While the coronavirus pandemic is not yet over, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As mass vaccinations continue through the months ahead, we’ll begin to see businesses reopen and life get back to normal. As we look forward, it’s important to understand that the impact of the virus will not simply disappear once we ditch the masks and hand sanitizers. The reality is that the effects will likely be felt for some time to come—for both employers and their employees.
Now is an ideal time to develop a plan to help employees build resiliency and restore their health and well-being as they transition to a post-pandemic life. Following are three ways to do just that.
Resiliency is the capacity to quickly recover from a stressful or difficult event. It’s something we all need more of right now.
A survey conducted by KFF found that 54% of adults say the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. In fact, the number of adults in the US who report having anxiety or depression has quadrupled since the start of the pandemic. More than 13% say they’ve started or increased substance use as a way to cope.
In stressful times, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, depressed and anxious. These emotions can translate into physical ailments, cause lack of sleep, and result in unhealthy snacking as we reach for those comfort foods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a number of recommendations for managing stress during these difficult times. These include:
- Sharing concerns with a trusted family member or friend
- Taking time to unwind and to do activities they enjoy
- Stay informed but take breaks from “watching, reading, or listening to news stories”
- Know where to find treatment if needed
While employers can’t control how workers spend their free time, there are things they can do.
- Offer confidential resources such as mental health, counseling, and substance abuse programs.
- Ensure a healthy work-life balance by creating a culture where time off is encouraged, not punished.
- Provide mindfulness training or resources to help employees learn how to recognize their emotions and create mindful relaxation techniques.
Employers may also want to amp up employee recognition programs to ensure employees feel valued. This is especially important for companies experiencing a high rate of absenteeism due to COVID-19 and family situations. In these situations, remaining employees are often burdened with covering for those that are out. Long hours and unrealistic expectations only adds to existing stress and can create an unhealthy work environment. This goes for remote employees as well as those working on site.
Resiliency improves job satisfaction, enhances commitment, and increases employee engagement and happiness on the job.
Social isolation is challenging for most people, especially when it drags on for months. Even within the workplace, social distancing requirements have canceled things like holiday parties, team lunches, and in-person meetings—all the little extras that promote a sense of camaraderie and belonging.
There are several things employers can do to promote connectedness.
- Ensure all team members are included on team calls, including remote workers who often feel disconnected.
- Use video calls to create a more personable meeting experience.
- Take time at the beginning of meetings to ask how everyone’s doing and encourage them to share their own coping strategies and challenges.
- Listen for clues that may indicate disengagement or lack of productivity, and then reach out to listen and help address the challenge.
- Provide tools like instant messaging apps or virtual communities to promote networking and connectedness among team members.
Improving habits improves mental health
Multiple studies show that the pandemic has had a negative impact on health. Increased stress, the shuttering of gyms, and the need to social distance are all contributors. In a poll conducted by WebMD, 54% of respondents said they’ve gained weight during the pandemic, 54% said they were exercising less, and 68% said they were snacking more.
The negative habits that have built up over the past year aren’t going to magically go away once the pandemic has gone. The danger is that these habits will eventually turn into chronic illness like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome. Overcoming negative habits and replacing them with healthy habits takes time, healthy living tools, guidance, and accountability.
Employers can help by offering their teams a personalized health and well-being program that gets them back on track. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is proven to help individuals better manage emotional eating, which is very relevant right now. The most effective programs are those that target things the employee really wants to work on and things that will create long-term health improvements. Consider the following when choosing a program:
- Designs the program and goals around each person’s unique needs, personality, and preferences
- Focuses on creating small habit changes
- Sets realistic goals that are achievable
- Personalized to the participant’s lifestyle
- Includes a dedicated health coach to help with motivation and accountability
- Focuses on being healthier, not just losing weight
Employers may also want to look for a program that offers optional genetics testing to identify how the individual’s genes might influence things like cravings, or how their body burns calories and stores fat. These factors can be then be addressed within their customized plan.
Becoming and staying resilient
The pandemic has brought with it the so-called “new normal.” While that phrase is catchy, it insinuates that the changes brought about by the pandemic are permanent. For the most part, that’s not the case. Kids will go back to school. In-person shopping will resume. Restaurants will go back to full capacity. Movie theaters will reopen. But all of these things won’t happen overnight. It will take time. It’s going to be a gradual transition. This transition presents a perfect opportunity for employers to implement a plan to help their employees build the resiliency needed to not only “bounce back” from such a challenging time, but to create new habits for a better, healthier life.