Covid-19 has affected both our home and work life. With a lot of people now working from home and getting zoomed out from never-ending zoom calls and long hours of sitting, the focus for wellness programs can’t be understated. As the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths continue to rise in Malawi all of us are affected one way or another. From dealing with the fear of catching the virus or having sick loved ones whom we can’t visit in hospitals and worse conducting funerals of loved ones under Covid-19 restrictions is all too much on our emotional wellbeing. It is the priority of leadership in organizations to improve employee wellness during these unprecedented times.
As champions of learning in organizations, there are some things that the Learning and Development (L&D) team can take lead on to influence leadership into improving the wellness and mental health of employees during these difficult times.
L&D needs to curate mental health/wellness resources that are readily available out there. There are a lot of organizations that produce quality materials that focus on mental health issues in the workplace. Majority of the managers have never managed remote teams; L&D needs to develop or source programs to empower these managers and also closely work with them to determine their needs are during these times and work with agility to resolve those needs. Micromanagement is one of the main challenges faced by remote managers. L&D needs to empower managers with the necessary leadership skills such as coaching, communication and planning to avoid micromanaging their teams. Most employees experience stress from constantly checking emails when working from home because of how their managers work with them. When managers set clear expectations and their direct reports know what’s expected from them, there is no need to micromanage.
As more employees are working from home, the normal work hours are no longer clear. Employees are working longer hours and staying on endless zoom calls leading to more stress and exhaustion. Working in collaboration with the Human Resources team; exercise challenges can be introduced, and participants can be recognized companywide to encourage others to take part. The Marketing team can also be utilized to craft wellness communication campaigns for example; to encourage people to take mental breaks, drink water, eat lunch, and take stretching breaks during the workday.
Now more than ever is the time to bring humanity into organizations. L&D needs to champion creating safe spaces where leaders share their personal challenges during this period and also open up room for everyone to share. Working from home can be isolating for some people. When leaders share their human side and create forums where employees are allowed to share it can be very therapeutic to the organization or team.
Trainings for managers to be able to recognize mental health signs during the early stages is very essential at this time. Managers are not expected to become mental health experts but must be able to flag any issues at an early stage. HR should work with management to put into place appropriate strategies for dealing with mental health issues. An effective mental health and wellbeing strategy considers prevention, early intervention and protection. There must be collaborative effort in organizations to reduce work stress during this difficult time, being transparent with all business decisions and having an open culture where employees feel cared for and supported. For organizations without L&D teams; HR or senior management can work on implementing these tips.
Mary Chokani Mphonda, PMP, FLPI, is an Instructional Designer, Learning and Development Professional, a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP), a Certified Performance Consultant, a Fellow of the Learning and Performance Institute (FLPI). She is currently working as the Chief Learning Officer at Transform 2 Excel, a Professional Learning and Development Consultancy Firm.