Employee mental health now confronts every employer in every country like never before. Although its relevance increased in recent years, the current global health event forced employers to rethink the importance of understanding employees’ state of mental health and overall wellness. Right now, employees are experiencing significant change with perpetually elevated anxiety and stress. Extensive research indicates that happier employees increase productivity from 12% – 20%. As stress increases, performance and product quality plummets.
Most employers want their workforce to be happy and healthy. An unhappy and unhealthy workforce directly erodes customer service, productivity, and profit. So how can we support staff best in this time of prolonged discomfort? (Covid-19 Impact: Employee Wellness Strategy)
The 5 Ways to Boost Employee Wellness in Stressful Times
- Ensure Flexible Work Arrangements:
- Transparency from Leadership:
One of the best (and easiest, and cheapest) tactics leaders can deploy is frequent communication with staff. Today that looks like scheduling town halls where individuals bring questions. Every company can survey their workforce on wellness for free, capturing concerns in real time to address cumulatively. If you are a front-line manager, set a reminder to check in every week with direct reports as situations change quickly. Keeping employees ‘in the know’ as company policies change will mitigate concerns and support planning. The level of uncertainly is so great in so many other areas, don’t be afraid to over-communicate. Right now, you can’t.
Keep in mind that communication is a two-way street. Do employees have an outlet to express concerns and contact leaders? How are employees’ voices heard and acknowledged?
When they are, people feel more secure and confident, which translates into company loyalty.
- Promote Connectedness (HINT: Make it Fun):
Are you laughing less?
Yea, EVERYONE is. A lot less than pre-pandemic. A few studies range from 50% to 80% less laughing.
Before “the end times”, life stressors would bring us down, but we could turn to a friend at work for a pick-me-up. Being more isolated than we ever were, how can work reinvigorate that feeling of community and connectedness? Humans are naturally social creatures so whether we “like it” or not, staying at home all the time is not healthy. Employers can foster that feeling of connectedness by increasing engagement with internal communication boards or by encouraging video shares to highlight individuals and team building. Cooking together, workouts, even poker games are video capable. Physical health is also taking a toll by sitting down all day. Set group competitions or mini challenges to encourage activity, exercise, and interactions. Gamify to make it fun. Many no or low-cost Apps exist that create a weekly leader board. Sponsor with prizes or awards for those who did the most pushups, miles biked, or who walked the most steps. Keeping it communal enhances belonging, generates excitement, and reinforces a sense of accomplishment. This is really important right now because the intrinsic value that people received from work, relationship with colleagues, was the #1 thing people liked in their job last year. They are not getting that now. With a few programs, you can provide it.
- Reevaluate your Benefits NOW:
What employees needed 10 years, 5 years, or even last year is not what they need today. Are you meeting the moment to provide the benefits your employees need? It’s easy to know, because you can simply ask them. Pulse the workforce, ask the questions, consult with managers to uncover what’s missing. Once you reveal the gaps, start filling them in with ways to support employees, especially outside of work. Promote valuable resources and knowledge-sharing opportunities.
A lot of time employees may be aware of resources but not know where to find them or may not feel like they can actually utilize them. Many companies are offering things like hotlines for mental health support or meditation classes. Leaders can set the example, becoming allies in encouraging healthy behavior and supporting new habits. Encourage healthy habits by expanding monetary reimbursements for professional learning and development, skill enhancement or training. (Retensa did, and more people than ever are taking advantage of it). Promoting individual growth opportunities leads to personal fulfillment and improved morale. The more an employer offers to get healthy, the healthier the workforce will be.
- Recharge your Acknowledgments & Appreciation Awards:
According to the US Department of Labor, 88% of employees stated a lack of recognition as their top work issue and it does not have to be. Celebrate accomplishments, big and small. Acknowledge both publicly and privately. This works best when it’s “baked in” to existing events, instead of an add-on. At Retensa, we have “Ms. Pro-FISH-ient”, which is a stuffed marlin we pass out to a new employee at our weekly company huddle. This person is someone who has gone out of their way to help or exemplified one of our core values. It’s a way for us to peer-recognize that’s already incorporated into our culture. Perhaps it’s a silly stuffed animal, a potential winning lottery ticket or an internal communication board called “Shout Outs and Thank Yous”. To give recognition when it comes to mind can look however you like, but whatever it is, it reminds employees that even though they are not “in the office”, they are seen, heard and appreciated.
Every company can put these programs in place to reduce stressors and help employees maintain good mental & physical health. What works for one organization may not work for another, so always “calibrate to the culture”. Doing nothing is the worst thing to do. Whatever action you take to alleviate work stress and create an inclusive work environment, it’s equally important to measure the success of those actions. If it’s not working, drop it. Gathering feedback is a critical component to know which programs benefit the workforce and for organizations to know how and where to support those that do.
 SHRM, Pandemic Takes a Toll on Employee’s Emotional Well-Being, 2020
 Fortune, Study: Being happy at work really makes you more productive, 2015