• Joe Hinson

The Mental Side of COVID-19

The coronavirus continues to be a cataclysmic event, seemingly out of nowhere, that suddenly upended how we conduct business daily.  Face-to-face meetings have become nearly extinct.  Large numbers of people have had to work from home versus commuting to their office.  Our nation’s steepest ever recession is expected to be the shortest though, with consumer spending, job growth and other key measures bouncing back.  But recent spikes in coronavirus have dampened the anticipated recovery as businesses try to responsibly reopen in phases.

Often forgotten is how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts our employees at home and at work.  As leaders, we must act to create a safe workplace that addresses the emotional to promote a resilient workforce.  Leading through the rational and irrational requires different practices than normal.  Here are some examples of how employees can be impacted:

  • Distracted by the health risks and day-to-day needs of their families, employees can struggle to integrate work requirements with those home-life concerns

  • Employees might need to negotiate the shifting demands of work, impairing decision making about how to stay viable at work

  • Employees could become fearful of the potential impact to their livelihood, given the forecast impact on businesses, and concern about loss of income, hours, and opportunities

Supporting employees through this requires leaders and all layers of management to be supportive, transparent, and highly communicative.  How we support our employees through this health crisis will have a material impact on employee engagement and productivity, today and in the future.

As cases of COVID-19 increase, so do feelings of doubt and anxiety among workers.  With mandated quarantine and remote working policies in place, many employees find that their everyday routines have been flipped upside down.  In a recent survey of close to 2500 HR professionals conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 65% of employers say maintaining employee morale is of major concern during COVID-19.

According to Gallup, 62% of U.S. employees are working from home due to COVID-19, and 19% struggle with loneliness (survey by Buffer, Inc.).  For many employees, this may be their first time working from home for an extended period-of-time.  Even many work-from-home veterans may feel off-balance as they face social distancing during all hours of the day instead of their usual eight or nine hours.

With the rise of uncertainty and change, some employees (as the SHRM survey Indicates) might be experiencing bouts of low morale, which is a natural consequence of a global crisis.  However, there are several things that can be done to promote a positive employee experience.  Here are six ways to help employee morale during COVID-19:

Celebrate Milestones – share employee and company wins with the team on a frequent basis, recognizing there are still opportunities available and successes to be had during this crisis

Improve Access to Resources – this could include additional tools to work effectively in a remote setting to wellness resources to reduce stress during this pandemic

Increase Flexibility providing flexibility when it comes to work hours might be helpful, evidenced by 77% of workers (survey by Zenefits) highlighting flexible work arrangements as a major consideration in a job search

Revisit Healthcare Options ranked as the number one employee benefit, now would be a good time to revisit existing healthcare programs with competitive group rates and consider additional measures that can be taken to protect employees – please call our office for more details

Communicate Properly avoid public panic, remain calm and manage emotions, communicate frequently and share honest updates with employees

Encourage Virtual Bonding keep employees engaged by suggesting the use of these remote work tools: team chat, text messaging, live chat, team collaboration, online documents, and project management

Our economy is slowly on the mend, but we face a challenging comeback in the face of virus flare-ups in parts of the country and the risk of a second COVID-19 wave in the fall.  A sustained confidence in consumer spending is not expected until a vaccine is available sometime next year.  Multinational investment bank, Barclays predicts the nation’s economic output will not return to its pre-pandemic level until early 2022.  And Moody’s Analytics figures a return to pre-pandemic employment levels will not come until 2023.   

So, it looks as though we will be riding this wave of uncertainty for a while.  Maintaining a great culture and keeping a positive outlook will continue to be challenging during this pandemic, but it is not impossible to achieve.  You have heard this before, it is the little things – like strong communication, increased flexibility and good access to resources that show employees that their company cares about them.

The good news is when this pandemic concludes, your organization will be in a strong position to retain talent and hire new employees quickly.  Having a reputation for supporting workers and keeping spirits high during COVID-19 will boost your employer brand and support long-term success.

Something else to think about…in 2018, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Romer observed that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”  In other words, good things can come out of extremely trying circumstances.  This COVID-19 crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that we could not do before – an opportunity to gain control of our work-life balance and define a new way of living is an example.  It need not be something we merely endure until the crisis is over.