(This article was written by William Arruda and appeared on forbes.com.)
The coronavirus is making your people stressed.
The 24/7 news cycle delivers the latest developments in the pandemic, the stock market rollercoaster and a slew of other scary realities.
According to the nonprofit mental health and wellness website HelpGuide.org, “Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the ‘stress response.’”
Your workplace team is dealing with a lot of stressful situations and questions: How do we handle having our kids out of school? How can I best care for my ailing parents? Should I leave home to go to the grocery store? How do I work from home without the comfortable work environment I’m used to? All this impacts their well-being and their performance at work.
Ironically, when your company takes action to help keep your people safe and happy, this may also be contributing to the team’s stress level because a lot of what you’re doing falls under the category of change. People who used to go to the office and worked alongside their colleagues are now having to get used to working from home. Policies to prevent exposing your people to potential threats, like eliminating travel and canceling all in-person meetings, may keep them safer physically but can disrupt their sense of stability. To help your people achieve a level of calm within the chaos, here’s what to provide:
Control. One of the most challenging parts of this crisis is feeling out of control. To reduce this, make all aspects of work feel clear and controllable. That means over communicating with your people so they have the answers they need. Make it clear and easy for them where to find the information and support they need—that includes access to mental health support through EAP programs and access to others who can help them.
Training. Competent professionals who are not used to working remotely need to learn best practices for being productive and happy at work without being in the office. Rather than making them fend for themselves, give them proven tips for remote work. This is where L&D executives can take the lead to provide clear, practical training on how to be successful and happy as a WFH employee. Provide videos, checklists and other guidance that will help them make their WFH experiment a success.
Consistency. Establishing routines is essential, especially for those who are now working from home and have left their normal procedures behind in their cubicle. It’s least stressful when your people can mirror those routines that were part of their workday. If you had an all-hands meeting every Monday at 9 a.m., keep it up, changing only the fact that it will take place via video instead of in the conference room. Ask this question: What can be easily replicated?
Stress-Reduction Resources. While going to the gym might normally be a stress reducer, that’s not an option in the new age of physical distancing. Identify other resources that can help your people amp up their zen. The CalmCast stress reduction app, for example, can be customized to augment the app’s stress-reducing resources with your company’s messages for your staff. Identify resources that your staff can access anytime, anywhere.
Camaraderie. One of the biggest changes that happens when your people leave the office behind because of WFH policies is that they lose the sense of belonging and connection. Encourage your people to check in on each other. Have them schedule regular Zoom or Skype calls, especially if they have strong friendships at work. We know from Gallup research that having a best friend at work is one of the best predictors of employee engagement.
An Ear. Make sure your people feel heard. Ask them what they need and how the organization can help them be more successful. Get answers to their most stress-inducing questions and make those answers visible. Create a list of the top things they’re concerned about and address them. They need to know that someone is in charge and has their back.
Easy Technology. Although a lot of the responsibility for creating a stress-free work-from-home environment is on them, there are things you can do to reduce the friction. That means having the technology, platforms and training (if necessary) in place to ease the transition. Firewalls and other security safeguards can get in the way of access and add to the stress. IT leaders can step up here by finding ways to maintain company data security while making it straightforward for employees to access the systems and data they need to effectively do their work.
When you’re dealing with tumultuous events like the coronavirus pandemic, stress is unavoidable and enduring. When you thoughtfully plan and put systems, tools, processes, resources and support in place specifically designed to mitigate stress, your people will be more engaged and productive, and all of you will be significantly less frazzled.