Home Office Blues
In Times Of Crisis
Working from home got you down? You’re not alone.
Virtually all non-essential employees across the country are now working from home and engaging in social distancing from colleagues, friends, family and their communities. We don’t yet know what the psychological toll will be, but we can guess.
Data from the Mood Disorders Society of Canada tells us that each week 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems. Given we are now in an unprecedented time of social isolation, employers will need to take action to mitigate the potential mental health consequences of COVID-19.
Social isolation and loneliness are known to be important factors affecting our mental health. Research on the effects of social isolation and loneliness suggests that the impacts are far-reaching. Negative health consequences include depression, anxiety, poor sleep, substance abuse, impaired executive function, cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and even impaired immunity.
Not only are employees currently dealing with feelings of isolation and loneliness as they work from home, they are also subject to increased feelings of anxiety, panic or fear because of the health threats of the virus, looming job losses, and potential impacts to their financial security.
WHAT CAN EMPLOYERS DO?
Despite the multiple competing priorities and financial constraints facing Canadian businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many ways of supporting employee mental health are free. When businesses do make financial investments in mental health programs, they have been found to pay for themselves. Research published in November by Deloitte Canada found that companies with mental-health programs that last one year or more saw a median annual return on investment of $1.62 for every dollar invested.
It is important to remember that we need to be physically, but not emotionally, distancing ourselves. Let’s make sure we are staying connected socially. One way – encourage employees to connect virtually with one another.
It has been suggested that now is a time for “over communication” with employees. Encourage face to face contact by using video calls. Videoconferencing is a powerful way to restore social connection and it enables a much richer form of communication than emails or phone calls. Seeing a familiar face on the screen and being able to read non-verbal cues can both enhance emotional connection and is also good for productivity. According to Harvard Business Review, teams that use videoconferencing experience higher levels of collaboration on decisions reached by videoconference compared to decisions made through a phone call or email.
Leaders should connect with their team members on a one-on-one basis so that they are able to understand each employee’s unique situation. The value of this type of support was discussed in our article on lessons learned from Shanghai, China.
Now that Friday beers, and other traditional team building activities, have come to a standstill, we need to be thinking of creative ways for colleagues to connect online and have some fun together. This will help to keep moods and morale higher and to continue to foster personal connections among employees. We want our teams to come out of this crisis stronger, not weaker. Organizing friendly competitions or social gatherings (e.g., virtual bookclubs) are strategies that some companies have employed.
Beyond the workplace, it’s important to encourage employees to take care of themselves and connect with their friends and families in order to maintain their mental health and well-being. Avoiding excessive media coverage has also been suggested as a way to stay positive, reduce anxiety, and maintain focus.
Maintaining a healthy diet, being physically active, and meditation are several behaviors known to reduce anxiety and improve mood that employers can help to support during this time.
Yoga is an activity bh has touted in the past as a potential cost saving workplace strategy. Now more than ever, employers can harness the physical and mental benefits of yoga while employees are working from home. Yoga does not require very much space or equipment and easily adapts to an online delivery format. Beyond the physical benefits of yoga, yoga can boost energy, increase stress management and improve sleep quality – all useful benefits to improve coping skills during this time.
There are a variety of online sources for free yoga classes. Barre Body in Calgary set up free live streaming classes over social media within hours of closing their studios. Many fitness clubs and yoga studios across Canada have followed suit and are now offering online options – many of them for free. Why not compile a list of local options to help employees get back on their mats! bh