As we enter our third year of the global pandemic, the hope is that it’s finally winding down, and that we can all get back to normal. Nonetheless, employees are still facing significant stressors in the workplace, which are driving the Great Resignation–even as employers scramble to find ways to ameliorate these stressors and retain valued (even if they don’t feel that way) personnel.
Part of the problem, however, is that many efforts by managers to support employees–even while well-intentioned–are ineffective at best, mere lip-service at the worst. Simply urging employees to “practice self-care,” for instance, isn’t useful without significant changes in workplace policy, scheduling, and support infrastructure to facilitate employee well-being. Frequently, people associate self-care with activities such as going to yoga, or taking a hot bath–and these are unhelpful recommendations to employees struggling to balance family obligations, work, and health risks during the pandemic. In the words of psychiatrist and women’s mental health expert Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, “You can’t meditate your way out of a 40-hour work week without childcare.”
So what are some things good managers can do for their employees, not only during the pandemic, but in any challenging times? Here are some best practices to meaningfully support your people:
1. Offer on-going flexibility
Managers who are eager to bring everyone back to the office once case numbers go down should rethink their haste. Hybrid and work-from-home arrangements are particularly valued in high-paying sectors such as tech and finance, where employees find they are able to be productive so long as they have space and a good internet connection. But across all industries, flexible work arrangements are increasingly desirable, in that they enable employees to avoid health risks, save money on gasoline, and skip lengthy commutes; they also are environmentally friendly, promote better productivity, and reduce absenteeism.
Smart managers are realizing that offering flexible work options is a “must” for employee retention, even after the pandemic winds down, and are thus investing not only in the logistics to make this work, but also in the technological platforms these arrangements rely upon.
2. Be family-friendly
In the past two years, women–particularly mothers–have been leaving the workplace in disproportionate numbers; according to the US Census Bureau, 1.3 million have quit their jobs since February 2020. The reasons are obvious: The deleterious impact of COVID-19 on childcare arrangements has only exacerbated family unfriendly workplace climates. Faced with a litany of school closures, daycare shut-downs, and elder-care shortages, not to mention on-going concerns about themselves or their families contracting COVID-19, women–who carry the brunt of childcare responsibilities in the United States–have been forced to leave the workforce.
Thus, adopting a family-friendly stance is not merely a productive way to do business; it’s also an equitable one. Besides offering flexible work arrangements, companies can offer in-office daycare, childcare subsidies, flexible time off, robust parental leave (to birth and non-birth parents), and sick days to be used for childrens’ illnesses as well as their grownups’. On the individual level, managers can show they are family-friendly by being understanding when small children appear in Zoom meetings, and offering grace and flexibility to parents caught in a balancing act. In this way, companies can help keep valued employees–particularly mothers–in play.
3. Respect people’s personal time
Increasingly, employees have less tolerance for bosses who expect them to be on-call 24/7/365. The proliferation of handheld communication devices and free internet everywhere have made it easy to shoot off emails, texts, and even calls on the fly, at any time. Experts have one thing to say about this: Don’t do it. This goes double during the pandemic, when many employees are getting perilously close to burnout at work, balancing on a live-wire with family obligations, and are therefore in even more dire need of personal time.
Employees who receive a barrage of emails over the weekend, even with the assurance that they “don’t need to look at them until Monday,” receive a clear message that they’re not really off during their free time; they also dread coming in after the weekend to the avalanche of messages they now have to dig through before turning their attention to anything productive. This intrusion on personal time is a significant contributor to employee burnout. Employees need time to relax and recharge, without intrusion, and without receiving a signal that they’re supposed to be working on their hard-earned time off.
4. Check in with your people
Now more than ever, it’s important for good managers to check in with their people on a regular basis. This is particularly relevant when a manager knows an employee is struggling with a family or health issue, or both–but a mindful manager makes it a priority to check on all employees on a regular basis. A 2020 study revealed that 40% of employees globally said that no one even asked, “Are you okay?” during the pandemic; those respondents, in turn, were 38% more likely to say that they were depressed or struggling with mental health.
By that same token, it’s important for managers to respect employees’ privacy; an individual may or may not feel comfortable discussing the difficulties they are experiencing, but still may benefit from knowing that they work in an environment where support is available and on offer. Offering mental health support options (and destigmatizing their uptake) is also a great strategy for businesses in a position to do so, and has itself shown a great ROI.
5. Provide training and learning opportunities
For better or worse, the pandemic has wrought a lot of changes in the workplace. These include company restructuring initiatives, rebranding, and leadership changes; also included are shifting work arrangements (WFH, hybrid, in-person, rinse, repeat) and increased dependence on new technologies due to rapid advancement of digitization and automation.
These changes can be stressful for employees, and good managers realize that their role isn’t just to initiate change by decree, but also to make sure employees are prepared and well-positioned to adopt these changes with a minimal “pain tax.” This starts with offering learning and training in any new skills, modalities, or technologies, so that employees can learn new systems (and not languish in anxiety about obsolescence.) The good news is that employees want training; and, conversely, lack of training opportunities is a significant contributor to employees leaving their positions during the Great Resignation.
None of these strategies is unique to or only applicable to the pandemic. There is virtually no workplace in the world where employees wouldn’t benefit from more respect for their personal time, check-ins on their stress levels, and more (meaningful) training opportunities. But, even as we start to see our way to a “new normal,” many of the challenges caused by the pandemic are still ever-present–and it’s important to address them proactively.
Great managers know that part of their work involves being mindful in an on-going way of their people’s well-being–and these efforts come back to them in the form of greater engagement, motivation, and loyalty on the part of their constituents.
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