After a uniquely challenging and disruptive year, many employees are struggling. In January, an employee trends study found that 34% of respondents reported feeling burned out, a 7% year-over-year increase. What’s more, the latest Household Pulse Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that 37% of survey respondents feel anxious or depressed, a startling 26% increase since 2019.
Meanwhile, the work continues. The global economy is expected to expand 6% this year, a revised figure reflecting increasing optimism about the economic potential in a post-pandemic world. To prepare, some teams are returning to the office, while others are creating permanent offices in their living rooms. Regardless of a company’s work arrangements, their fortunes are inextricably contingent on healthy, happy, and productive teams.
As HR professionals grapple with the implications of this moment, here are three priorities that can enhance employee well-being during this critical time.
#1 Promote Work-Life Balance
Even before the pandemic, work-life balance was a significant challenge for an always-on workforce armed with smartphones and laptops that made work possible anytime, anywhere.
Of course, the transition to remote or hybrid work models literally eliminated the distinction between work responsibilities and home life, and employees responded accordingly, adding as many as three hours to the average workday.
As one ominous headline declared, “COVID Killed Work-Life Balance.” HR leaders now need to revive this critical priority, realigning principles, policies, and procedures to promote healthy teams.
Workers need to feel entitled to their personal time, free from the obligation to reply to a late-night email or craft a weekend memo. People will continue eroding work-life balance if they feel they are being measured by this metric. Therefore, both implicit and explicit permission is required. Make work expectations clear, and model best practices to set the tone for the entire organization.
#2 Maximize Employee Efficiency Models
Critically, restoring work-life balance doesn’t have to undermine operational outcomes or forward organizational progress. Rather, these efforts should work in tandem with efficiency initiatives, empowering employees to maximize their personal potential as well as their professional contributions.
Many companies implemented employee monitoring solutions during the pandemic, and the productivity software they utilized provides a readily available data set to make informed efforts to streamline operations.
For example, hybrid workers identify extended periods of uninterrupted time as a pivotal part of a productive workflow. Meanwhile, the National Bureau of Economic Research identified a significant increase in the number of meetings, emails, and calendar events that pulled people away from their core responsibilities.
To address these concerns, companies like Microsoft turned to employee behavior analytics to generate workplace norms that optimize employee efficiency. Specifically, the company identified three hours each morning when employees were most productive. In response, leaders asked managers to avoid scheduling meetings and minimize distractions during this time.
Harnessing behavior analytics derived from employee monitoring can support productivity optimization, providing tangible ways that HR professionals can instruct teams in sustainable work patterns.
#3 Take a Vacation
To foster flourishing teams, HR departments need employees to take time off. However, even before the pandemic, Americans were reluctant to take time away from the office, leaving half of their paid time off unused annually. The pandemic exacerbated this problem as travel restrictions, health concerns, and economic uncertainty prevented people from using vacation days.
The consequences are both personal and financial. The Harvard Business Review reports, “Research shows the benefits of vacations to employee productivity and the economy—both of which are currently under threat. Unused vacations have cost U.S. businesses $224 billion a year.”
In other words, thriving companies need their employees to take a vacation. HR departments can play a central role in this priority by developing and instituting policies that encourage workers to take a break. This might include:
- Allowing employees to roll over vacation days unused during the pandemic;
- Requiring employees to take a minimum number of vacation days;
- Modeling the importance of time off;
- Respecting personal boundaries when workers are on vacation; and
- Making it as easy as possible for workers to schedule vacation and personal days.
Teams are more creative, collaborative, and effective when they are rested and refreshed. Prevent burnout and promote long-term excellence by making vacation time a cultural value and operational imperative.
A Closing Thought
HR departments are often the office facilitators. They are the professionals that ensure the business runs smoothly and efficiently. In a post-pandemic landscape, these responsibilities are amplified as HR professionals support exhausted, sometimes fragile, teams that need the resources to thrive.
It’s a tall order, but it’s one that HR departments are equipped to handle, especially when they give time and attention to the priorities that matter most. Restoring work-life balance, maximizing efficiency, and normalizing time off can effectively lead companies in the right direction.