding them to your offerings.
Don’t just reopen — reboard
Of all the milestones on an employee’s journey, onboarding remains one with tremendous untapped potential. Many of us are craving a fresh start, whether or not it’s a literal reboot. If you’re an employer that is reassembling your workforce, this is a huge opportunity to address the issues that affected your employees in an impactful way.
The pandemic was a lesson in coping and resilience for all of us. It came at a juncture when we had the technology to shift many functions to the digital space, from the hiring process to day-to-day operations. We’d already realized the need to keep employees happy and engaged, but we now understand that a sense of belonging is the glue that keeps us together.
As we create solutions that bring employees back or simply scale up operations, let’s be sure to honor that!
(Editor’s note: This article is a follow-up to a recent Leadership Connect virtual fireside chat between the author and Paul E. Wolfe, Indeed’s SVP of HR. Leadership Connect is Indeed’s complimentary, invitation-only community of VPs, SVPs, CHROs and other HR and TA executives. Learn more and apply for membership to stay informed of upcoming events.)
Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized analyst, author, speaker and brand strategist. The founder of TalentCulture, she hosts #WorkTrends, a popular weekly Twitter Chat and podcast. Her career spans across recruiting, talent management, digital media and brand strategy for hundreds of companies, from startups to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google. She also serves on advisory boards for leading HR technology brands. Meghan can be regularly found on Forbes, SHRM, and a variety of other outlets. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.