Employees over the business: How can companies support employees amidst challenging times?
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020, the entire world’s workforce, save for essential workers such as those in healthcare, was subjected to an unprecedented mass remote working experiment almost overnight. Today, there is a new world order where remote working has become the norm with some companies including tech and social media giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter making Work from Home a permanent option. Even the legal sector, which previously functioned only with a physical presence, has shifted to remote working with court proceedings, contract drafting, and client meetings being held online. But this comes with its share of pros and cons.
While remote working certainly curbs the transmission of COVID and facilitates a more flexible culture in terms of working hours, it often takes a toll on employees’ mental, physical, and social wellbeing. In most cases, employees are often resistant to large-scale changes, especially when they are comfortable with the status quo. And although change is inevitable in the business environment, the pandemic’s onset proved to be the biggest, most unprecedented change that disrupted workflows almost entirely and forced businesses to recalibrate their operations. Amidst this, employees were also severely affected as they often are when their companies face challenges.
Such widespread disruption and unforeseen circumstances can take a toll on employees’ wellbeing, making it crucial for organizations to back them and help them tide over challenging times. As the pandemic rages on, here’s how companies can support their employees.
Provide flexibility and adequate infrastructure
Working from home is highly contrasting to working from an office. Besides, working from home may vary for every employee depending on their living situation, family environment, and responsibilities. For instance, some employees may need to care for their children and some for the elderly, while some may have other responsibilities and may also need to attend client meetings or meet deadlines. Aside from being confined indoors, having to manage work alongside their personal responsibilities when the work culture is rigid will affect employees’ mental health and productivity will take a hit. Companies need to provide employees with flexibility such as adjusting work hours, allowing them to balance their professional and personal lives efficiently.
Furthermore, employees may also not have sufficient infrastructure including stable internet connectivity, a dedicated workspace, etc., in their homes to support seamless remote working. Working with inadequate infrastructure will not only affect the quality of work but also contribute to increased stress levels and frustration. Ensuring that they have access to stable internet and even a desk and chair will go a long way in enabling them to work comfortably without impacting their health and wellbeing.
Encourage work-life balance
While providing employees with flexible hours is important, it’s even more crucial to encouraging them to have a healthy work-life balance. With the pandemic already increasing stress and anxiety regarding safety and health, working overtime will further exhaust employees both mentally and physically, resulting in burnout. With the time spent commuting to and from offices being cut down, more and more employees are being expected to start work earlier than usual or work well into the night, making them put their lives on hold and dedicating their time to working.
In a global survey, it was found that 92% of employees are grappling with burnout that stemmed from workplace-related stress. According to Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index, 41% of employees in India cited that they were facing increased burnout. This kind of burnout may leave a long-lasting impact on employees’ wellbeing that stretches into the post-pandemic time when the world returns to a state of normalcy. Companies need to encourage employees to strike a healthy work-life balance and focus on efficiency rather than counting the number of hours an employee puts in at work. Things like encouraging them to take days off occasionally and asking them to refrain from overworking will help bring a balance between professional and personal life.
Conduct virtual interactions
Humans are naturally social beings and remaining confined indoors with little to no contact with other individuals results in monotony, boredom, loneliness, and frustration. With the pandemic putting a stop to the usual activities or even a simple team lunch, organizations need to ensure employee engagement doesn’t take a hit and affect employee wellbeing. Taking the usual activities online and conducting virtual games and other fun activities, organizing virtual lunches, online festival celebrations, etc., can boost team morale greatly. Even simple acts such as checking in on employees regularly will eliminate the feeling of being isolated or invisible.
Employees are the backbone of any company and while employee wellbeing must be a priority at all times, it’s of utmost importance when the world is facing a challenging time. Companies across industries are rising to the occasion and prioritizing employee wellness with various activities. For example, law firms that were often considered to have a rigid work culture up until a few years ago, actively conduct employee engagement activities, offer flexibility, and prioritize employee wellness. All in all, it is the unforeseen circumstances that test leadership and how a company fosters employee wellbeing alongside the business aspect. Consistent clear communication and enabling positivity while following the aforementioned will offer ample support to employees and help them tide over the global crisis while also building loyalty and increased productivity.