4 things bosses can do to help with quarantine stress

Quarantine continues to drag on in the US as we wait for a vaccine and many Americans are still working from home. What started as a nice break from the office back in March is starting to feel like groundhog day. Many are feeling stressed and cooped up as we repeat the same cycle day to day from inside of our homes.

A survey conducted by Hibob, an HR services company, reported a 33% drop in mental health and well-being overall.

Furthermore, a separate survey by Limeade revealed that 49% of employees report having less energy for activities outside of work, 42% are having trouble sleeping, and alcohol and substance use has gone up 33%.

Bosses may be feeling the pressure, too, especially when it comes to helping their employees navigate these new changes and manage stress.

“We saw that managers feel a great deal of pressure and responsibility for their teams and how they’re doing and that managers continue to be looked to as a source of support,” Reetu Sandhu, senior manager of research at Limeade, said. “They’re not only feeling that pressure but also navigating their own reality [during the pandemic].”

And studies show it is important for managers to provide support to their teams right now. A quarterly survey of business leaders by Principal Financial Group showed that 44% of business leaders reported a decline in employee morale. And 48% of leaders said more employees are asking about or utilizing mental health benefits.

“As companies continue to power through the pandemic, they cannot ignore their role in supporting employees who are struggling,” Hibob CEO Ronni Zehavi said.

If you don’t know where to start helping, you’re not alone. Here are four things bosses can do right now to help their team manage quarantine stress.

1. Check-in regularly

Not being in the office with your employees every day means it’s not as easy to pop by their desk to check in on projects and tasks. You’ll need to make it a priority to check in regularly via video chat, phone call, or even a messaging platform like Slack.

Psychiatrist Dr. Paul McLaren suggests that getting on the phone may be the best option. But whatever you do, don’t rely on email as your main form of communication with your team — especially when dealing with quarantine stress.

“If you are dealing with challenging or emotive issues as a boss, don’t rely on email communication. You can miss and misinterpret a lot in an email if you or your employees are already in an emotional state,” McLaren said. “If you are trying to deal with a sensitive issue, then pick up the phone or use the webcam.”

Daily check-ins with your team will not only help you stay up to date with work-related projects, but also gives you an opportunity to listen and pay attention to their needs. McLaren said it’s important to remember that many people are dealing with new stressors at home, like children or loved ones who may be ill or at risk. Giving your team time to discuss non-work related topics may provide an outlet and help relieve some stress.

“If you are leading a team, then give them time to interact whether that is for a few minutes at the start of a call or videoconference or even build in some informal ‘watercooler’ time,” he said.

According to research from Mental Health America (MHA), a positive relationship between coworkers and managers is the top reason employees feel satisfied at work. So, it’s important to continue to cultivate those relationships virtually.

2. Listen to your team’s needs

It’s important to not only do daily check-ins with team members but to take the opportunity to really listen to their needs. McLaren said it’s also important to remember everyone is handling things a little differently right now.

“The current crisis has brought enforced home working and it is important for bosses to recognize that some employees may find it a lot more difficult than others,” he said. “We are social creatures and it is easy to forget the feelings of security and calmness that come from just being around other people. How much we need that will vary widely between individuals.”

However, keep in mind that some employees may not feel comfortable asking about these resources, depending on how your company has handled mental health-related issues historically.

“Companies who are consistently compassionate about the mental well-being of their employees are showing great efforts to be even more conscious about the impact of COVID,” Jennifer Thornton, an executive coach and the founder of 304 Coaching said. “Leaders that have struggled with understanding mental health in the past may continue to struggle during this time.”

Therefore, it is the manager’s job to make sure their team knows what resources are available to them — before they have to ask.

“Make sure you’re communicating even more about the resources that are available,” Sandhu said. “If not an EAP [employee assistance program], what else is available? This pandemic has highlighted that we’re human, and mental health will always be part of our reality. It’s not temporary. It’s not going to go away.”

3. Be flexible

With so much change continuing to happen, it might be good to loosen the reigns a little bit when it comes to expectations, time management, and other things. Being patient and flexible with your team will allow them space to figure out what works best for them when it comes to meeting goals and completing projects to the best of their ability.

“A number of employers are allowing employees to … start earlier or work later or allowing them to take a longer break midday so that they can meet the needs of their children, in addition to the needs of their job,” Denise Myers, national director of behavioral health services for Marathon Health, said.

Organizational psychologist Irina Cozma agreed that flexibility, especially when it comes to work hours, may be crucial in allowing your employees to manage both their physical and mental health during this time.

“A flexible schedule will also allow people to do shopping at hours that are not too crowded, which could be yet another source of stress,” she said.

A good way to manage these changes with your team is to schedule individual meetings with employees to discuss their needs and how you can work with them to meet those, while still accomplishing tasks and meeting goals. Being empathetic and patient here will likely go a long way in boosting morale.

“As leaders, we must be compassionate and recognize everyone’s journey is uniquely theirs and we must place mental health as a priority,” Thornton said.

4. Be transparent

This might be the best thing you can do for your team during these stressful times. With so much uncertainty going on in the world, transparency will go a long way in easing your employees’ anxiety.

Hibob CEO Ronni Zehavi said. “Transparency up and down the organization is paramount to creating a strong culture,” Zehavi said. “Without open communication, the struggles employees are facing may go unrecognized, which could impact their productivity and job satisfaction and, therefore, the organization overall.”

Research shows that information sharing can be seen as an indicator of trust, so building that with your employees will help create a safe place for them to discuss their fears and needs.

Sandhu said that vulnerability, even about your own personal needs, can help normalize those conversations and build safety among your team as well.

“It’s important to go first and share how you’re doing. If you focus on your own well-being and say, ‘I’m going to take a mental health day, or go and have a lunch with my family, or pick up my child from daycare,’ talking about this out loud is something you’re doing not only for your own well-being, but it sets an example to say it’s OK to talk about this out loud and create this new normal for your own team,” Sandhu said.