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These are the practical and effective things you can do to make a difference today  

By: Bill Zolis

We’re hearing a lot about mental health and mental wellness in the new workplace environment – fair enough – and I think that many of the solutions we’re looking at could just as easily be described as providing coping strategies, helping people adapt to change, and finding ways to take control of challenges in troubled times. 

I’ve talked to a lot of our clients – and a lot of other people as well – about what we should be doing to maintain and adapt our concept of the well workplace. And one theme seems to creep into the conversation again and again. People tell me, Yes, we’re doing this, and yes we have that program, and yes, we are doing our best to provide the kinds of resources and supports we’re all talking about… but what should I be doing, specifically, in the way I manage work, in our Zoom calls, in our online meetings, and one-on-one with the people I work with every day? 

From what I’m reading and what I’m hearing, including some of the success stories, there do appear to be some fundamentals that go a long way toward solving the mental wellness issues we hear so much about – or preventing them from developing in the first place. 

Here’s my top five. 

– Share your own experience. As team leader or supervisor or manager, it’s important to communicate the fact that, as far as working in the pandemic reality goes, we’re all pretty much in the same boat. Share your challenges, your uncertainties, even some of your frustrations. Talk about your own experiences, such as telling a funny story about your struggles with work-life balance when your kids are home schooling in the next room, or how going for a 20-minute walk every day at lunchtime helps you keep things in perspective. Whatever you’re going through, and what you’re doing to make it work, share it with the group. Just knowing that you face the same issues they face – and that it’s okay to talk about it – helps everyone keep their own situation in perspective. 

– Over-communicate. As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, communication in the remote work environment is different from the face-to-face office interactions we were used to before the pandemic. The body language is largely missing from the equation, facial expressions are harder to read, and the vital connection of eye-contact just doesn’t happen nearly as well, even on a video call. In a face-to-face meeting, you can glance around the table and instantly see who gets it, who’s on board – and who’s confused and at risk of being left behind. That’s why it’s necessary to “over-communicate.” Explain fully in words. Then circle back and check in with participants to make sure you are all, in fact, on the same page before you move forward. 

– Set some boundaries. I read in the news this week about a large organization that had made a “no Zoom calls after noon on Friday” rule. I’ve also heard more and more concerns being raised about the subtle pressure that people feel when they get too many out-of-hours e-mails and notifications. I heard about a great solution to this problem a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, there was a Thursday afternoon project meeting, and people were talking about when they would be able to submit their materials when the team leader – the big boss in this case – broke in and said, “Listen, unless the subject line is ‘Your house is on fire!’ I don’t respond to e-mails after 6 on Friday.” When I heard that story, I thought about it and realized that that one line from the boss had done more to relieve stress, set boundaries, reduce anxiety and bring the team on board than all of the counseling and advising we could do in a month. 

– Make sure you touch base with everyone on a regular basis. One of the biggest sources of anxiety and stress among team members working from home is the feeling that they are drifting out of touch. There is a risk of growing less and less certain of where they stand, what is expected of them and – most important – how well they are doing. In the physical office environment, those two minutes of small talk with your boss or your colleague in the hallway are really a finely tuned social exercise in telling each other, “I’m okay, you’re okay, and all’s well.” We need to replicate that process, and the best way is to touch base one-on-one – even if it’s only a few minutes a week to talk about the weather and the shut-down and the challenges of curb-side pick up. 

– Show, don’t tell. It’s one thing to tell people how you think they should cope with stress, or juggle priorities, or manage work-life balance, or any of the other issues we are dealing with. But it’s quite another thing  – and a much more effective one – to demonstrate the things you are doing yourself. In other words, play the part, model the behaviour. Book your stay-cation and explain to the group that you think it’s important to take a break. If you need a sick day, take a sick day (and don’t send the message that people shouldn’t book off sick by showing up on the Zoom call coughing and blowing your nose and looking awful). If you’ve taken up jogging or yoga or on-line cooking classes, share this and talk about it. And if you decide to work late to catch up or get ahead, okay, we all do that from time to time, but do you really have to press “send” as soon as you’re done? Better to model the behaviour you want and wait until morning. 

If there’s one thing that all of these strategies have in common, it’s that they are all about holding the group together, maintaining connections, and communicating. I really do believe that what we learn here now, the new ways we find to get things done, and the progress we make will continue to be the basis of the well workplace long after this pandemic is history. 

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Sick Pay Explained: Here is the link to the Youtube video of today’s Employer Obligations – COVID-19 Sick Pay as presented by Wilson Vukelich. 

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The folks at Organizational Solutions, Inc. have produced a very useful guide to Ontario’s 3-day paid Covid sick leave plan. Good information. Download a copy of the pdf here. 

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I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at bill@penmore.com 

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