We are in month nine of the pandemic in the United States, and many of us are beginning to feel it. Whether it’s missing loved ones you are not able to safely visit with in-person, or missing activities such as travel and live shows, many of us feel like we’re in the thick of it and suffering. The question that occurred to me: Who among us is handling it best?
I found an article from The Washington Post by Daryl Austin that reveals that some of us may be better equipped than others in managing the restrictions imposed by COVID: retirees.
“…studies looking at mental health in the pandemic show that retirees who live at home are free from two of the stressors that are squeezing their younger counterparts—job security and parenting children as they navigate at-home learning and isolation,” Austin writes. The author cites a Centers for Disease Control study that found that 46 percent of people ages 18 to 24 report experiencing pandemic-related “anxiety and stress disorder.” That number dropped steadily as people age, with just 9 percent of people 65 and older reporting pandemic-related despair.
If those who are employed—meaning all of your employees—are struggling most, what should companies do to ease the burden? Finding ways to reduce employee anxiety isn’t just a kind thing to do, it’s smart. The more anxiety-filled your workers are, the less they are able to focus on serving your customers and helping you build your company.
Mental health support is especially important during this time. Companies could offer a complimentary online group therapy session once a month, or even once a week, in which anyone who would like to discuss the stress and anxiety of the pandemic can log in to join the conversation.
The usual requirements of employees to be on task and consistently available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays also could be relaxed to give parents time to manage their children’s distance learning. More than ever, the focus should be on getting work done on time and well, rather than how and where the work gets done. If an employee needs to take a few hours during the day to work with a child struggling with distance learning, or take that child to the park for fresh air, accommodations could be made to allow for time without colleagues calling or texting. The understanding between managers and employees and colleagues would be, that in the current environment, it is OK to be unavailable between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for as much as a few hours at a time, with the caveat that the time will be made up before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. And, most importantly, that each employee still will be required to deliver high-quality work on time.
The physical office also could be available on a voluntary basis, as my own is. As long as you limit capacity by creating a rotational schedule, this can be safely done. Many employees who rely on mass transportation will decline, but others with cars, or those who can walk, may find the quiet and peace of the office a more productive place to work than a living room.
An eye toward the future and the end of the pandemic also can be helpful. With vaccines likely to be released soon to healthcare workers and nursing home residents, and with the vaccines hopefully available to the whole population over the next six months, companies should consider planning for it. Would it be possible to host a vaccination clinic for your employees in your office? You may be able to partner with a local medical group or pharmacy to make that a reality. If your company is a big enough employer in your area, the local government may even provide assistance in launching an in-office vaccination clinic. It would be to the local government’s benefit, after all, to quickly and easily get hundreds—or even thousands—of people vaccinated. A clinic set up on a corporation’s campus, or in a few conference rooms, could do wonders in the fight against COVID.
There is both excitement and anxiety about these impending vaccines. One way to offset that anxiety, and make it more likely that your employees will get vaccinated, is to have your top executives video-recorded getting the shots. You also could create a social media button or icon for employees who have been vaccinated to share on your company Facebook or Instagram feed. That sharing could be done on an internal social media page, or one that’s open to the public. You would be doing a good deed having employees share publicly that they have been vaccinated. It will encourage customers viewing your social media pages to also get vaccinated, and it will instill confidence in the safety of doing business with your people.
The pandemic has been a long, tedious slog. If it’s true that retirees are the ones who are handling it best, that tells us a lot. It tells us that employees need much more support than they’re getting. Are you currently giving them that support? If not, what is your plan for doing so?