The initial panic surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic may have passed, but the evolution of the work environment and the new-found work-life balance has affected the mental wellbeing of employees. So, what can organisations do to support employee wellbeing, and make it easier for the employee? Let’s find out.
I live in Mumbai. It’s a fast life but one gets used to it. In the city, someone or the other would be working at any moment in the day or night. Mumbai trains, for that matter, are legendary. They are rightly called the lifeline of the city. It was hard to imagine that the city would ever slow down, let alone grind to a halt. Local trains were suspended in the city on 23rd March 2020. The country saw an unprecedented lockdown. Everything and everyone did go on ‘pause’.
It’ll soon be a year since we went into the shock of inactivity and lockdown. Like this evergreen city, businesses that were always running began to question their continuity protocols and their working capital. The ‘trickle-down’ stress came pouring in on the normal employed-individuals who, quite frankly, didn’t know what to do.
Well, we are past that. We adapted, we overcame and we evolved.
But still, we must look at the process of evolution. It shouldn’t come at the cost of the mental well-being of employees. Even before the pandemic, psychiatric issues like depression and anxiety gripped many people at the workplace. The annual global impact on the economy, due to the loss of productivity emanating from depression and anxiety, is around $1 trillion.The annual global impact on the economy, due to the loss of productivity emanating from depression and anxiety, is around $1 trillion. Click To Tweet
How did the evolution of the work environment and the new-found work-life balance affect the mental well-being of employees?
It’s hard to put a number on the increased stress on an employee’s mental health. It’s not normal to balance an existential crisis along with an economic crisis. Yes, it had an impact. But since everyone, from the CEO to the accountant were largely going through the same, it made the adjustments easier to bear.
So, what were these adjustments and how could a company make it easier for the employee?
The Office-Corner: Haven for Uninterrupted Work
People, like myself, wanted to ensure that the work doesn’t stop. Meetings, articles, campaigns, pitches, workshops, etc. should keep ongoing. Everyone jumped on to Zoom, Teams, Meet, etc. to connect to their colleagues and their clients. What were the challenges here? Working in an office, you have a dedicated space where you can think and perform. Now, this is sacred as it’s away from the distractions of daily life. But, you couldn’t do that when you are working from home. So, the next best thing was to define an ‘Office Corner’.
This corner doesn’t have to be big, it could be as small as a table and a chair. What this ‘corner’ means is that there is a space where you can put your focus ‘gear’ on and really get some work done. There have been some hilarious moments when children randomly popped up on screens, but that’s ok. It’s the pleasurable quirks of the new-work etiquette.
Quite a few companies recognized this trend early. They encouraged their employees to set their own office corner. Some companies even reimbursed the expenses of setting up this corner. This didn’t just improve the work, but also simplified the struggle of working within a distracting and dynamic house.
What is the learning from this?
- Well, there’s always a way. A corner isn’t hard to find, but once you do, the benefits are enormous. Even when it seems impossible to get a move on and get some work, some ingenuity and perspective can shape the new world around you.
- For companies, it was a novel way to showcase empathy and proactive solutions. Pandemic-induced lockdowns and work-from-home isn’t an every-year affair (hopefully), and by showing intent and execution to help an employee, the company sets a life-long positive memory for the person.
- Now, every time this employee talks about work during Covid-19, they would fondly mention the company. This, in turn, would grow the company’s goodwill and employability-factor (what employees look for in a prospective workplace).
Goodies – Because Deliveries can Be Leveraged
One thing missing from working from home was the snack breaks. Oh, the camaraderie near the coffee machine! Friendships and chatter is a good buffer for the stressed mind. I remember heading straight to the pantry whenever the work was too overwhelming. A smile from a buddy, a 2-min random chat over a cup of coffee, took the edge right off.
That’s why I was surprised to find a goodies basket at my doorstep one morning. My colleagues, along with the human resources and admin, had sent everyone these baskets filled with instant coffee sachets, cookies, chips, tea bags, etc. It was a lovely gesture and it turned not just my day, but my week, very bright.
Such things give you the extra motivation to push that bit harder. It made the ‘adjustment’ of being away from friends a bit easier. Mental well-being is closely associated with socialising. Some people might want to stay away and others might revel in physical contact. But everyone wants the comfort of shared experiences in the workplace. Just because we weren’t in office, that didn’t stop the human resources team from creating a nice shared experience for everyone.
What’s the benefit of ‘goodies’ or interaction through home deliveries?
- It gives you a sense of companionship and belonging. In times when you couldn’t even interact easily with your neighbours (especially in the early days of the lockdown), such initiatives help fill the void of loneliness. You never know which one of the employees ‘really’ needed that pick-me-up of the ‘goodie’ basket.
- It’s a talking point. My colleagues and friends talked a lot about how we used-up the items from the package within 2-3 days. It was a good bonding session where none of us even mentioned the raging pandemic outside.
- It’s also a subtle message of ‘hang-in-there’. Do you remember those motivational posters in the office? The ones that said you should ‘shoot for the stars’. They all seemed corny then, somewhat clichéd. But, the lockdown showed that simple motivational messages, even subtle, can fill you with energy. The goodie basket indirectly said that the pantry and the office would be waiting for you when this is over. It was a good assurance of continuity and sustainability from the company.
Cross-Skill training – Online Courses or Peer-Mentorship
The pandemic left a lot of us with doubts. Would our skills become outdated in the new world order? It’s a genuine feeling as many industries like hospitality, food and beverage, etc. faced deeper hardships than others. Through this uncertainty, the employees need some help or a leg-up.
Companies can initiate cross-skill training workshops, which would be, of course, online. I took on some of these cross-skill training courses. On the side, I also brushed up on cooking and baking skills but that’s another story. Cross-skill training kept my mind active and fuelled. It helped me to not get stuck in the monotony of lockdown life. And at the end of the day, I expanded my profile quite a bit.Companies can initiate cross-skill training workshops, which would be, of course, online. Click To Tweet
This is an investment for the employee and the company. The employee can improve on their abilities, and the company can leverage some new-found potential within their workforce.
I also indulged in peer-mentorship. This is a neat thing. Even though I chose to mentor my colleagues (training them in a skill I am good with) on my own, a company could go on to set-up a peer- mentorship program. Here, the mentee picks up a new skill set and the mentor can feel empowered as they helped their fellow-colleague. Come to think of it, I should push my company to start this as a regular thing.
Communication is More Important Now Than Ever Before
We always had long sessions about how communication in the workplace is of paramount importance. Lack of which led to bottlenecks, delays, duplication of work, and even missed deadlines. In serious cases, it resulted in a loss of business due to improper client/customer satisfaction responses.
Still, communication during the pandemic was far more important than it was before. The direct medium of face-to-face talks was taken away. Some employees were left in a work-stasis where their projects seemed to be stuck in limbo. So, before when communication errors cost a company just time and money, now lack of communication could result in escalating anxiety, stress, and loss of ‘significant’ business.
What can companies do to improve communication?
- This is where the human resources and leadership teams within companies stepped up. They filled the information gap with regular feedback and knowledge exchange. There weren’t any hap-hazard meeting schedules. All of our time was respected with clearly arranged meetings that had a succinct agenda.
- Moreover, the teams were working remotely. Hence, their internal communication had to be in total sync. It was a pleasure to see that the company adopted key software quickly. We had well-planned sessions so that the learning curve is minimized. Our deliverables were reworked with clear 2-way interactions.
- Essentially, multiple business processes now stood altered and without a well-directed information flow (info download, feedback and spread) this wouldn’t have been possible.
Employees and Mental Health – Communication should Always Be Open
There’s another aspect to this communication. We talk about an employee’s mental health a lot. This article is about the same topic. However, its execution, from the employee’s perspective, is of utmost importance. It’s not just a corporate exercise, it’s also therapy for some people.
- About 10 years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) claimed that the leading cause of disability was mental disorders. As per their report from Europe, 13.7% of disabilities were attributed to depression. 40% of the total disabilities in high-income countries, were due to mental disorders.
- As per a more recent report, these numbers have increased a lot. In India, there are around 56 million people suffering from depression and around 38 million suffering from anxiety disorders. By the end of the year (2020), the report suggests that around 20% of Indians would suffer from some form of mental disorder. I don’t know if this has already happened or not. But it should be enough reason for everyone to take this seriously.
- Just putting an economic angle here. WHO, in a recent report, also states that if even $1 is put into scaling up mental disorder treatments, the resultant impact on health and productivity would be 400%.
This is not to show that an employee’s depression or mental health should be measured in ROI, it’s just a point that proper communication and empathy (along with well-timed treatment) can truly solve these issues and benefit everyone. Companies can engage with the employees that they feel are more troubled than the rest. As an employee, such attention and care can go a long way. It can induce us with the courage needed to finally seek help.
The pandemic put us all in the same boat. We share this problem around the world. I showed empathy and understanding towards my company as it faced challenges during the lockdown. The company in turn showed compassion and care for all of its employees. It’s a give and take and it’s good. That’s how it should be. This is what open communication delivers. And it did for us. Did it deliver it for you?