The business community is going through one of its most challenging trials in history with the COVID-19 pandemic and the responding public health measures. As states and cities roll out guidance to allow businesses to reopen, CEOs are moving quickly to roll out business reboot plans. From financial and operational adjustments to workplace safety concerns, business leaders have a lot to contemplate to make their companies thrive again post-COVID-19.
The state of the workforce is another critical factor in CEO decision-making during the reboot. It’s not just considering how to return workers from furlough and rehire laid off employees. Leaders also need to be aware of the stress, uncertainty and emotions employees are experiencing right now.
Here are some observations from studies and surveys that can inform CEOs about workforce concerns as businesses prepare to return to the office or workplace:
Risk of burnout is rising—especially for women
As an executive, there’s no double you have been feeling a lot of stress and anxiety these past weeks and months. So have all of your employees. At first, everyone thought only a couple of weeks would be needed at home. Today—10,000 scary news headlines and a flurry of government orders later—many workers are facing their third month away from the workplace. They feel uncertain about the future of their health, their job security, and the wellbeing of their families.
According to an April survey of 6,789 people, 73% of working professionals are suffering from burnout, compared to 61% in mid-February, just six weeks earlier before COVID-19 shutdowns began. Research released May 11, 2020 by the Society for Human Resources Managers (SHRM) revealed 41% of workers feel “burnt out, drained, or exhausted” by their jobs.
Women have suffered a particularly acute stress burden during the pandemic. A recent survey of over 3,000 working adults found women are shouldering most of the additional housework caused by having the family at home 24/7 and of the additional time needed to support homeschooling children. It’s not a few extra hours each day; these responsibilities are adding more than an additional full-time job. As a result, women are experiencing more burnout symptoms than men. More than half of women (52%) are experiencing trouble sleeping, compared to 32% of men. Twice as many women experience severe anxiety symptoms like racing heart than men.
Leadership tip: Small to midsize businesses will need to think of new ways to help employees deal with burnout. A vacation isn’t going to cut it when people are afraid to travel. Leaders need to find flexibility for working moms who are either caring for relatives at home or who do not yet have access to their normal child care.
Many employees are struggling with loneliness and depression
While some of your employees are feeling overwhelmed with increased homeschooling, housework and family obligations, other employees may be feeling more alone and sad than they ever have before. According to research from insurance firm, Cigna, 61% of American adults report they are lonely–up seven percent from 2018. Lonely works are much more likely to miss work due to illness and stress, report feeling less engaged and productive, and think about quitting their jobs twice as often as non-lonely workers.
Leadership tip: Remote work during COVID-19 crisis could exacerbate feelings of loneliness. Managers and team leaders should make an effort to improve team cohesion and provide tools to help team members communicate freely and easily with each other.
Loneliness, fear and change can all contribute to feelings of sadness and depression. Nearly one-quarter of employees reported feeling “down, depressed or hopeless” often in the SHRM survey this week. Worse yet, more than one-third of employees have found nothing to help them cope with those feelings yet.
Leadership tip: It is normal for life-altering, short-term events to cause situational depression. But for some this can progress into a more serious major depression. Make employees aware of mental health benefits available in your company’s health plan so they know how to get help if they need it.
Overall, employees feel under-supported by the bossNearly two in three employers say they’ve had difficulty managing employee morale during the crisis. Experts advise approaching employees with caring, flexibility, honesty and transparency to help them feel supported. In spite of the rising stress and anxiety, less than half (41%) of employees have had a manager or HR professional check in about their wellbeing. It’s even worse among essential workers in the workplace; fewer than one-quarter have had anyone at work check on their well-being.
Leadership tip: When an employee feels lonely and stressed, having their manager take time to reach out and demonstrate they care can make a big difference.
Some prefer working from home, others crave the office
An April panel survey by Gallup showed that 62% of American workers said they had worked from home during the COVID-19 crisis. Prior to the pandemic, many employees dreamed of working from home. Some have found it was everything they wanted–a better work-life balance and the end of frustrating commutes. Others discovered working at home with children and pets wasn’t the productivity panacea they expected.
Now that it’s been a reality for a while, employee feelings about remote work are somewhat mixed. While 59% of workers who have worked from home want to continue to work remotely, the other 41% would prefer to return to the office.
Leadership tip: Evaluate how working from home has impacted your business operations and workforce productivity. If things have gone well, continue to leverage telework flexibility to help employees feel safe during the transition and to shield at-risk employees until more therapeutics or a vaccine become available.
Most are concerned about returning to the workplace
Several surveys have been conducted to gauge how employees who have been working from home or furloughed/laid off feel about returning to work now. During the first week of May, PwC surveyed workers who have been working from home and found 70% said something would prevent them from going back into the office if their employer asked them to return. When asked why, 51% said they worried about getting sick. Respondents indicated that having children at home or taking care of ill family members heightened their anxiety about returning to the workplace. Many were also unwilling to take public transportation to get to work.
Leadership tip: Clear, honest and timely communication about how the company plans to ensure the safety of employees will go a long way to easing their anxiety. Consider things like masks, cleaning, and ways to make getting to work easier, such as staggering hours and securing more parking for personal automobiles.
Leaders need soft skills and problem solving ideas
It’s not everyday that business leaders need to consider the impact of human emotions on continuing operations and workforce productivity. But COVID-19 is new territory for employees and business owners alike. CEOs need to understand the fears and feelings employees are experiencing as they lead into the transition back to full operations. Where possible, helping to break down barriers standing between employees and returning to the workplace will instill greater confidence—whether that’s helping employees find childcare, creating more private workspaces, or expanding parking so people can drive instead of taking public transportation.
Soft skills will be really important during your business reboot. CEOs that take extra effort to listen and empathize, offer flexibility where possible, and communicate with transparency and compassion can foster greater employee loyalty. If your return-to-work planning would benefit from human capital management experts specialized in the workforce issues of small and midsized businesses, Asure can help.