Avoiding employee stress during lockdown


Let’s face it- working from home isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, in fact prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, only 5% of us worked from home during 2019. However, shortly after lockdown, 23 million of us were suddenly forced to turn our homes into an office, many for the first time, and frankly a jump like that will definitely impact our stress levels. That is not to mention the sudden isolation, the extra worry of remaining employed, and of course, the general anxiety induced by the threat of the virus itself.

In short, those of us currently working from home in the current condition will be exposed to increased levels of stress, so how do we best keep employees calm whilst working from home during these ‘unprecedented times’?

Don’t lose contact

Human connection has never been more important. Workers should be supported to do their best to stay in contact with as many team members as possible. For many years, we at WWW have advised that homeworkers should regularly create opportunities to communicate with colleagues through interactions such as virtual tea breaks, morning meetings or end-of-day debriefs, that take place throughout a working day.

This can be done by providing video chatroom links via the vast host of platforms available. Tools such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and so on, have made this incredibly easy, allowing staff to replicate those moments when colleagues would just chat, let off steam, talk about their lives, and generally have positive informal interactions (all of which are incredibly useful for stress reduction). By using such tools, many organisations are currently creating regular social events, such as quizzes, team drinks or trivia nights which are easily hosted and keep staff well connected.

Simply sending an end of week, (or better still, end of day) email summary of news, updates and activity, will also make staff feel connected and part of the wider team. Regular praise for effort and accomplishments will further enhance that connection.

Promote relaxation and health

Exercise not only has a profound impact on your stress and wellbeing, it also strengthens your immune system, and can be critical in developing a strong positive outlook. You only have to look at the vast number of subscribers’ that people like Joe Wicks have accumulated over the last few months, to realise how important daily exercise has become in lockdown.

You can encourage staff to get active in numerous ways. For example, why not challenge them to a companywide fundraising challenge for the NHS, from their homes? Captain Tom Moore showed us that we can use whatever we have access to, through his endeavours to walk a hundred lengths of his own back garden. Last week, a man raised money for a local charity by completing an iron man from his garden using a cycling machine, a paddling pool and his lawn as a running track. With a little imagination, the options are vast.

You can also create forums to encourage staff to try new exercises, collate and distribute links to steer them towards different exercise videos and courses. Some businesses are taking this a step further and encouraging staff members that have a certification as fitness instructors or martial artists, to provide virtual lessons and classes throughout the working day for colleagues.

Provide tools to relieve stress

There will, of course, be staff members that are more sensitive to stress than others and will therefore be at higher risk. If you have the budget, it would be worth considering the provision of access to online courses or e-learning platforms provided by professionals that may be able to guide sensitive staff through their management of stress, should they be experiencing particular difficulties.

Alternatively, recommending or providing access to apps that reduce stress, increase resilience and reduce burnout is certainly a good option. Headspace is an extremely popular app, which allows users to combat stress through meditation and even helps you have a better sleep cycle. There are also various yoga, mindfulness, guided meditation and relaxation therapy apps available.

Other free resources that combat stress are easily shareable with teams, such as the guide to  breathing exercises provided by the NHS, that are focused on the stresses Coronavirus may cause.

Give consideration to those you’ve furloughed

The British Chamber of Commerce reported that firms that 70% of private firms have furloughed staff in response to the coronavirus lockdown. It’s also essential that businesses give consideration to the mental wellbeing of these members of the workforce too. Furloughed staff should always be included on any organisational messaging, virtual social activities and updates to ensure they continue to feel a part of the organisation. Make regular contact to see that they are well, and that they are coping sufficiently, both mentally and financially, with the potential 20% drop in their earnings. Be inclusive, open and show compassion, and staff will naturally feel a little less stressed about the situation.

Encourage routine and define the lines

Many staff members will need employers to allow them to work flexibly during the crisis, to cope with issues such as childcare, however, encouraging staff to follow a routine, and stick to a pattern of hours can be beneficial to combat stress and improve mental wellbeing. Establishing a stop and start time with adequate breaks will reduce stress related burn-out, and determine a stronger work life balance, which can be a big stress inducing problem for those working from home.  Staff should also be reminded to take regular breaks from their screen and checking emails and logging on outside of agreed hours should be discouraged as this is also detrimental to wellbeing and stress levels.

Offer advice on home workstations

If staff are working for long periods of time in their homes, it might be worth sending them a tick-list or guidance document on how to create the best home workspace. This could include tips on stress reducing factors including access to fresh air and natural daylight, noise avoidance, adding plants (which improve wellbeing and stress levels), decluttering the space, artificial lighting and general comfort. It could also offer advice on workspace location and adopting an environment where concentration and focus is easiest.

Be supportive

If someone is having a hard day in the office, chances are, a colleague or manager or member of staff will be aware. However, when staff are disparately located and out of sight, it is very difficult to monitor their state of mind. During these times, workers must feel like they have the support of their managers and colleagues, and that they can reach out for any help they need, whether that’s assistance with their workload, general advice or simply a listening ear.

Creating opportunities for staff that are struggling, that allow them to ask for help is incredibly important in these times, as is creating a working culture whereby staff collectively look out for and support one another.

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