Call it the new normal. Or the next normal. Or even a return to 2019. Just don’t assume that workers will compartmentalize and minimize their experiences from the past year. Employees might be coming back to work, but they’re not the same as they were before the pandemic. They’re returning to their workstations with fresh perspectives — and fresh wounds and worries.
Benefit News reports that anxiety has risen by 25% among women in the workplace and 40% among older employees since the start of the pandemic. Knowing this, it’s no wonder that two in three people are concerned about moving back into traditional office environments.
Companies need to prepare for the new reality to avoid a massive loss of productivity in the workplace and weakened staff morale. Yet it can be tough for many leaders to figure out what to do and how to do it. Although they might understand that their workers are struggling with feelings of insecurity and burnout, they also want to make up for lost time and revenue. It’s a tough balancing act by any standards.
Here’s the good news: The desire to earn profits isn’t incompatible with wanting a healthy, engaged workforce. Organizations can balance the needs of grief-stricken, worried workers with the needs of their companies.
The key is for employers to first acknowledge that no one is returning to work after Covid untouched. For some, their time has been spent dealing with the impacts of grief after losing loved ones, missing out on milestone moments because of health issues or family duties, losing stability, safety, security and going without access to support. Others carry burdens related to social unrest in the nation and the general upheaval of (and since) 2020.
Regardless of why they feel grief, worry or pressure, employees deserve the resources, benefits and training that best support them at their toughest times — not just their happiest.
Workers dealing with grief can’t bring their whole selves to work, which is only natural. Over time, their inability to concentrate on assignments chips away at efficiency, productivity and safety, both at an individual and corporate level. Grieving workers collectively cost companies an estimated $75 billion, and grief is a leading cause of workplace errors and accidents. Consequently, the choice to support team members in their grief can improve both engagement and your bottom line.
Of course, determining how to help employees through their grief can be overwhelming. Many companies have historically spent little time addressing grief in the workplace, particularly in any widespread way. Nevertheless, every company can start making positive, proactive changes by taking a few key steps to address employees’ emotional needs.
Most businesses offer employee assistance programs, or EAPs. Some also provide life insurance options for their workers. Although it's a good start, those plans do not address bereavement comprehensively. By its inherent makeup, life insurance does not generally provide in-depth assistance for bereavement or funeral planning. Similarly, EAPs may not tackle end-of-life or death experiences. Additionally, they’re underutilized across the board, posting usage rates of less than 10%.
This doesn’t mean life insurance and EAPs aren’t essential or valuable. They are and should absolutely be encouraged in order to increase their popularity and usage. At the same time, they’re not sufficient to help employees faced with the emotional fallout from the recent global health crisis. Other benefits, such as workshops and therapies that concentrate specifically on living with grief, PTSD and related mental health concerns should be used to fill in the gaps.
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