Creating a Culture of Wellness in a Remote or Hybrid Environment

Maribeth Savoie
Maribeth Savoie

While many companies believed working-from-home would be a short-term solution to adhere to safety precautions of the COVID-19 pandemic, over one year later, employers are reconsidering what it looks like to continue remote or hybrid working even after it becomes safe to return to the office again. 

In a recent poll of Active Minds’ network, 85% of employees shared that at least an option to work from home from time to time would be welcomed even post-COVID. Still, remote working is not always easy. What’s more, when not physically present in the office, remote employees can also sometimes feel or be excluded or forgotten.

Remote working opens up the door to blurred lines between work and home life, potentially leading to the inability to “leave work at the office.” Employees are experiencing levels of burnout that have never been seen before in recent history due to the abrupt transition into remote arrangements, coupled with chronic stress and anxiety over the fate of the pandemic. Job insecurity, long periods of isolation, work-life imbalance, and uncertainty of the future are just a few of the effects of the pandemic that have contributed to impaired mental wellness. As we get closer to approaching a new variation of normal, employers and employees must work together to find solutions that are supporting the lasting mental health effects of the pandemic. 

All that considered, remote and hybrid working will likely be here to stay long after the pandemic is over, and we’ve compiled a list of considerations for employers as they seek to support their employees wherever they are located around the world. 

What employers can do:

Listen. Create an open environment for dialogue to discuss challenges among your employees. Continue to reiterate to your teams that your virtual door is still open. You may even find value in creating an anonymous feedback form for employees who may feel uncomfortable bringing their concerns to you. 

Validate any concerns, challenges, and stressors that your employees bring to you. Let them know that it’s okay to not be okay and they made the right choice coming to you. Be sure to provide grace and understanding when employees express mental health struggles. 

Be open and flexible in offering special working arrangements if needed, on a case by case basis. Be aware that your employees are likely juggling much more from home than they were at the office. 

Proactively check-in. Be mindful that even your strongest employees may be suffering in silence. Continued isolation is a real stressor for many employees no matter their history of stress and mental health issues. Not everyone has a great or safe home-life and some employees may even live solo. For many employees, the office environment used to provide a social outlet. Additionally, understand that not everyone’s home environment is conducive to working remotely. Periodically ask your teams if their needs are being met working from home.

Investigate your team’s needs. Perhaps determine how your team appreciates being acknowledged and rewarded for good work. Some employees feel the extra pressure to “feel seen” and “always be on” by their team in fear of not doing enough or fear of potential job insecurity. These types of employees may overcompensate by overworking and burning themselves out. Make sure you are remembering to go out of your way to offer praise since it’s not as simple as walking into someone’s office or cubicle anymore. 

Highlight resources. Bring light to any important resources such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or resources that may support employee mental health and wellbeing. 

Model positive language and healthy habits. Your employees, especially new hires, are taking note of how senior leadership prioritizes their mental health, wellbeing, and work-life boundaries and likely feel expected to model the same behaviors. 

Help employees set boundaries. Despite seemingly more flexibility and time to get work done within the comforts of one’s home, not having the separation between work and home life has made it difficult for employees to draw a line when the work day is over. This leaves many employees leaving the laptop notifications on and feeling the need to be reachable well beyond the end of the workday, and sometimes through the weekend. 

Thoughtfully decide on the format of meetings. Ask yourself if the meeting needs a video component? If not, perhaps, give your employees’ eyes a break from time to time to reduce zoom fatigue and eye strain and encourage a quick walking meeting for less detailed meetings.

Encourage self-care activities throughout the work day such as walking meetings, group stretches, or workout breaks. Also, promote good sleep hygiene and hydration. Remember that modeling goes a long way in cultivating a healthy workplace culture. 

Provide education and awareness of common mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression and seek to reduce the stigma about mental health in your work culture. 

Redefine policies such as “sick time.” As employers, we have the ability to make it clear that mental health is as valid a reason to use sick time as physical health and that the health and wellbeing of loved ones and dependents counts, as well.

Enhance productivity tools, work-flow protocols, project management software, and leadership support to encourage working smarter not harder. These support systems are related to increased performance and wellbeing among employees.

Curious about how you can support your employees with self-advocating for their needs? Or are you in a tight spot with a manager, looking for resources to support you with a tough conversation? Check out our tips in a previous blog post here.