Burnout is a common problem among remote workers. Without the boundaries of the office setting to turn work “on” and “off,” remote workers are at risk of going without that sense of balance. The COVID-19 pandemic is sending employees home to work in record numbers, and this is just one of the issues that employers must be prepared to address with their newly remote workforce. Add the complication of kids being out of school resulting in constant competing priorities and the fine line between work and personal lives will be even further blurred.
With all of this in mind, how do we, as employers, mitigate these feelings of burnout, deal with the isolation often resulting from remote work and foster a balanced, connected workforce during this crisis?
Mental Health Risks for Remote Workers
In a pre-COVID-19 world, the benefits of remote work were well known. The ability to avoid the downtown commute, better manage your schedule and avoid common office productivity traps are just a few of the benefits of driving more workers to seek remote and flexible work arrangements. The benefits are also many for employers - a recent Stanford University study cites 13% more productivity from remote workers, which is a major selling point for employers. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic forces employers to practice social distancing policies above and beyond what is typical for most organizations, we must also consider the challenges that this presents to the mental health of our workforce.
Research from Cornell University finds that remote workers are at higher risk for feeling personally and professionally isolated than in-office colleagues. Adding to this sense of isolation, and with large cities on lockdown, millions are going without the social interaction that we need to thrive, some of which the workplace often provides. Add the fear that can be a natural result of a viral threat and feelings of loneliness will be exacerbated.
Four Tips for Encouraging Employee’s Mental Health and Fostering Connection
Create Opportunities for Meaningful Connections
Fostering connections can be as simple as prioritizing a team call or video conference several times a week. When we don’t see our co-workers every day, it’s easy to assume that everything is ok when it may not be. Regular check-ins and creating a space for open conversation amongst team members as to their well-being amid the current situation can decrease feelings of isolation and maintain connections. .
Encourage your Employees to Set Boundaries and Take Breaks
One common complaint from remote workers is the inability to turn work off and focus on home life. Encourage your employees to set boundaries by prioritizing their work based on business needs and setting time aside to focus on personal endeavors. Having kids home from school can undoubtedly add to feeling overwhelmed. Communicate with employees to create a schedule, formulate a routine that works for their family, and set boundaries around work and home life activities. And lastly, don’t forget to include breaks. Set aside intentional time to disconnect and focus on personal health.
Utilize Technology to Mitigate Feelings of Isolation
With technology today, messaging apps, video chat, and teleconferencing options are limitless and allow us to stay connected while working remotely. Find out what your organization’s capabilities are and utilize them as a tool to help teams stay connected and continue to foster relationships with colleagues.
Provide Access to Mental Health Services
Telemedicine is on the rise, and considering the COVID-19 pandemic, this service will only continue to grow. Telemedicine is a convenient, easily accessible way for employees who are struggling with mental illness to get the help that they need with the discretion that comes with a remote option. Employers should consider consulting their benefits plan to determine their offerings and formulate an effective communication plan to be sure that their employee population is aware of the perk. In addition to telemedicine, most organizations can direct employees to their Employee Assistance Program. An employer-sponsored employee assistance program is a work-based intervention offering designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting their performance at work. For employers, these benefits could be critical tools in the fight for mental well-being in the new workplace climate.
We are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 outbreak is changing the way that we interact with each other and the way that we do business. The path forward is unclear, but we do know we must band together, face this crisis head-on, and continue to support our teams and co-worker's mental health while encouraging and fostering what matters most, relationships. As we forge ahead in this new normal, these trying circumstances will result in a stronger, more resilient workforce and a fresh wave of employment practices ready to take on the ever-changing challenges of the global workplace.