Returning to “normal” at work might feel different from how you imagined. Back-to-work burnout , lingering anxiety and grief denial can affect workers at any level of an organization—from the busy front line up to operations leaders. This stress can affect anyone’s mental health, especially if you’re the person accustomed to powering through and getting the job done.
The good news is that people are very adaptable. So, what do you need to know about uplifting the emotional well-being of your team? And what are ways to get it right? Here are a few real roadblocks operations management and their workers face and how to overcome them to achieve holistic workplace recovery.
1. Shine a Light on Grief Denial
Essential industries and workers have been hit hard by the pandemic. Physically, the toll can be seen in strenuous shifts, long hours and increased regulations. But how the pandemic has negatively altered mental health can be difficult to spot—and conversations around the topic of grief may feel emotional or uncomfortable.
Still, it’s important to understand and address that your workforce is undergoing grief. The CDC 36.5 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of August 2021, nearly 11 percent of the population And processing losses connected to the illness might take time. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), complicated or traumatic grief—grief stemming from a disaster or traumatic event—can last for months or years. Loss of regular employment, finances or feeling “normal” may also result in feelings of grief, per the CDC.
“Societally, we are OK with you coming in and saying, ‘Hey, I have back pain, and this is how it’s impacting my day to day,’” said Maggie McDaris, Vice President of Programs and Partnerships at Lulafit, a company that helps organizations develop modern cultures of well-being. “Our mental well-being impacts us in just as significant of a way. It’s just sometimes not as visible, and maybe not as socially or culturally accepted.”
But moving forward is still possible. SAMHSA suggests connecting with healthcare professionals and helplines, such as the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For those who have lost a loved one or are having trouble adapting to change, the CDC recommends connecting with people or creating new rituals. In the workplace, that might look like having lunch or a virtual coffee with coworkers every Friday or setting up regular social events.
2. Address Pandemic-related Stress
Like mental health issues, increased stress can go undetected or unmanaged until it creates visible harm. According to the CDC, stress can worsen chronic health problems cause physical reactions such as headaches or pain, and bring about difficulties in concentration, decision-making or falling asleep.
These feelings might sound familiar. A February 2021 poll by Monster.com uncovered that 50 percent of workers feel that pandemic-related stress and anxiety affect their overall productivity, demonstrating the connection between work life and everyday life. Although this percentage is down from April 2020—when it was a staggering 79 percent—it’s still up to leaders to be proactive about how their people are coping with so much change.
And both employers and employees can manage lingering stress in the workplace through simple techniques. “You can center self-care by taking some time to do something that will nourish your body and your mind. This may take the form of drinking a cool glass of water, placing your hand on your heart and focusing on your breathing, reflecting on a funny memory or stretching your body,” said Veronica Y. Womack, Ph.D., and Lulafit Mental Well-being Lead. “Not only do these informal activities center present-moment awareness—which has been found to decrease symptoms of stress—but they also reinforce feelings of gratitude and connectedness.”
3. Accommodate Working Parents and Caregivers
Lack of safe, consistent or accessible childcare during the pandemic has created a barrier for many parents. The U.S. Census Bureau found that, at the beginning of the pandemic, the share of mothers in the workforce dropped by 21.1 percent, and the percentage of fathers declined by 14.7 percent.
What does this mean for your team? Consider flexible work hours or sustained work-from-home options, when possible, to help meet the needs of working parents or caregivers. Not only can this flexibility relieve stress for your workforce, but it can also help retain skilled employees. A recent survey by The Conference Board found that 36 to 55 percent of workers across generations question returning to the office.
Many workplaces encourage employee resilience—and attract new talent—by offering flexible employment models and benefits. And some companies are offering hybrid schedules in light of the recent labor shortage.
Opening lines of communication from employee to employer can make workers feel heard as well. “Speak to the things that you know your employees are struggling with,” said McDaris. “Did your employees have to take on the burden of childcare or other responsibilities outside of work? Rather than speaking around the difficulties, I find attempts to address well-being in the workplace are most effective when we give employees the opportunity to be specific in the types of support they need.”
How do you measure if initiatives are positively impacting each employee? “Anecdotes or evaluations from employees that include themes of flexibility and respect or feeling energized, appreciated, collaborative and promoted are signs that positive well-being is being prioritized in the workplace,” said Womack. “Employees want to feel valued in their vocational communities. They want to feel like their company is invested in both their personal and professional growth.”
Mental Wellness for Your Organization
Remember that while everyone faces common roadblocks at some point, wellness will look different from company to company. Communicate with your workers about their mental health and well-being needs—and see how your team grows from there.
Find more resources for operations management and leadership at https://www.grainger.com/know-how/business-operations