Caregivers need greater flexibility and new boundaries
The pandemic has caused what one UN expert calls ‘a crisis of care,’ where responsibilities such as raising children, supporting the elderly, and sustaining connections in larger communities have been severely disrupted. While both sexes have been impacted, the weight of these duties has disproportionately fallen on women, who spend longer hours on unpaid childcare and domestic work. Women are also more likely to have to leave their jobs because of increased unpaid demands: 1 in 4 women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely.
With teams working from home, as a leader you need to ensure that your employees’ personal and professional worlds are in sync. Make sure you’re aware of who in your company is a caregiver, and offer them more flexible hours, or perhaps discuss the possibility of a four-day week schedule. Ultimately, you want to make sure that individuals tell you what works for them, not the other way around.
When it comes to meetings, suggest phone calls instead of only video calls. Employees are already at risk of Zoom fatigue, so switching up the medium can be a breath of fresh air and also means they don’t feel the pressure of being on camera and looking presentable. Make sure that all your team members respect people’s off-hours, and avoid sending Slack messages outside of their preferred working times or ‘urgent’ emails at the end of the day. This is particularly important for management, who have to rethink their expectations around when people are available.
Mental health support should be open to – and dictated by – employees
Mental health providers have witnessed an unprecedented surge in demand during the pandemic. Since the onset of the crisis, 75% of U.S. workers say they have struggled due to anxiety, while the number of adults experiencing depression has tripled in the United States.
Mental health has become such a prevalent issue among workers that 80% say they would consider leaving their company for a job that focuses more on employees’ wellbeing. However, people don’t necessarily want their employer knowing that they are struggling with mental health, so leaders need to find ways to provide discreet but accessible support. The aim should be to create systems that allow employees to reach out for assistance without assuming that they have to talk about their personal lives in a work environment.
For starters, founders can create a fund that workers can anonymously tap into for counselling, renting a coworking space, paying for child support, a dog walker or anything that makes their day-to-day life easier. Such funds are already being set up by executives from Comcast and Union Square Hospitality Group, who have taken a percentage of their salary to build the financial pool for workers.
Another option is to provide employees with a range of tools to maintain positive mental health. You could introduce software like Wellbot in your company, which uses desktop notifications to remind employees to hydrate, eat well, and take regular screen breaks. You could offer memberships to online counselling platforms like BetterHelp and TalkSpace or a subscription to well-being apps.
Alternatively, you could invest in wearable technology for employees, like TouchPoint wristbands, which emit vibrations to disengage standard stress responses and help people form behavioral patterns to reduce stress over time. For employees with intellectual disabilities, Awake Labs has a smartwatch and app that displays levels of strong emotions in real time, and notifies the wearer or caregiver if levels start to increase – meaning staff can take action before their emotions escalate.
The pandemic has forced a reawakening around diversity and inclusion, and while that awareness matters, it doesn’t automatically equate to progress. Old issues are evolving and new issues are surfacing, and businesses need to continuously build atop learnings from 2020 to represent all of society in the new conditions. The conversation around D&I is gaining volume, but there’s a way to go before everyone is heard.
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