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More change, more burnout? Four ways to help employees cope

Future of Work|Health and Benefits|Talent|Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Casey Hauch and Alaina Melena | August 26, 2021

As pandemic-related restrictions fluctuate, employees are managing changes in their lives and at work that may affect their emotional wellbeing.

Summer is almost over. School is back in some parts of the country. Restaurants are open for dine-in. Sports and entertainment venues are hosting events. Many employers are reopening doors to employees. Friends and families are getting together for barbecues, weddings and other celebrations. It’s been a long 17 months of hampered socializing with other human beings. We are ecstatic, relieved, elated, hopeful, but wait…

Masks on or off? Go inside or stay outside? Do we greet each other with hugs, handshakes, fist bumps or casual waves or nods from afar?

Many are feeling exhausted, stressed, wary, confused and overwhelmed. Are you feeling that too? It is normal if people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing are frayed.

We have all experienced tremendous amounts of change. No matter how resilient you may be or your ability to thrive in environments of chaos, the human brain loves routine. Our brains have automated hundreds of daily habits that save our energy and allow us to make quick decisions and avoid risks. Change is disruptive and makes us feel unsettled, especially when caused by things out of our control. Large amounts of change might represent loss and make us feel insecure. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, it’s your brain working hard to process and program new risks and habits.

Organizations expect to continue to undergo periods of transformative change, yet most of them are not fully equipped to manage it. Only 43% of employees say their organization is good at managing change, and just 25% of organizations say managing change is a major strength of senior leaders, according to our 2021 Employee Experience Survey. Those that have leaders and managers effective at leading change do better financially.

In May we addressed how employers can help prevent, identify and address burnout. This month, we are discussing how employers can help employees cope with change and feel more in control with the following four tips.

  1. 01

    Acknowledge change, communicate what is different and why

    Employers and workplaces had to rapidly respond to preserve employee safety, prompting a shift to remote working, which was an adjustment for many. Now, as workplaces adapt or reopen, employees are presented yet again with more change — whether it’s something completely new (hybrid) or an as-close-as-possible return to the way it was. Either way, employers need to communicate to employees what to expect and explain what will be different to help them prepare for the return to work. Keeping the employee experience in mind when communicating is critical and acknowledging that we’re each experiencing this change in our own way is key to delivering authentic messages. As you draft such communications, questions to consider and answer include:

    • Do your employees understand your new work policy?
    • How will it feel to return (or not)?
    • Do they feel supported?
  2. 02

    Avoid stigma

    We have all been vulnerable over the past year — we have virtually seen each other’s homes, met pets and loved ones, and experienced loss and grief. But perhaps the most important detail of all: We’ve collectively been in this together. Therefore, it is important to normalize and destigmatize the topic of mental health and emotional wellbeing by ensuring managers are asking, listening and sharing their own experiences. Acknowledge that change isn’t easy, and that it can and does impact us emotionally. Often a sense of relief comes simply from saying how we feel.

    Find opportunities to remind employees of wellbeing, mental health and time-off programs to help cope with stress, burnout and new ways of living and working. Use this moment when you have employee attention to engage employees in their personal health and benefits.

  3. 03

    Celebrate positives

    Organizations are aware of the stress and challenges employees have navigated and adapted to with heightened attention to employee wellbeing. Many organizations invested in technologies that are helping us to collaborate and work more efficiently and effectively. Many workplaces have proven that remote work and flexible work hours are a successful work model, popular with many employees with the added potential of opening hidden talent pools for employers.

    Recognize employees’ agility, thank them for their dedication and commitment to the company, celebrate success and connect it to changes. Employee wellbeing, flexible work and new technology at your organization may have contributed to higher customer service ratings, new customer wins, a successful quarter and employee retention. Celebrate the achievements and work anniversaries.

  4. 04

    Lead through the change

    The good news is employers have recognized these challenges. Employers must proactively address burnout and destigmatize mental health support, which includes commitment from leadership, and training and support for managers as well. Encourage an inclusive and supportive workplace. This can be addressed through multiple channels of workplace policies and benefit resources. Ensure employees and managers have easy access to services and resources for a variety of emotional health needs such as anxiety, depression, alcohol and substance use. While this is an ongoing effort, many employers are implementing emotional wellbeing platforms, and annual enrollment is the time to promote those — with managers, too.

Final thoughts

Acknowledging and addressing change, as well as its challenges and opportunities, sets employees up for success in creating new habits for the new workplace. Supporting employees’ emotional health and wellbeing through times of change with empathy and resources fosters inclusivity and a positive work culture.

Authors

Managing Director, Communication and Change Management

Director, Health and Benefits, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

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