Helping Employees Stay Healthy Through COVID-19
by Erica Gumieny
Employers and managers are facing unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
• having employees work at home, and/or
• transitioning employees back into the workplace
• dealing with social isolation and potential for employee disengagement
• reassessing old norms, resulting in the need to rapidly implement workplace changes
Transition employees back safely
To ensure employee health, employers must provide the safest workplace possible. Guidelines and recommendations are updated regularly on the Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov. The website includes strategies and recommendations for employers seeking to resume normal or phased-in business operations. Other helpful resources can be found at aah.org/covid19.
Check levels of stress and depression
Whether employees are working from home or back in the workplace, employers should watch for signs of increased stress and anxiety. Those working at home may feel compelled to log in early and log off later than normal to keep up with the demands of work. At-home workers often remark that traditional lines between their work life and home life have now become blurred or no longer exist. Over time, the effects of work “overload” promote burn out, disengagement and negatively impacts health and wellbeing.
Managers should regularly connect with their staff members (one-on-one phone calls or video chats are more personal than blanket emails or large Zoom meetings). Staying in touch can help identify cues of higher-than-normal stress, frustration, depression or anxiety. A recent survey conducted by SHRM1 reports that between 22 percent and 35 percent of U.S. employees are experiencing depression symptoms as they live through the COVID-19 pandemic.
During these stressful times, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are an excellent resource to help employees with mental health concerns. Employees can confidentially connect with a trusted professional if they are consumed by worry, stress or any other issue of concern.
Advocate Aurora’s EAP program offers various counseling options (including telephonic and video chat consultations) to address:
• alcohol/drug abuse
• anxiety, stress, depression
• balancing work and family
• caring for family members during the pandemic
• financial pressures
• workplace stresses
Teamed for success
Partnering with an integrated health care system such as Advocate Aurora can provide employers a full range of cost-effective solutions to meet the challenge of keeping a workforce healthy, while controlling benefit costs. Offering an excellent benefit package with high quality, cost-effective health care providers helps ensure employees are getting preventive care, staying healthy and getting the right care that they need. In today’s climate employee wellness programs shouldn’t be considered an expendable luxury, but rather a vital investment that will benefit an organization and its workforce in the long run.
Communicate, empathize and encourage
Open, honest communication from company leadership helps employees feel supported and cared for during this crisis. Communication can be through video conferences, email messages, virtual town hall meetings or social media. Staying in touch regularly (especially while social distancing) helps employees feel more connected and secure. It also allows leaders to acknowledge that this is a time filled with challenges, stress and anxiety for many.
Now more than ever, it’s important to encourage employees to take care of their health and remain physically active — especially if they sit for long periods during the work day. There are many free online resources people can access for aerobic workouts, yoga, meditation, strength training and more. Walking outside at safe distances should also be encouraged.
Take the long view
During these uncertain times, how you care for your employees will be remembered for years to come. Businesses that expend the time, effort and resources needed to properly care for employees during the pandemic will be rewarded. They will enjoy higher levels of employee engagement, retention and loyalty, as well as maintaining a healthier workforce. Conversely, failure to properly care for employees will promote higher levels of employee burnout and turnover — along with increased medical costs generated by a “less healthy” stressed-out workforce.
Employers must continuously adapt and adjust to the realities of COVID-19. No one knows exactly what the future will bring. However, businesses that have continued to nurture a healthy, engaged and resilient workforce are the ones most likely to thrive post-pandemic.
1Gurchiek, K. (2020, May 11). SHRM Research: COVID-19 Takes a Toll on Employees' Mental Well-Being. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/shrm-research-covid-19-takes-a-toll-on-employees-mental-well-being.aspx
Erica Gumieny is the Sales Leader for Employer Solutions, Advocate Aurora Health, Enterprise Business Group. For more information on Advocate Aurora Health Employer Solutions programs and services, visit employersolutions.aah.org.