According to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, the impact of the pandemic on people’s health is already extremely concerning and they must be treated as a core element of response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Bala Mahadevan
We are navigating unchartered waters with the COVID-19 pandemic that has presented new and unique challenges. Most of the world’s workforce is working from home, full-time for the first time, isolated from colleagues, friends and in many cases their families. In India around 90% of IT workers are remotely clocking in their time, something that many workers had never had to do before and it had to happen rapidly, almost overnight in some cases. This had led to anxiety and stress that has impacted overall well-being and productivity. According to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, the impact of the pandemic on people’s health is already extremely concerning and they must be treated as a core element of response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In India, within a week of the start of the nationwide lockdown, the number of reported cases of mental illness had grown by 20%, as reported in a research by the Indian Psychiatry Society. Even counselling firms in India reported a 35% to 40% increase in cases of stress and panic attacks in April versus previous months. Researchers say that the continuous flow of news notifications, emails, virtual meetings, and social media updates – coupled with mandates to work from home and stay inside – are taking a toll on a person’s overall wellbeing. Research has shown that the impact of stress, anxiety and mental illness on productivity could amount to $16.3 trillion in economic losses by 2030.
Balancing business continuity and employee wellbeing
Today, Digital Wellbeing is being integrated into the business continuity plans of corporates across the world. A successful business continuity plan should balance business needs with people needs and reassure employees they are safe and healthy while fulfilling their work. Companies should not neglect employees’ Digital Wellbeing, and if they can help employees stay mentally resilient during a crisis period, they will reap the benefits. Workers will be in a better condition to bounce back faster when organizations return to some degree of normalcy.
Organizations should take into consideration how dramatically workers’ lives have changed. They must help employees leverage digital technology to not just enhance productivity and presence but develop a sense of routine and connectedness. An amalgamation of both can have a positive effect on their mental health. Companies can encourage their employees to do whatever will help them mitigate stress and mental wellbeing, proactively.
Employers can help workers set up a place to work remotely that is as free of distractions as possible. And avoid using the bed as the workplace since it’s the prime cause of back-pains. Developing a routine according to the standard working schedule with regular breaks, including a lunch break, and daily goals can aid in maintaining a balanced lifestyle. Employers should also suggest their workers to take a break from their laptops and not start working the moment they wake up in the morning – lengthy exposure to blue light from the laptop can be detrimental to eyesight.
FOMO or fear of missing out on important updates and calls can make employee anxious and allow stress to seep in. Instead, employers should encourage employees to rely on reputable sources to stay updated about the pandemic and avert over-information. Speculation can be nerve-wracking and prove to be extremely stressful. They should also be invited to have informal, light conversations with each other to discuss their lives independent of work. And if organization offered employee support services provided by HR in the workplace, they should promote those more than ever now. Employees should know who they can contact and talk to internally.
Keeping connected with the workforce
Employees working from home are looking for opportunities for growth and development. It can encourage in them a sense of normality and give them an alternative focus. For example, it can be good for workers to be connected to volunteering opportunities, community support schemes, and local food banks. These, too, can help foster overall well-being and alleviate stress.
While companies across the globe are working their way through the pandemic, it offers them opportunities to improve how they do business and manage their people. Workers’ Digital Wellbeing is one such area. In these times of uncertainty, employers can play a vital role in helping employees adapt to the new normal. Organization and HR leaders today have a much higher responsibility to become a source of trust and comfort for employees during a crisis and help them bounce back in the long term.
Most employers did not have the time to train and prepare their workforce before they began to work from home. However, the disruption of daily routines made it essential to find new ways to work and interact. But, as more organizations and employees accept the new normal – working in remote isolation, mental, physical and emotional health is more important than ever before. Cultivating Digital Wellbeing can include finding balance between breaks and screen-time; getting better sleep by scheduling the day; staying active by keeping a track on workouts; and taking time to de-stress, by relaxing with your friends and family. Finding a balance between business productivity and digital health will be vital to ensuring productivity without impacting the workforce’s well-being.
(The author is CEO of Orange Business Services – India. Views expressed are personal.)