(Photo by Emma Simpson, Unsplash)

“It’s not only OK, but also good to be transparent about the issues you’re having,” observed Dave Landa. Indeed, vulnerability used to be considered a weakness, but in these pandemic times, acknowledging our human frailties can be good for our health.

Landa, CEO of Kintone, a workplace-collaboration platform, was among the business leaders who gathered for a From Day One webinar last week focusing on employee health. Chances are, “How to Help Employees Maintain Their Health and Well-being During a Global Pandemic” is probably not in your employee handbook. Yet everyone from front-line workers to work-from-home executives are now operating in a new world. How are we to ensure that they’re taking care of themselves, in addition to all the coping? Are they burning out? Less productive than usual? And how are they doing really?

Among our group’s recommendations:

Regular Emotional-temperature Checks 

Staying healthy and sane feels harder than it used to be these days, especially as employees juggle more and varied responsibilities. In a recent global study by Qualtrics, 67% of people reported higher stress levels since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Now is the time to double down on consistent check-ins with employees, especially through channels that add a human touch, like old-fashioned phone calls as well as Zoom meetups.

Luciana Duarte, VP and global head of employee experience at HP, has added a bit of humor to her internal team’s regular check-ins. “We do check-in calls, but when you say it really fast it sounds like ‘chicken calls,’” she said. “They affectionately became called ‘chicken calls’ because it was just us chickens.”

More broadly, to measure the sentiment of HP’s 55,000 employees, Duarte says the company has ramped up “Quick Click” surveys of five to seven questions asking employees if HP is overall a great place to work. She says the company has seen an uptick of four percentage points in the answer to this question in the past month, an impressive feat given the current circumstances.

One often-used metric is the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), which measures whether employees would recommend their company as a place to work. At Kintone, this includes tailoring NPS surveys with comment boxes for employees to detail how they are feeling, Landa said.

Relax the Control 

It may feel counterintuitive in the WFH era, but leaders may need to loosen the reins a bit. While it was reasonable before to require employees to hew to a schedule of 9 to 5 (or much longer), those hours may no longer be compatible with their responsibilities at home.

“If you’re taking care of small children, or an elderly parent, you might not be able to work the hours that you would normally work that everyone else is working right now,” says Marion Brooks, VP and U.S. head of diversity and inclusion at Novartis. “We’re really just trying to meet people where they are.”

For this to work, leaders and their employees need to build a sense of trust that the work will get done, even if it is not within a traditional time frame. Soo Choi, commissioner of human resources for the City of Chicago, says she hopes this pandemic will allow for flexibility that wouldn’t have normally been considered for working parents.

“My hope is that one positive change that comes out of this is that we do rethink some of the strict ways we’ve done things in the past,” said Choi.

In some ways, individuality needs to be embraced. “We’re all about individualizing things. We say [at Kintone] we have 100 different people with 100 different work styles so we’re trying to understand individual needs and challenges and see if our leadership team can respond accordingly,” Landa said.

Watch for Burnout 

With a lack of commute (unless you count from your bedroom to your kitchen table), it has become substantially easier for millions of white-collar workers to get to their jobs. The downside is that they may have a harder time turning off at the end of the day or even stepping away from their work, resulting in fatigue and burnout.

“About half of the state government in Massachusetts is related to healthcare. A lot of our employees are right on the front line,” said Dana Yonchak, head of talent management and culture for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “We need to address the people and human part, which is the emotional aspect.”

It’s unlikely your employees are planning any vacations anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take their PTO. Our panel suggested encouraging staff to take these days to realign themselves. “They’re not going anywhere, so it’s easy to forget that’s even an option” reminded Landa.

Leaders should keep an eye out for employees who may be sending more emails than usual, an indicator that they are working longer hours or without breaks. This suggests that employees need help in prioritizing: less quantity, more quality. “We’re going from activity to impact,” said Brooks. “We are asking people to be conscious of the amount of emails they’re sending.”

The webinar cast, clockwise from upper left: moderator Lydia Dishman, Dave Landa of Kinton, Luciana Duarte of HP, Dana Yonchak of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Soo Choi of the City of Chicago. Not pictured: Marion Brooks of Novartis. (Image by From Day One)

Extra Support for Working Parents 

Back in 2017, Prof. Robert Kelly’s BBC home interview was hilariously interrupted by his two young children, quickly becoming an internet sensation. But what was mortifyingly unusual for Prof. Kelly is now a commonplace juggling act for WFH employees, especially parents with younger children who require constant attention.

Managers can embrace these interruptions. “If you have a toddler who walks into the meeting, have them say ‘Hello!’” said Landa. “Everybody has a more positive experience rather than saying ‘Get away, get away!’ Embrace it. There’s nothing else you can do about it.”

Another stressor has been been staying on track with online school work among older students. “With school being out, it’s been a challenge because I have no teaching experience whatsoever,” said Choi about homeschooling her two sons. “It’s been very interesting.”

The situation raises a question for Corporate America with longer-term implications: what can businesses do to help more with child care, as well as home schooling? Duarte credits HP’s partnership with DreamWorks to help working parents stream videos and educational content for kids to keep them occupied. Companies that can better embrace family interactions, needs, and disruptions can put employees more at ease during this time.

Keeping D&I up Front

“We can’t continue in the way we did before March,” said Yonchak. “We have to be creative. We have to be innovative and thoughtful not only about the work and the productivity, but the people, the humans that we all are,” she mentioned on the importance of keeping an eye out for diverse candidates.

Despite hiring pauses and beleaguered industries, now is the time to ensure that your diversity and inclusion practices are on point. Minority communities that have been hit harder than others by the outbreak of the coronavirus deserve an extra margin of attention in the hiring process. In a global pandemic, Brooks says this is more important now than ever.

“We don’t want to lose sight of ensuring that we have diversity at the table in our interviewing panels and our candidate slates. The knee-jerk thing is to say: ‘Well, let’s just get it done fast.’ Our focus is to get it done right. What you focus on grows, and if you don’t continue to focus on diversity and inclusion, we’re going to start to lose ground and this is not the time to lose ground.”

Thank you to those of you who joined us live for the event, and to our sponsors Kintone, GymPass, and Speakfully. If you missed it, you can catch a replay here. For a look at our slate of upcoming webinars, visit our schedule here.

 

Mimi Hayes is a New York-based author, comedian, and assistant director of content at From Day One. You can read her work at mimihayes.com, check out her podcast "Mimi and The Brain," or find her first book, a comedic memoir about her traumatic brain injury on Amazon.