Supporting employees during COVID-19

February 8, 2021

The year 2020 was certainly interesting, as employers faced tough decisions surrounding the pandemic. Despite not having previous experience navigating a pandemic, employers relied on their heads, hearts, and government information to provide much-needed support to their employees. Outside of providing leave benefits under the FFCRA, FMLA, ADA, employer-paid leave programs, etc., employers developed offerings that exceeded ordinary workplace incentives during this extraordinary time.

Employers got creative to target and improve the mental and emotional health resources for employees. Many employers offered an employee assistance program (EAP) prior to the pandemic, but they began hosting virtual meditation sessions so employees could attend from anywhere. Some employers held regular wellness check-in calls where employees shared the peak and valley of their day. Empowering managers to be a source of inspiration for their team and host frequent wellbeing calls improved the communication between the team and aided employees in adjusting to a new reality.

Employers implemented many virtual activities to support their human-centered approach and these activities continue into 2021. Some examples include starting a virtual book club, having virtual lip sync battles, or facilitating weekly trivia games during lunch breaks to get employees engaged with their colleagues. Some organizations decided to reimburse employees for lunch purchases made from local, independent small businesses to encourage community support. Another way that employers made health and wellbeing the focal point is by increasing training opportunities. Creating learning and development programs that increase knowledge areas such as staying productive while working remotely, switched the focus to something positive.

Due to the pandemic, today’s workforce has grown more familiar than ever with the work-from-home environment. This remote work has the potential to be lonely, overwhelming, and isolating for employees. To combat this solitude, employers encouraged flexible scheduling and gave permission to remove the artificial limit of an 8:00am to 5:00pm workday. Some employees are still having to deal with a remote work environment that also includes caring for children. Communicating to employees that it is alright to take a break to be with their children or take a walk during the day can boost employee happiness and wellness. For employees that are unable to perform their jobs from home, employers have been diligent in taking precautions with additional cleaning of their facilities and supplying proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

One of the most important pieces of the puzzle in improving mental health and supporting employees during this time is communication. Consistent and transparent communication builds trust and helps identify employee concerns. By identifying concerns, employers have been able to provide services that best address employee needs. Whether an employer communicates through newsletters, webinars, podcasts, videoconferencing, Q&A sessions, or other means, it has helped employees cope with the fear and anxiety caused by this time of crisis.

Finally, employers cannot forget the employees that are being laid off or let go. Employers have done their best to approach layoffs with empathy and compassion. Providing guidance on where and how to file for unemployment, along with other resource information has been a great value add for an employee being laid off. Employers have also utilized creative options to keep employees working, including implementing a reduced work schedule and shared work programs.

The bottom line is that the health and safety of employees is and will continue to be the top priority on an employer’s mind throughout the rest of the pandemic. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this ongoing situation but finding the best solutions to support employees can make a significant impact on their quality of life and their ability to adapt to change. It can also create a more dedicated and loyal employee.