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Anxiety and stress have been a familiar presence to all of us over the last year. We felt it in our own lives and we saw it among our clients and their employees. In fact, the majority of calls made to Anthros’ Employee Assistance Program in 2020 were for anxiety.

With the amount of change caused by the coronavirus pandemic, this isn’t surprising. Nearly everything we did, from grocery shopping to childcare, was transformed to accommodate the realities and threats of the pandemic. We faced real fears about our health and the health of our loved ones. Millions were affected by furloughs and layoffs. Millions more went from working in offices to working at home. We experienced isolation and uncertainty.

Fortunately, with millions being vaccinated daily and businesses hiring again, there is good news on the horizon. As we get closer to beating the pandemic, employers should look back at lessons learned and evaluate strategies for helping employees cope with stress and anxiety.

Stress erodes productivity, motivation and morale. It stands in the way of success. So, what are some concrete tools and strategies employers can use to help employees respond to and manage anxiety and stress? What can employers do to create a culture that makes team members feel connected, cared for, and valued?

Employee Assistance Programs

Make professional help available to your employees. The easiest and most affordable way to do this is through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Through an EAP, your employees can connect with trained, experienced mental health counselors. This is an important resource for employees in times of crisis, including dealing with depression, grief, divorce or substance abuse. Yet an EAP also serves employees struggling with everyday stresses and anxiety, such as time management, work-life balance, and parenting and relationship challenges. The cost to the employer is small. The benefits are huge.

At Anthros, we are committed to supporting the wellbeing of our clients’ employees and have made our Employee Assistance Program a standard benefit for all. Our EAP gives both employees and members of their family 24/7 access to unlimited, confidential counseling in English, Spanish or French.

Engage in Conversation & Invite Feedback from Employees

While this seems obvious, it’s something many employers didn’t do during the pandemic: talk to employees. Focused on daily operations and keeping businesses afloat, employers didn’t always have time to seek out employee feedback. Many postponed or cancelled annual review processes. Plus, with so many employees working remotely, conversations that might have risen organically did not.

Your employees have been through a lot over this past year. Ask them what they need going forward. Ask what tools and resources can help them manage stress and balance their work and family obligations. Employee satisfaction or feedback surveys are an important tool for gathering and documenting this information. However, managers should also make time for one-on-one and small group conversations, virtually or in-person.

Remember that these conversations go both ways. Employers also need to communicate clearly to employees, including expectations and policy changes. Uncertainty is a primary cause of stress, which means that employers who don’t communicate clearly and consistently to employees are only creating more stress for their teams.

Provide Training & Development

How many employees had to take on new roles and responsibilities, often without adequate preparation, during the pandemic? Feeling unprepared or ill equipped to succeed is another top cause of workplace stress.

Employees who have time and access to training feel more confident doing their jobs and are less likely to be overwhelmed. Giving employees the opportunity to gain new skills can also inspire a sense of purpose and motivation in employees. It shows you are invested in their future.

Keep in mind that many employees don’t know how to create a training plan or where to go for training resources. They may not have time to pursue professional development outside of work hours. To make training accessible to all, you can incorporate time for it into employees’ work schedules. You can provide a training platform and resources specific to your industry. Managers can also help employees create formal training plans. Though these expenses appear to take away from the bottom line, they actually reduce turnover and empower your employees to make a greater contribution over time.

Help Employees Balance Work & Home Lives

Too often we view employees’ work and home lives as being separate. It is important to recognize that an individual’s value at work is tied to their ability to have fulfilling, successful lives outside of work and be able to spend time with their families.

Sometimes employers unwittingly create a culture that values stress. Employees feel like they are expected to put in long hours. They feel guilty taking breaks or vacations. But this is not sustainable and leads to burnout and employee turnover.

Creating a culture of empathy is something that has to come from a company’s leadership and management team. They are the ones who must demonstrate empathy and show respect for employees’ obligations outside of work.

Make Wellbeing a Company Value & Commitment

Finally, as an employer, you can take the lead in bringing conversations about wellbeing, especially mental health, into the workplace. You may not have the resources to implement a full-fledged wellness program but there are many small ways you can show your commitment to wellbeing.

Encourage your employees to step away from their desk for short breaks during the day. Invite employees to try meditation or journaling or whatever activity best fits your workplace. Educate your employees about how stress affects our bodies and brains and promote your Employee Assistance Program.

If you offer a group health insurance plan, don’t forget to check with your broker or carrier about wellness programs and benefits that may already be included. Many health plans offer wellness and nutrition programs to their members at no additional cost. Employees don’t always have a full understanding of what’s included in their benefit plans, so employers should make it a priority to get out this information.

Ultimately, it is up to a company’s leaders and managers to set the tone of a workplace. By demonstrating an honest commitment to wellbeing and making space for these conversations in the workplace, employers create a culture that nurtures employees and helps them rebound quickly when faced with anxiety and stress.


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