This article originally appeared in CNBCTV18
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in early March 2020 resulted in a radical transformation, almost overnight, in the way we worked, engaged, interacted, and even lived. All these changes induced a lot of anxiety and stress amongst people.
More than a year into the pandemic, it has given rise to serious COVID fatigue.
In the remote setup, work and personal lives have converged together, and increasingly, employees are seen juggling their work commitments with increased household and caregiving responsibilities. With waking hours consumed by video meetings, overseeing at-home education for children, dealing with illnesses of oneself or family members, wellness can fall by the wayside.
Despite the phased-out reopening of the economy, many organisations continue to operate remotely. As face-to-face interactions, conversations over coffee, team outings, etc. have almost become a thing of the past, people are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from the lack of connection and cohesive working environment that defined a physical workplace. Lack of sense of collaboration and motivation is beginning to take a stronghold.
And while changes in technologies like Artificial Intelligence, predictive analytics, automation are aiding in improving operational efficiencies, the need to reskill/upskill and work with new technologies for many has added another layer of stress and anxiety.
Wellness programs to combat COVID fatigue
Today, employee wellbeing and engagement have become one of the top priorities for most employers, not only as a business imperative but also as an integral component of employee experience. The wellness programs are undergoing a paradigm shift from traditional programs to broader platforms that focus on the health, safety, and holistic wellbeing of both employees and their families.
Some of the major initiatives or strategies that organisations can focus upon to establish effective wellness programs include:
Identifying and managing stress triggers: The pandemic has upended normalcy as we knew before, giving birth to the new set of stress at the virtual workplace. Therefore, it is essential that leaders and managers are on top of their game on not only identifying the employees being impacted by any of these stress but also being proactive in handling them effectively.
Avoiding information overload: With social media, news channels, and other digital platforms continuously sharing data about the impact of the pandemic nonstop, which can be a mix of myths and incomplete facts as well, an overload of all this can cause unnecessary stress and depression. Organizations must spread the message of “We stand together in this fight” and promote positive thinking and morale-boosting communication continuously with the employees.
Medical and financial support: A lot of people were seen struggling to find medical help, oxygen cylinders, doctors, even finances during the second wave of the pandemic. Many organizations entered into tie-ups with medical professionals and healthcare facilities to help their employees in their hour of need by offering telehealth services, assistance in finding ICU beds or home care infrastructure, and even financial support for prolonged COVID treatments. Providing app-based yoga and fitness sessions to improve overall health is another way to deepen an employee’s sense of belongingness with the organization.
Wellness days off: With the shift to digital workplaces and most people stuck inside their homes can cause cabin fever, making the person feel lonely, irritated, or restless. Even if the employee is feeling well physically, all these psychological feelings can pull a person down and impact his work and health. Therefore, managers must encourage employees to take wellness days off to completely disconnect, recharge, and recuperate in whichever way they like.
Breaking the stigma of mental health: Wellness strategies should be designed in a manner that can remove the social stigma associated with mental illnesses. This enables organizations to create a culture of openness and unwavering support.
Leadership connect: Some employees may feel that in a digital environment their managers and leaders are not able to understand their concerns and issues. This is where effective leaders need to create a personal connection in the virtual space – be it through periodic personal interactions over the phone, talking about their personal lives and how they are managing things at home, etc.
Wellness programs for employees’ children: Many organizations are empathizing with the pandemic’s psychological impact on not only adults but also children. Employers are offering various emotional wellbeing programs for their employees’ children with children-friendly webinars and talk sessions on topics as well as recreational activities to keep them engaged.
We need to accept that “business as usual” is a thing of the past and we may not be back at our place of work in full force for quite a while still. Therefore, it becomes even more critical to strengthen one of the key pillars of organizational growth – employee wellness and experience.
Employee health – mental, physical, and emotional – plays a pivotal role in ensuring the successful implementation of business sustainability and expansion plans. An open and friendly work environment, where people’s vulnerabilities are not stigmatized and the management is fully invested in bringing about a change in how employee wellbeing is perceived, would define the success of digital workplaces of the post-pandemic era.