COVID-19 has triggered changes in so many areas, including the way we work. Without warning, millions of Americans started working remotely, became teachers at home, and found themselves isolated from their colleagues and friends. What effects did this societal shift have on employee productivity, physical and mental well-being? Is it possible to go back to how things were before?
Keeping employees productive
Employers are eager to figure out how to return to a “normal” status both productively and profitably. Yet as they try to figure out how to recover from pandemic-related financial losses, they also have the Great Resignation to overcome. During the pandemic, employees quit their jobs in record numbers for reasons ranging from fear of contracting the virus, to parents who had lost access to child care, to those who were looking for a more fulfilling job or one that offered more flexibility.
Many employers found themselves having to become overly reliant on the employees who remained. They needed their remaining employees to take on additional shifts or work overtime. In turn, many employees who continued to work are experiencing high stress and even burnout, creating a vicious cycle. Employers now face a double whammy: risking the loss of their current workers on the one hand and a labor shortage on the other.
So how can employers successfully move forward? Do they bring employees back to the office? If so, how do they do it safely? Do they continue with full-time remote working? What about a hybrid arrangement with some of each? How might each option impact employee productivity long-term?
Some business owners and managers like to work face-to-face with their employees and are eager to be back in the office. They may feel that working in the same space better promotes creativity and collaboration. In the case of extroverts who feed off the energy of others, this may be especially true. However, returning to the workplace may cause increased anxiety in more introverted people. These employees tend to prefer quiet workspaces and may work more productively in the solitude of their own homes.
Managers who show authentic concern and respect for how their employees work best, and try to make that happen, have a unique opportunity now to rebuild their teams to be even better than before.
Hearing is good; listening is better
First and foremost, employers need to hear AND listen to the needs of employees. These are two very different skills. Hearing is a passive practice, and listening is an active one. Ask employees about their needs, and actively listen to what they have to say.
The way many employees approach work has substantially changed. Those who have been remoting from home may not be coming back as the same workers they were when they left. And they may not return to their “old” ways for a while, if ever. The situation may warrant one-on-one discussions to ensure comfort in talking about individual needs and challenges. Employers who listen carefully to employees will be better prepared to rebuild their teams. Once those discussions have taken place, the next step is to determine what can be done to provide the support needed to maximize employee productivity and well-being.
Providing more support
Workplace benefits strategies are changing in response to the need to help employees with more than just checkups and sick visits. The benefits package(s) companies offer can work wonders in giving employees the support they need to return to the new, post-pandemic normal as motivated, productive workers.
Employers should consider providing a variety of benefits they may never have thought about before. Some of the options receiving the most attention as we emerge from the pandemic include:
- Flexible workplaces and schedules can boost productivity, and may also help benefit the employer by reducing facilities overhead
- Well-being programs with non-medical benefits may help provide employees with stress management and preventative health benefits
- Employee Assistance Programs that focus on both physical and mental telehealth can make it easier for employees to take care of themselves
- Student Loan Repayment Assistance may help relieve the stress experienced by employees who are drowning in debt so they can better focus on doing good work
- Emergency Savings Accounts can help workers (especially younger ones) who were rocked by the unforeseen pandemic emergency and had not actively prepared for a rainy day
- Lifestyle Spending Accounts can provide employees with help for wellness, financial planning, charitable involvement, pet care, dependent care, housing, travel, entertainment and more
The pandemic has challenged employers and employees to think and act in ways they never thought about before. Rather than trying to go back to how it was, employers may find more success in moving forward with new strategies and approaches to employee productivity and benefits programs.