While many have felt the benefits of working from home, studies have also shown that levels of stress, anxiety and presenteeism have increased. So, how can you look after your team’s emotional wellbeing
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Management Today
Managers need to be aware of the emotional needs of those within their team. Higher stress levels are likely to impair focus, rational thinking, empathy and creative problem-solving and, if our emotional needs go unmet, ignored or violated, it can trigger a stress response.
Here is a brief checklist of emotional needs to pay attention to, how they might be triggering stress and how to, potentially, alleviate them. You may already be fulfilling many of these, but it can never hurt to double-check.
This need includes freedom from fear of a range of factors such as redundancy, major change, physical intimidation and, of course, the current fears about contagion.
To start with, check that remote workers are in safe working environments. For example, they may be sharing accommodation – which is now too cramped – with others in the household who are also working from home.
Is their equipment adequate? Being hunched over a laptop for months at a time can cause all kinds of musculoskeletal problems. Providing the necessary equipment will yield higher productivity and less time off dealing with chronic anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury and other stress-related symptoms.
For returning employees, you are probably already doing risk assessments and making the place as safe as feasible, but reassurance is key here; make sure everyone knows you are doing all you can to make the premises safe.
Minimal or zero interaction with management and colleagues will fuel feelings of insecurity about redundancy. Likewise, there may be fear around ‘group survival’. A remedy to both is to explain the difficulties the business faces and invite both feedback and ideas to ease business problems. A collaborative effort to help company survival, even via video conferencing, helps meet the needs for both personal and group security and can lead to heightened sense of loyalty, conscientiousness and focus.
A sense of autonomy and control
The current restrictions on independence and freedom are another potential stress trigger, especially where remote workers feel excluded from crucial decision-making in the office. As above, use video conferencing to involve people in safety measures and recovery planning. This involvement helps alleviate stress and also encourages people to take greater responsibility for group outcomes, and to go with the flow of change.
Emotional connection to the people around us
Remote working dilutes quality relationships between co-workers, and disconnects people from the daily companionship of their peer group. Video conferencing is no substitute for casual physical interaction.
Over time extended isolation will impinge on these two needs and this can be as harmful to health as smoking. Try arranging regular on-site meetups for remote workers so they can catch up both with their usual colleagues and people outside their own immediate teams.
Remote working is both accentuating this need for attention, and rendering it more difficult to satisfy. A Zoom session obscures too many signals of distress – body language and so on -that would normally alert you to an impending problem.
To combat this, you need to focus more on your people skills and adopt more of a coaching mode. Take extra time out for one-to-one catch ups and short daily team meetings in order to check on progress and listen intently to expressed concerns whilst probing for hidden ones.
A degree of achievement
Without regular positive and negative feedback employees have no reference point for how well they are doing, and this raises doubts as to their safety within the organisation. So, make frequent use of video communication tools to help alleviate this.
Similarly, the lack of informal encounters with expert colleagues and managers impairs valuable ‘subliminal’ learning; newly qualified employees, or new recruits, are particularly vulnerable to this problem. Again, make a point of ensuring that workers feel free to seek help when needed.
Regularity of routine
Humans thrive when they have regular routines; unfortunately, home workers are often reluctant to stop work, leading to longer working hours. This might seem a bonus for the company in the short term; however, over time, overwork and long hours will gradually become stressful.
If left unchecked, overwork leads to lower productivity and more serious health issues such as chronic anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, etc. Try to ensure your employees are getting a healthy work-life balance by using measures such as digital check ins.
This checklist is not comprehensive. Other things to look out for and address include:
- the need for privacy;
- friendship, fun and peak experiences;
- a degree of status and recognition;
- the need for challenges, and problems to solve;
- the need to find some sort of meaning in our work.