Making wellness a priority can be challenging during even the best of times. During a time of crisis, when routines are completely upended and people are subject to new and intense stressors, both at home and in the community, it’s completely understandable if wellness falls by the wayside.
However, robust physical and emotional wellness, whether a stronger immune system or a greater level of emotional resiliency, are what help people weather periods of upheaval. That’s why it’s so important for your workplace to support employee wellness during this time—the choices made by your company can enhance employee wellness … or completely derail it.
Let’s examine some of the ways the COVID-19 crisis is testing the physical and emotional health of your employees, and what you can do to help.
Your Employees’ Physical Health
The limitations resulting from public health efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus have made many employees spend more time at home than they have in years. And while there is a wide range of benefits to working remotely, it also comes with some challenges, especially right now:
- Employees working from home for the first time may have a piecemeal office setup, whether they’re working from their couch, their bed, or at the dining room table. While convenient (and free), those arrangements are typically far from ergonomically sound, leading to repetitive muscle injuries, headaches, backaches, and neck strain.
- Employees may have had to avoid the gym or their favorite running trails due to the pandemic, leading to the eventual slackening of their healthy exercise habits.
- While staff may enjoy not having to deal with the yogurt thieves and mysterious smells of an office fridge, being home all day with their own kitchen just steps away can quickly lead to all-day grazing on unhealthy snacks.
- Parents who work remotely while trying to entertain or home school young children may find they simply cannot get any meaningful amount of work done until after the little ones are in bed, leading to these employees facing a chronic and devastating sleep shortage. Additionally, the more flexible hours often granted by remote work may lead to off-kilter sleep schedules.
How to Support Employees
- Remote work is here to stay. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, your company might still be open to the idea of employees working from home. That openness should also be accompanied by an allowance so employees can get a good-quality desk and ergonomically adjustable desk chair.
- While some forms of exercise may be tricky right now, there are still options. Incorporate creative fitness challenges into your corporate wellness program, urging staffers to engage in exercise in fun new ways. The gym may be out of bounds, but an online yoga session, a brisk walk around the neighborhood, or a 90’s dance party in the kitchen can get employees moving and feeling great.
- Speaking of the kitchen, healthy eating challenges, and recipe sharing will help employees make good food choices. The more options and ideas employees have for healthy meals, the better, especially if buying groceries is more of a production than usual.
- Give employees as much of a runway on deadlines as possible, so they can more easily get things done during quieter times or on the weekends, only burning the midnight oil when it’s absolutely necessary.
These are not normal times. Our society is going through a period of strain and upheaval, the likes of which have rarely been seen before. It’s only natural that your employees’ emotional health is under strain at this moment:
- With so much societal disruption, it may be difficult for employees to avoid becoming consumed by the news—and consumed by worry for the future and what it may bring. Staffers may be experiencing fear, anger, and grief.
- In addition to the macro-level stressors of the pandemic and the political upheaval, employees may be dealing with more personal stresses. They may have a spouse or family member who has lost their job, or who has been ill or died from coronavirus. They may be worried about vulnerable family members while also trying to balance their workload with the demands of childcare.
- Our social bonds are often what brings us joy and strength. While some employees are fairly content onto themselves, many may desperately miss being able to see friends and coworkers every day and are suffering from feelings of isolation.
How to Support Employees
- Empathy is key. Be flexible with employees and make sure that they and you understand that things are not normal right now, so “business as usual” shouldn’t need to be as tightly structured. Flexible working hours, paid sick days, and a good EAP can help staff more easily handle everything that life is throwing at them right now.
- While it’s hard to replicate in-person camaraderie, your company can still make time for fun. Video call happy hours, where everybody brings a glass of their favorite tipple (alcoholic or not) and shares their triumphs, bad jokes, Netflix recommendations, and work advice can be a fun way to unwind, connect, and build a sense of belonging among staff.
- Integrate mindfulness, self-worth, and resilience practice into your wellness program, to help employees hone their inner strength. Even once things become more “normal” (whatever that turns out to be), your staff will be well-served by having that core of emotional fortitude to help them get through any future challenges in their lives.
It may be more difficult for your employees to focus on—and achieve—wellness during this time, but it’s not impossible. With strong support from your company and your wellness program, there are plenty of ways for employees to stay physically and emotionally healthy, helping them get through this crisis and any others that may come.