Uncertainty. It is the one thing everyone is experiencing right now. As we face the close of almost 2 years fighting COVID-19, uncertainty has been the theme. It’s the thread woven through all our lives. It’s this fear, anxiety, the waiting, and the unknown that is causing more and more people to feel overwhelmed, both at work and in their personal lives. This sense of chaos has a negative impact on employee happiness. 

With so many employees working from home, those two worlds have collided in ways that we never anticipated. Feeling pandemic burnout is the “normal” now, so how can we help our employees feel happier as they face the challenges? We had no initial understanding of the virus and potential outcomes. We never anticipated entire economies shutting down and having to reinvent the way they worked. But being resilient, people quickly adapted. And although the plans may not have been ideal, they were certainly plans that kept business running and people employed.

Now, as employees are preparing to return to the office, the Delta variant is creating new concerns–impacting the way that we continue to work and our organizational plans to return to the workplace. And to top it off, we are about to head into the holiday season, one that is notoriously stressful. Predictions are that it will be even more stressful as the COVID-19 variants spread.

Now is the time to encourage your overwhelmed employees. We’ve identified techniques to help employees successfully manage their work and home life:

8 Ways to Encourage Employees Who Are Feeling Overwhelmed

1. Leverage Technology

Emerging technologies, AI, machine learning and other tech solutions that support employees are a must in 2021. Employees expect that any employer worth joining is going to make working and connecting easier.  Companies also need to ensure that they are offering tech solutions for today and that can grow into the future. The ability to provide solutions that support working smarter will tell your employees that you don’t want them to be overwhelmed.

2. Limit Distractions

A major challenge for employees is managing the day through email. It is a constant distraction. Practice being mindful and purposeful about the way that you schedule your day and the location of where you’re spending those hours. When possible, block off “heads down” time in your calendar, and turn off app notifications. By doing this, you can eliminate many of the distractions that hinder your being most successful and productive at work. I found by limiting distractions inside sometimes that means I’m working outside. Working at a local park or taking a walk might be enough to limit the distractions of email or calls.

3. Say No to Low Priority Tasks

The next suggestion is to reduce what’s on your plate, or your colleagues, by actively saying no to things that do not further your business goals. While we all like to help our colleagues from time to time, doing so too often can derail our own performance. Remove any tasks that are not urgent and not valuable. If you are a manager, build psychological safety on your team so that your employees know they can speak up if they feel their tasks aren’t serving your goals. You can also use various methods of prioritization to help your teams. Whether you use the Franklin Covey method, the Eisenhower method or a triage approach, find ways to divide tasks. Think about what is urgent, important but not urgent, not important and trivial. Then, only do those things that fall in the first category. For those things that are important but not urgent, make plans to do them in the future. For things that are not important but urgent, delegate them. For the rest, delete or do not do them. By taking mindful action to triage your to-do list, you’ll get better control of your time and your stress level.

4. Treat Employees to Free or Discounted Meals

Recent survey data suggests that 56% of employees felt that food benefits help them increase their productivity. DoorDash for Work’s meal solutions enable you to reward your employees with meals to keep them happy and productive at work. Especially in times where workers who are going into the office may be working late, offer to cover their meals. If they are in the office,Group Orders is a great option, otherwise or Expensed Meals is best if they are working from home.

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5. Customize Work Arrangements

Another challenge in our new normal is that employees are starting to demand more creative work arrangements. This can be good for the employees but challenging for a leader to manage. Get creative and offer more than just the traditional work-from-home options. Customized work can also mean finding different tools to use in your home office. Sometimes changing little things, like the type of journal you write in or the type of pen or pencil you use, might be just enough to distract you from being completely overwhelmed and help you organize your day differently.

6. Celebrate Wins

Another suggestion, in addition to being focused, is to celebrate small wins. One of the things that happens when we feel like we have too much on our plate is we start hyper focusing on all the negatives. If you can approach your day with gratitude and thinking about the positive things you will retrain your brain to approach work in a different way.

7. Take a Retreat

Inspire employees through vacation time or retreats. Encourage them to get away and not look at anything work-related. Being bombarded 24/7 means there is no escape. Encourage the team to help each other plan ways to support workers having a time to disconnect.  They will come back recharged, rejuvenated, and better than ever.

8. Use Learning to Practice Relaxation and Happiness

Encourage employees to learn new skills. Learning for the sake of learning is also a great way to distract ourselves when we are feeling chaotic. Share non-traditional learning opportunities. For example, there is quite a bit of content available through streaming television providers. These services provide shows that teach and create a feeling of calm. Shows like “The Great British Baking Show” or “The Joy of Painting With Bob Ross” are not only comforting, but they can also teach you new skills. 

Taking active steps to reduce and alleviate stress and anxiety for employees is clearly important. While feeling overwhelmed negatively impacts our employees’ ability to perform at high levels, understanding they are not alone provides comfort. Employees all over the world are experiencing these same issues. Global organizations can do their part by creating flexible work scenarios to help employees feel more engaged, more supported, and happier.

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Challenge of Balancing Work and Home Life

Work, home, and school have collided into one ultimate life experience. And in this new world, the level of personal uncertainty about jobs, school, the workplace, and our relationships are things that we are all thinking about. Many schools in the US have returned students to campus. While mask mandates and social distance will hopefully keep them there, the spread of the Delta variant may change those plans. As parents, we approach every day as if it might be their last in the school building because we just don’t know.

That feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. The thought of having to go back to teaching our children topics that we may have long forgotten, or never studied, to provide them constant supervision, and support and ease their anxiety are things parents may not be equipped to handle. We are already thinking about how difficult that can be when we’re working from home. Teaching while juggling meetings and projects was not easy. With all this chaos, who has time to be happy or think about making their employees happy?

The pandemic has also put stress on our relationships with our colleagues and in our home life. We’ve had to navigate new ways of working together remotely. This meant learning new technologies, getting comfortable with video calls, and using online collaborative tools, just to name a few. These activities were rarely done pre-pandemic. And just when we thought we were mastering the new ways of working, organizations began hiring fully remote. Now you may be on a team working with people whom you have only ever met through video calls.  You don’t have all the physical cues that you would get when you meet someone in person. You’re having to decipher who they are in relation to you and how you feel about them through a video feed. To successfully navigate that is a very different skill. It takes longer to build trusting relationships. It is a drastically different world of work.  

Challenges at Home

If you’re working from home, it’s likely you are sharing that space with a spouse, partner, roommate, or children. Each person has their own feelings of being overwhelmed. Like you, they are going through all the questions and uncertainty around their work and/or school commitments. It’s a vicious cycle. And while things may appear to get better, it’s a bit of a roller coaster in terms of how we are emotionally, physically, socially, and mentally handling all of the changes being thrown at us. But there is hope. There have been several articles we’ve written about how to help employees adjust to a flexible work environment or to engage employees with gratitude, and I encourage you to read those.

The Importance of Flexibility and Gratitude

Since the pandemic seems cyclical, we’re seeing a variety of issues resurface that employers need to address. Balancing business continuity with flexibility in work schedules and locations remains one of the most notable. Along with providing flexible work options, it’s also important to recognize all the contributions employees make. Showing our gratitude to employees is always a good idea, but even more important in times when we are not as visible to each other.

Much like being on a plane where we’re taught to always put the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping others, we can approach our work or home life stressors in a similar way. Unless we relax and recharge ourselves, we won’t be much help to other family members. Make sure you’re doing all you can to create a safe place where your employees know how to help their family members express their feelings about working or doing school from home. This may come through traditional Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or through counseling offered with your benefit programs. By supporting each other, we will all feel more comfortable in times when the stress levels are high. 

Care and Happiness Are Important

Happy employees are more productive, engaged employees. And mid-pandemic, we’re seeing marked decreases in productivity. That lost productivity of our actively disengaged and not engaged employees is equal to 18% of their salary. Multiply that across your organization and the result is staggering. The question is, how do we make employees happier? 

There are many ways, but some are more impactful than others. Better work assignments, improved benefits, and better work hours are just a few. Now is a good time to take regular pulse surveys in your company so you know how people are feeling. You might also try focus groups, executive round table discussions or virtual town hall meetings as a way to gather employee feedback and build comradery.  

The danger of not showing care or concern for employee happiness is undesired turnover. Right now, in what experts refer to as “The Great Resignation,” more employees are leaving their jobs than ever before. Gallup found that 48% of American’s workers are actively job searching. The quit rate is also at an all-time high as 3.6 million workers resigned in May alone. Surprisingly, they are not just leaving for better positions or more money. They are also leaving to stay home with their family. In addition to general resignations of dissatisfied employees, the mental health crisis is reaching a fevered pitch. Employees who have been feeling the stress are reaching mental health crisis mode. Do you offer support for employees who need additional mental wellbeing support? 

As we look to the future, we need to proactively create ways to create a more supportive company culture. We’ve learned that listening to employees and acting on their feedback is one way to do this. We also know that providing food services to employees is another beneficial way to make an impact. Recent research shows that 63% of companies with a robust food program in place have seen a positive impact on company culture, showing the significant impact food benefits have. We also know that teaching employees how to take care of their needs at work has a positive impact.

Whatever means you choose to lead your organization, be sure to implement as many of the tips as possible. Our workplaces are changing, our employee expectations are evolving, and the entire world of work will be different as all those needs are expressed. Armed with this information, you can successfully lead your organization into the future and be ready for our ever-changing workplace. 

Help employees take stress out of their day by sharing resources to reduce their worries. There is also an ebook to help leaders prepare for The Future of the Office

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Trish McFarlane
Trish McFarlane
CEO and Principal Analyst, H3 HR Advisors

Trish McFarlane is the CEO and Principal Analyst for H3 HR Advisors.  As a former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience in Big 4 public accounting, PR, healthcare, manufacturing, and IT, Trish brings that knowledge to her clients as an analyst and advisor.  She has been the author of the Trish McFarlane blog (formerly known as the HRRingleader blog) since 2009.  In addition, she began the HRevolution un-conference in 2009 and was a founding member of the Women of HR blog.