Employee wellness is integral to maintaining a happy and productive workplace. However, in the past, employee wellness programmes were treated as an afterthought. Additionally, according to data in an article on Medium, there’s a vast discrepancy in how employers view their wellness offerings compared to how employees perceive them — 70% of employers are convinced that they provide reasonable access to health and wellness benefits, but only 23% of employees agree.

Fortunately, growing awareness over issues related to mental well-being and overall health has changed the way enterprises view wellness programmes nowadays. Instead of something that’s ‘nice to have,’ an increasing number of companies deem employee wellness programmes to be must-haves, especially now that the threat of COVID-19 is looming over everyone’s heads. Aside from this, powering the shift is the concerning statistic that employees are inclined to leave their jobs when they experience burnout. Survey data obtained by CNBC reveals that 40% of workers consider quitting their jobs due to the absence of work-life balance and lack of appreciation.

Now, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that there is slow but steady progress in increasing workplace support for mental health. HR professionals from SHRM have noticed a growing recognition among companies that “long term stress and anxiety can negatively impact employees in many ways, including deteriorating health and productivity.” Because of this, there has been a spike in on-site stress management programmes, as well as mindfulness and meditation initiatives. Pain Free Working illustrates this push for employee wellness by listing some of the initiatives implemented by the members of the Young Entrepreneurs Council: flexible hours that encourage work-life balance, hours dedicated for personal projects, progressive workspaces with eco-friendly designs and yoga rooms, and company-sponsored meditation programmes amongst them.

However, even with such significant changes, the global COVID-19 health crisis has forced companies to rethink and upgrade the way they deliver and show care towards their employees, especially since many businesses have shifted to a remote working platform. Now, more than ever, companies are encouraged to bolster their wellness programmes because a stress-inducing event like this ongoing pandemic, could potentially lead to mental health issues such as heightened anxiety and other mental health problems.

For employers who want to maintain a productive workforce, employee wellness should be your utmost priority. Here are some tips on how to incorporate mental health initiatives into the new work from home arrangement:

Promote work-life balance

Praising employees who spend long hours in the office, or work outside of regular hours, can breed toxicity in the workplace. It takes away the workers’ chance of achieving a healthy work-life balance, which can ultimately result in a decline in productivity, and worse, burnout. To combat this, make sure that you encourage employees to disassociate from work-related matters while on breaks. It’s also important to avoid demanding email responses around the clock. Instead, inspire staff or employees to develop a fun, full life outside of work hours, especially after the crisis is over. Everyone deserves to have a bit of downtime after being cooped up at home for so long. For the time being, encourage them to pick up hobbies, spend more time (or Facetime) with their loved ones, and take better care of themselves. With social distancing protocols in place, it is highly likely that your employees will be spending much of their days at home. To avoid blurring the line between work life and home life, advise your employees to dress up for work in the morning, create a schedule that includes breaks, and dedicate a specific workplace inside their homes.

Offer assistance

The World Health Organisation recommends that employers should offer comprehensive and integrated physical, mental, and behavioural health insurance coverage, along with round-the-clock access to employee assistance programme (EAP) services. With these in place, employees have immediate access to therapy sessions should they need it. Since employees are not only working from home but are also self-isolating, they become more prone to ‘cabin fever’ or negative emotions due to being confined for extended periods of time. To alleviate the symptoms of ‘cabin fever,’ which could include irritability, restlessness, hopelessness, and loneliness, check in on them on a daily basis or create a system wherein employees always have a coworker to talk to and check on.

Lead with emotional intelligence

As stated by Palena Neale in a previous post, employers should also make a point to practise leading with emotional intelligence (EI) in the workplace. Doing so allows you to recognise not only your feelings, but also your employees’, resulting in improvement in managing emotions, relationships, and performance. Facilitating EI also makes way for a more innovative and creative organisational culture. While it is true that the impact of COVID-19 is widespread and spares no one, as an employer, it is important to recognise that some are hit harder than the others and that everyone has his or her own way of coping. Extend your understanding and compassion to the best of your ability and be kind with your words. Now, more than ever, you need to practise empathy, as well as promoting stress and anxiety reduction strategies in your communication and programmes, to assist them in navigating the mounting pressures of COVID-19.

Any workplace initiative that prioritises the mental health of employees will likely enjoy positive ripple effects. As long as employers make an effort in their respective employee wellness strategies, they can keep their workers happy, healthy, and productive.

Article for: unabridgedleadership.com

Submitted by: Jenecy Boysen