The outlook for work environments pre-COVID was bleak. A survey released in early 2020 revealed only 31% of employees strongly agreed that their employers cared about them as individuals.
One of the best things to come out of COVID is the extra care and attention employers have been giving to the well-being and happiness of their employees. This crisis has provided an opportunity for organizations to start putting their employees first.
6 Feet Apart, a lifestyle publication created to help people adapt to the new COVID normal, calls this movement Employee Care. They believe Employee Care is key to keeping your employees happy and productive during these times.
This framework asks companies to optimize themselves with employee health, safety, and wellbeing at the center. It isn’t a buzzword or a fad; it’s a new normal that should have always been the standard. Try implementing some of these ideas in your organization to demonstrate to employees that you really care.
1. Offer the Work from Home Option
Fresh off of our world’s great work from home experiment, it’s hard to believe any employees would want to continue with days full of Zoom meetings from the kitchen table. However, an October Gallup poll showed that two-thirds of workers who went remote during the pandemic want to continue doing so.
If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that time in an office doesn’t equal productivity. While there are drawbacks to working remotely, allowing staff that flexibility shows you trust them to get their work done, no matter where they work from.
Offering a flexible work-from-home policy puts the employee first. It gives them the flexibility to work in an environment they thrive in, be it at the office or from home. It allows them to stay home with a sick child or while waiting for the furnace repair company. It’s an opportunity to be gracious and understanding when home and work lives collide.
2. Draw the Boundaries
Beginning the slow work of modifying your work culture is the cheapest and arguably most important way to show employees they matter. Working from home blurs the boundaries between home and work life, especially for those who don’t have a separate space away at home for work. It’s easy to work until dinner, instead of stopping at 5 p.m., when the dinner table is also your desk.
Harvard Business Review found that when employees are burning out and productivity is lagging, the organization is often to blame. Three things commonly are the cause: excessive collaboration (read: too much email), poor time management skills, and a tendency to overload skilled employees with too much work.
Appropriate work-life balance is essential to retaining employees, preventing burnout and helping your staff feel like they don’t live for work. Organizations should offer resources and set structures that help employees find balance instead of relying on them to figure it out on their own.
Boundaries begin with leaders. What supervisors model gets replicated. Do you send emails after hours? Even though you might not expect your employees to respond, a staff member receiving emails late sees your messages as an invitation, or expectation, to continue working into the evening. It’s important for leaders to have a balanced life so that staff feels empowered to set their own boundaries.
In terms of training, books like Make Time by John Zeratsky and John Knapp and Atomic Habits by James Clear offer starting points for helping employees learn better time management and work-life balance skills.
3. Make Time for Team
Whether they’d say so or not, your employees miss seeing each other every day. COVID has changed office work habits, layout, and socialization routines. No one’s trading stories around the water cooler from a social distance.
Combat this by providing opportunities for staff to get together, even if it’s over a video conferencing platform. These gatherings don’t have to be social events, like happy hours. They can be productive, regular meetings where you team checks-in on work tasks and shares about their lives. Group book studies provide an opportunity for both social time and professional development.
Many of the companies consistently ranked as a “best place to work” provide opportunities for employees to gather and have fun on company time. Even if the fun is organized, everyone benefits from taking a break from work and the monotony of daily desk work.
4. Put Health and Fitness First
As the COVID crisis has revealed, employers who care about their employees put staff health first. Right now, this looks like policies that act out of an abundance of caution when there has been a COVID exposure. It means a flexible paid sick leave policy. At its core, it’s about being human and flexible in this uncertain time.
Considering both COVID and beyond, providing medical health benefits is essential to keeping costs low and care accessible for your employees. Offering health insurance to your staff is a serious perk that will make them feel cared for. In fact, it’s likely that new hires will be looking for health benefits and may pursue employment elsewhere if it isn’t part of their package.
Take it a step further and implement a wellness program. Pre-COVID many commuted to work and moved about the office during the day. With the new commute being from bedroom to office, a mere 20 feet away, we could all do with more exercise. Incentivize wellness by partnering with a preexisting program, offering discounted gym memberships, or handing out subscriptions to at-home fitness platforms.
5. Prioritize Mental and Emotional Wellbeing
Mental health services are more needed today than ever. In mid-July, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 53% of adults in the U.S. reported negative mental health impacts due to worry and stress caused by the coronavirus.
Whether or not you offer insurance that has mental health benefits, find a way to provide low cost or free resources to your staff, at least for the duration of the pandemic. Starting now and continuing into whatever comes after COVID, educate your staff on emotional wellbeing. Part of the work is familiarizing your people with the vocabulary for it. Help employees become more self-aware through work with the Enneagram and other personality tests.
The key to employee care is viewing your staff as people who have lives outside of work and concerns, just like you. Treat others as you’d like to be treated. Invest in the whole person, not just the employee. Help them reach their goals through professional development, and show a little grace when they bring home life to work. We could all use some extra care right now as we work through COVID together.