As we approach the two-year mark of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we’re continuing to experience the cycle of lockdowns, easing restrictions, openings, and lockdowns again. We’ve struggled with cancelled travel plans, virtual birthdays, and postponed weddings and other major life events. We’ve now had four different school years impacted by the pandemic, with parents, teachers and students finding their way through online learning. It really has felt like a “new normal”.
Through all of this, our experiences at work have been impacted too. We have seen many businesses in our communities temporarily or permanently close their doors due to the pandemic. Many of us have had to connect with people through computer screens, many more of us have had to connect with people from behind plastic dividers and masks. We have seen the start of the “Great Resignation”, with employees leaving their jobs in record numbers, and the rise of the “Burnout Epidemic”, with employees experiencing burnout more than ever before. It is safe to say that our collective well-being at work has been significantly challenged since the start of the pandemic.
YMCA WorkWell, a branch of the YMCA of Three Rivers, has been tracking employee well-being in their communities since the start of the pandemic, and have recently released their Insights to Impact Report to share what they have learned. How has the pandemic impacted employee well-being in our communities? Has employee well-being evolved since the start of COVID-19? Are employees’ needs changing? And what can leaders start doing today to better support employee well-being in their organizations?
What they have found through their research is that Employees in our communities are exhausted, overworked, and depleted, and these realities are directly contributing to the biggest challenges our workforces are facing. It is burning employees out, it is pushing employees to leave their jobs, and it is directly impacting mental health in our communities.
The landscape of work has changed.
In the Insights to Impact Report, 73% of respondents reported that they have experienced burnout at least sometimes in the last three months and 37% reported experiencing burnout “often” or “extremely often.”
How can you help your employees avoid burnout and how can you improve employee retention before and after the pandemic?
One of the biggest people and culture challenges during COVID-19 has been the “Great Resignation,” with employees leaving their jobs in record numbers. This level of turnover has significant implications for organizations.
There were several reasons why respondents started new jobs during COVID-19. Some reasons were to be expected – general career or life change, moving to a new city or graduating from school, being laid off from a prior role, seeking more pay or a previous contract role expired. The most common reason that people started a new role, however, was their personal well-being.
If you care about supporting employee well-being in your organization, where should you start? Just ask them.
In the Insights to Impact Report, from August 2020 to October 2021, survey respondents pointed to better work-life balance, flexible work arrangements, more manageable workload, clearer communication from leaders, to feel personally appreciated, and finding team connections as top needs for their well-being in the workplace.
Focus Priorities: Reduce demands on your employees by focusing in on priorities and necessities for their role. Find tasks that can be streamlined, paused, or dropped all together. Ask yourself what is essential to continue your business. This may not be a time for growth but instead a time for maintenance.
Offer Mental Health Days: Consider providing an organization-wide or team-wide mental health day. A clearly sanctioned day can help combat the stress that many employees feel when asking for that time and can provide an opportunity for a collective recharge.
It is important to acknowledge that providing an organization-wide day is not an easy option for many industries such as education, health care or community services, where there is a constant community need that must be supported. Yet it is something that leaders should be taking very seriously and looking to address in targeted ways.
Respect Work-life Balance: The term “work-life balance” has become commonplace because unmanaged workload will often creep into the homes of employees through working longer hours, increased anxiety over an ever-present to-do list, and the inability to shut off.
Avoid sending late-night emails or messages – even if they are well-intentioned and you do not expect others to follow your lead. Many email services now allow for email scheduling, so you can write an email but delay its delivery until the morning at a pre-determined time.
For teams working more flexible hours where employees may choose to work evenings, consider the opposite: Create a culture where employees are expected to turn off personal notifications outside of their personal working hours.
Create a Culture of Appreciation: Feeling valued has always been an important predictor of our mental health at work. As workload challenges have grown and employees have been asked to do more with less, many employees are understandably looking to feel appreciated for their monumental efforts throughout the pandemic.
Helping employees fit in through fairness and inclusion is important because it signals that they belong. One of the most effective ways to do this is through including employees in decision-making processes, particularly decisions that affect them.
Employee recognition focuses on what the employee has done, but employee appreciation focuses on who the employee is. To truly build a culture where employees feel adequately valued, leaders need to be mindful of both.
Provide Flexible Work Arrangements: Accommodating working hours and hybrid or work-from-home models are a new standard in Ontario workplaces. Although the pandemic demanded a quick shift in these arrangements for many workplaces, employees have been seeking these accommodations for years.
Implementing flexible work arrangements can be overwhelming. It is challenging in practice and requires a great deal of coordination, planning, and restructuring to be effective. But there is one undeniable truth: COVID-19 has changed the narrative around how we are able to work, and as the number of people experiencing flexible work continues to grow, expectations will continue to grow too.
Leaders need to be aware that if they are unwilling or unable to offer some sort of flexible opportunities moving forward, it will not only affect employee well-being and satisfaction, but it will also impact the employees they are able to attract and the employees they are able to keep unless they can develop clear strategies to support employees in other ways.
If you haven’t already, start implementing policies in your business to improve employee well-being. Learn more about YMCA WorkWell and their Insights to Impact Report here.