The coronavirus pandemic has forced tens of millions of employees across the world to work from home. While this will save lives by limiting the transmission of COVID-19, it also poses significant challenges for employees’ wellbeing.
How can NFPs support the health of their employees – many of whom have never before worked from home for a significant amount of time?
Researchers in the area of human resource management have studied organisations’ ability to adopt and encourage practices to improve employees’ wellbeing.
Here are four research-backed ways that NFPs can promote employees’ health and wellbeing during this crisis.
1. Provide more flexibility
Before the pandemic, only about 10% of the Australian workforce worked from home on a regular basis.
But working from home affects every employee differently, depending on their responsibilities and living situations. For example, workers with younger children need to balance keeping them occupied while trying to keep up with work tasks. And the same goes for those with elder-care responsibilities.
That’s why employer flexibility to match specific employee needs is crucial.
A good step is for NFPs to require managers to have open conversations with their employees about how and when work can be accomplished – without intruding on employees’ privacy – and offer a wider range of options for flexibility, such as more leeway when assignments need to be turned in or adjusting work hours per day to allow more time to care for children and others.
It’s also important for this order to come from the top because not all managers view flexibility positively.
For workers who still need to head to the office, organisations should also offer more flexibility, such as reduced hours, a compressed work week or even a leave of absence.
And employees should not be passive. Let your managers know what kinds of flexibility you need to balance your work and home lives.
2. Encourage and host virtual social time
For workers who have never worked from home, social isolation will be deeply felt. It’s hard to replicate daily interactions with co-workers, casual encounters by the water cooler or after-work drinks.
Research has found that having such reciprocal, supportive interactions with work colleagues is linked to worker wellbeing. But organisations should not assume this will happen naturally, especially when people are feeling down.
Employers should encourage their workers to find time to have virtual coffees, lunches or even happy hours with their colleagues. And managers could continue to mark birthdays or other milestones with video conference calls and other methods.
3. Train for online collaboration
It’s easy to presume that employees will be effective working remotely as long as they have the right technological tools, such as video cameras and chatting software.
But research has found it’s not that simple, and conflicts can emerge as a result of the different ways people prefer to communicate and use technology. Some workers may prefer communicating over email, while others react most quickly to chat programs like Slack. For others, the best way to reach them is with an old-fashioned phone call. Some studies have found that remote work can exacerbate the problem, particularly in times of stress.
To address this, NFPs can offer web-based training sessions on the most effective ways to work online. During these sessions, leaders can establish ground rules for the use of collaborative technology and build awareness of individual and cultural differences in communication, including preferences for email, phone calls and conference calls.
4. Foster positive coping
The pandemic is increasing people’s fear and stress levels, which can have fatal consequences.
Research has shown that people use a wide variety of coping strategies when they are in a new and stressful situations. Some, such as increased alcohol consumption, are not very healthy.
In normal times, organisations can offer a variety of ways to support employee mental and physical health, from social activities to group exercise. But with workers at home and the fitness centres closed, NFPs need to redirect their efforts to foster employee wellbeing.
[At EthicalJobs.com.au, we’re enjoying getting active as a team in our 5-minute long, virtual Squat O’Clock sessions – just long enough for one disco track!]
Practicing mindfulness – focusing your attention to be fully present in the moment – can be especially beneficial to employees’ mental health. NFPs can help by offering tutorials on mindfulness, webinars on resilience, reminding workers of their employee assistance programs or simply suggesting workers go for a walk.
Consistent and clear communication about health risks, preventative measures and available resources is the best way for leaders to keep their employees safe and foster wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This article is a guest post by Paula Caligiuri, Distinguished Professor of International Business and Strategy, Northeastern University and Helen De Cieri, Professor of Management, Monash University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Image by Julia M Cameron.