We spoke to 4 company leaders about how they’re helping their remote employees relieve stress, enjoy downtime, and find positivity during COVID-19.
Here's what you need to know:
- Encourage staff to seek counseling if they need it. HR departments can help by pointing out resources — these could include employee assistance programs or telecounseling
- Offering scheduling flexibility can help prevent burnout. The option of a mental health day separate from the standard PTO can be effective
- Encourage all colleagues to take their allotted time off, and managers should take time off too to show it’s culturally acceptable
- Think carefully before sending employees evening work texts or weekend emails. These could prevent employees from enjoying time off
- Encourage employees to reassess their work-from-home set-up, and perhaps even provide a stipend to make it more comfortable if you can
- Make time for fun team bonding activities, even if they’re virtual. Weekly dress-up themes and group workouts are ideas
As many employees enter their 6th month of remote work, the uncertainty of the pandemic, the lack of childcare, and the feelings of isolation can all take their toll. And since many people are skipping their summer vacation this year, they may be feeling extra frazzled.
Many employers acknowledged the emotional toll of remote work earlier this year. Carrie Goldstein, managing director and team lead, employee communications at Cheer Partners, said it’s important for companies to “continue to address them at key pivot points for employees, for example, back-to-school, certain geographic areas closing again and in the upcoming holiday season, which is already stressful for people.”
Here’s how companies can help work-from-home employees deal with stress.
Mental health resources
This is an extra stressful time, especially those with pre-existing health conditions, a history of mental health issues, or who live alone. Encourage staff to seek counseling if they need it. “Some employees will feel self-conscious about admitting they’re feeling overworked or anxious out of fear they’ll look weak,” said Jon Hill, chairman and CEO of The Energists, a recruiting and executive search firm specializing in the energy industry. “Removing that taboo against discussing mental health in the workplace empowers employees to speak out when they need help. HR departments can help as well by pointing out available resources.”
These could include employee assistance programs or telecounseling covered by employee health benefits.
“Removing that taboo against discussing mental health in the workplace empowers employees to speak out when they need help. HR departments can help as well by pointing out available resources.”
Flexible work hours
Summer Fridays are great. But sometimes people need a mid-week break, so allowing greater scheduling flexibility can help prevent burnout. “The option of a mental health day separate from the standard PTO can be more effective than a blanket summer Friday policy because it gives the employee agency to take the time when they need it,” Hill said.
“Encourage all colleagues to take their allotted time off, even if they can’t go anywhere,” Goldstein said. “Being able to unplug and recharge will still provide great benefits and help to decrease stress levels for employees.” Managers should take time off, too. If employees see leadership working without breaks, they might feel that it’s not culturally acceptable to time off. Even if they technically have the days available, they might not use them.
Respect for off-hours
Working from home often means work bleeds into evenings and weekends, preventing employees from enjoying time off. “Think carefully before you send that evening text or weekend email,” Hill said. “Ask yourself if the employee can do anything productive with the information before their next shift. If the answer is no, there’s no need to add stress to their life with a work communication when they’re trying to relax.” If it’s not urgent, he recommends scheduling emails to send the next morning; this way, you can draft the message and get it off your plate without interrupting someone’s weekend. Some companies have stricter policies about emailing or calling after hours to protect employees’ downtime.
“Although most people quickly adapted to work from home this spring, it is a good time to encourage employees to reassess their work-from-home set-up, and perhaps even provide a stipend to make it more comfortable.”
“Although most people quickly adapted to work from home this spring, it is a good time to encourage employees to reassess their work-from-home set-up, and perhaps even provide a stipend to make it more comfortable,” Goldstein said. An ergonomic chair, a standing desk, or a larger monitor could provide additional comfort. Goldstein added that encouraging people to put their work away in a drawer or a closet after hours can allow them to enjoy downtime without physical reminders of the workday.
Time for fun
Laughter is excellent medicine, so Willie Greer, founder of The Product Analyst, instituted dress-up Thursdays, giving employees a chance to get creative and some their personalities. “Every Thursday we practice dressing up and base our clothes on specific weekly themes, such as pajama and Avenger days,” Greer said. He started this tradition pre-COVID-19, but they’ve adapted it by having remote employees dress up and share photos. “This activity gives employees something to look forward to every week and drives a positive vibe to employees as well,” he said.
Allan Borch, founder of DotcomDollar.com, created a company tradition called Friday Zoom Days. “At the beginning of the week, employees submit suggestions for what group bonding and team building activity we should do after our Friday Zoom meeting,” he said. “I pick one randomly but will only announce what it is after the meeting has ended. So far, we’ve had a pajama dance party, played Dungeons and Dragons, and did a group workout. The best thing is we don’t make it exclusive to employees. With everyone staying at home, family members can also join in the fun too.”
Borch added that these activities help employees destress and build connections with each other even while they’re apart.