Managing employee health and wellness in the COVID-19 period
It is widely recognized that employee performance and wellbeing are connected. While COVID-19 has increased risks to workers’ mental and physical health, entrepreneurs who adopt good leadership practices can keep their teams well and productive in the pandemic.
“People are under many different kinds of stress and their old work/life routines have been turned upside-down,” says BDC Business Advisor Ewa Okon.
Feelings of isolation from prolonged physical distancing combined with anxiety about the future can create mental health challenges or intensify issues that already existed, she says. Working from home also puts people at risk of ergonomic injuries, reduced physical activity, weight gain and related complications, she says.
By monitoring and minimizing these risks, employers can support employee health and wellness.
Stay in constant touch
Team meetings and collaborative assignments help keep peers talking to each other, says Okon. Frequent check-ins—both one-on-one and in team settings—are also valuable, she says.
“Show staff you’re interested in them as people. Don’t jump straight to talking about tasks. Check in personally first. It doesn’t have to be deeply personal or private, but getting to know your team as individuals will help you see the signs if someone starts to struggle.”
Don’t be afraid to ask
Because business leaders can’t always know what their people are going through or if they need help, Okon says it’s important to ask directly. She recommends creating a structured forum for sharing, whether one-on-one or in a team wellness touchpoint—and says leaders need to be ready to guide and direct the conversation. If people aren’t sharing their feelings, she suggests using a confidential survey to get a sense of where the team is at.
Know when (and how) to hand off
Employers should adjust the frequency of meetings or check-ins based on employees’ needs—and if a team member is really having difficulties, they should be prepared to direct that person to more intensive support, Okon says.
While larger companies may have employee assistance plans (EAPs) to support staff, few small and mid-sized businesses are in the same position. For those companies, Okon says there are other ways to help.
“Check out government websites to learn about available supports. And if you have a group health plan that covers psychological counselling or other mental health services, consider a team training session to explain how to use those benefits.”
Give people access to the tools they need
People’s home offices (if they even have them) aren’t necessarily outfitted for day-to-day remote work. Allowing employees to go to the office—as safety permits—and bring home equipment such as second monitors, keyboards, office chairs and the like can make working from home safer and more comfortable, Okon says.
“At the end of the day, the more you do to help your workers stay well, the more you and your team will benefit,” she says. “Make mental and physical health open, acceptable topics and always keep them top of mind.”