Presented by TriNet
As the COVID pandemic evolves, employees are struggling under the weight of the unknown. The scale of employee mental health support required is unprecedented. Join this VB Live event for a conversation with Michael McCafferty, consultant at FEI Behavioral Health, and hear his and others’ perspectives on the HR strategies you need for both employees and your org to succeed.
“COVID fatigue is a term we hear more, and it’s a very real thing,” says Michael McCafferty, consultant at FEI Behavioral Health and a panelist at the upcoming webinar. “People are overwhelmed by the marathon nature of the pandemic. And we’re all grieving the loss of our former normal existence.”
It’s not just about the pandemic, McCafferty adds, but the confluence of events in 2020: The waves of protests against racial injustice and social inequity that swept this country after the killing of George Floyd, and the most contentious national political climate most have experienced in their lifetime.
People feel the impact of this unremitting anxiety, stress, and fatigue in every arena of their lives, including the workplace. McCafferty identifies a number of themes that seem to repeat among employees. There’s the difficulty keeping remote workers engaged when they’re feeling disconnected from their teammates and from their organizations. Trying to support working parents who are also supervising young children at home. And there are those high levels of grief and grieving for life as normal, that are, in many cases, going unacknowledged.
There are also measurable, concrete impacts to businesses. He explains that companies that are ignoring the impact on their employees are seeing disengagement, low productivity, performance issues, conflict, and lower customer satisfaction levels. And they’re experiencing persistent high turnover, even in a labor market with steep unemployment rates.
McCafferty also points out that the companies who have been least responsive to those individual needs and least aware of how human beings are impacted by the events in the world are trying to apply a one-size-fits-all response — when human beings do not neatly slot into an easy blanket solution in the face of events that are this pervasive and this impactful.
“I think some of that is simply a holdover of resistance we’ve traditionally seen against good awareness of mental and personal health in the workplace,” he says. “There’s still a profound stigma against those sorts of concerns from an organizational standpoint.”
There’s a greater awareness all the time of mental health needs and good behavioral health practices. But there is still a reluctance to name it, to speak about it out loud, and to acknowledge it.
The companies that are doing the best are, first and foremost, recognizing those realities, McCafferty says. They’re sensitive to and aware of the human impact of these situations. They understand that they’re not just employing a skill set, or a body of knowledge and experience; they’re employing human beings who have human problems. And they’re proactively reaching out and connecting with those employees on an intentional and individual basis, as well as on a group level. They’re right-sizing their expectations for productivity and performance. They’re modeling mental and emotional health and good communication.
“There are a lot of things that they can do, but it starts with that awareness and acknowledgement that this is real and we do have some ability to support employees,” he says. “Having the conversation about what employees need, and what they want, is a great place to start.”
There are concrete ways to make a difference for employees, he adds. It’s really helpful when employers, first and foremost, acknowledge the challenge for their employees, including reassessing the standards of attendance and performance that they may have had in place a year ago for the current situation.
Employers are in a position to be able to support employees, especially working parents, by being open to considering things like more flexible working arrangements, and making greater allowance for continuing telecommuting, even in a situation where the office space has been deemed safe for a return to work. Taking a good look at leave and attendance policies and asking if these are really serving the organizational interests, or might they be unfairly penalizing not just employees, but the organization, in terms of their ability to attract and retain talent. And encouraging employees to access their employee assistance plan (EAP).
“If you really do believe that human beings and your employees are the most important asset, as an organization, there is no more cost effective employee benefit available than the EAP,” McCafferty says. “We’re talking pennies per day per employee to provide a full-service EAP, which gives them access to resources and support for exactly the sorts of problems we’re seeing people being overwhelmed by right now.”
We’re not at the new normal yet, but very much in the transitional and adjustment phase of the change curve. There’s no smooth, orderly progression in terms of grieving and change. So ultimately, the most important thing HR leaders can do is offer patience and intentional connection with their employees, while understanding that may take people a long time to recover from the magnitude of changes they’re experiencing. In the meantime, employers can help mitigate both the emotional damage to employees and the impact to the company with a commitment to organizational compassion.
“Stay engaged, be patient, and temper your expectations for a speedy return to that normal state,” McCafferty says. “Because I don’t think we know yet what that’s going to be.”
For more on the impact that COVID is having on employees’ mental health and productivity — and the internal strategies organizations need now to support employees, don’t miss this VB Live event.
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