When it comes to living through any stressful and uncertain time, routine is one of the unsung heroes.
In a situation like the current coronavirus pandemic, routine provides reassurance that, even though entire countries are facing various degrees of hardship and uncertainty, we can still appreciate constants in our lives. The level of drastic change will vary with location, but the message remains the same: people are encouraged to continue living their lives — with caution. Anxiety, grief, depression and fear become daily emotions. Relationships suddenly forced into close quarters or mandated distance may blossom or suffer.
Maintaining a positive mental state becomes ever more important and personal levels of resilience will be tested. Outside of health concerns, the economy and employment situations cause stress and anxiety to almost everyone. Routine around the household, as well as those regarding dressing, grooming, physical activity, etc., should be maintained regardless of an individual’s employment situation because these nourish a positive mental state by providing comfort in simply knowing what comes next.
As well, employers are under stress to provide for their employees, whether that’s answers to questions they may have themselves, compassion for every imaginable outcome and support when resources couldn’t be thinner. At no cost, employers can provide their employees with the encouragement to maintain routines whenever possible, even if it seems insignificant.
Team leaders can help by keeping all scheduled and recurring meetings — move them to a virtual platform to create an equal environment for participation regardless of work location. Keep the meeting topics as intended but inject a lighter tone; there’s a new reality for productivity and what was once a “typical” production average may no longer be possible, so placing unreasonable expectations on already stressed employees will have a counterproductive effect.
Employees who have been temporarily laid off will also require communication to feel secure in the prospects for a return-to-work scenario. They should be encouraged to maintain the routine of continuing education in their field as a way to promote a positive mental state and also make sure they don’t fall behind in professional development. Using discretion, of course, employers can offer the option of keeping them informed of internal news and events to stay included in the culture of the organization.
Employees who have remained on staff but are working remotely will require guidance for how best to navigate their new reality for productivity and expectations. Although the perceived perks of working from home include staying in pyjamas all day, getting dressed and groomed in the same way as for a typical work day can keep the professional side of the brain in the forefront. Contrary to popular belief, these employees may also actually decrease in productivity due to losing the social aspects of their normal workday; some of the best ideas can come to someone over a quick water cooler chat.
It’s important to keep employee groups connected through scheduled status meetings via web chat or calls. These should be optional but often, so calendar conflicts don’t make them become cumbersome. It may be tempting to micromanage when employees are working in their own environments and are physically away from the watchful eye of management, but it can be perceived by employees as mistrust and erode other efforts to extend support and maintain a positive working relationship.
Employees who have remained on staff and continue to physically come to the workplace because they are considered essential and aren’t given the choice may be experiencing new and intense feelings of anxiety and vulnerability. Rightly so; they are providing the public with a service that allows them to continue safely living their lives and these employees deserve gratitude. This should be acknowledged and supported, with increasing communications from their people leaders regarding mental health resources.
Another great way to support employees is by implementing a support program like an employee assistance program or, if an EAP already exists, increasing communications. However, many employers may be experiencing financial difficulties, so implementing new benefits may not be possible. Look instead to no-cost support solutions. Share public resources that help with everyday issues as well as larger problems. These include:
- Increasing personal resilience against stress;
- Managing anxiety when triggers can’t be avoided;
- Maintaining physical activity while complying with social distancing requirements and personal safety guidelines;
- Staying connected with community, colleagues, local businesses, etc;
- Managing a work-life collision and finding balance; and
- Opportunities to improve financial situations.
Routines can help individuals alleviate some of the stress, fear and anxiety that come along with major global events. Employers can help their employees reduce some of their negative emotions and carry on toward a productive mental health by offering simple support measures.