Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be a lot of LinkedIn posts featuring concerns about the reduced pace in workforce productivity at various companies. Some project leaders may jump to the conclusion that employees are taking advantage of the reduced amount of supervision they have in their Work-From-Home (WFH) situations. This mistrust in one’s employees is probably misguided: instead of intentionally taking longer to accomplish their tasks, workers are most likely trying to cope with the amount of stress present in their personal and professional lives during unprecedented times. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, stress can present itself with feelings of irritation, uncertainty, lack of motivation, depression, trouble concentrating, and constantly feeling fatigued. As project managers, it is important to realize that your workers are most likely experiencing many aspects of this laundry-list of symptoms, and the fact that their stress might be interpreted as laziness instead of a mental health problem adds even more anxiety to the situation. Instead of creating an environment in which employees feel their worth only extends to their efficiency in getting work done, think about implementing the following suggestions to reduce workforce stress and increase workforce community.
Firstly, you need to reestablish a sense of routine for your employees as quickly as possible. We are creatures of habit, so when the normal standards of operation are interrupted, workers can feel lost and untethered. This means that you need to provide a balance between safety and familiarity for your staff. For instance, your weekly staff meetings may have been in the main galley on Thursdays at 10am pre-pandemic. Although it is no longer safe to have these big meetings in the same physical space, keeping the date and time the same as before is a small thing you can do to make office business feel more normal for everyone. Emphasize to your workforce the importance of keeping start/stop times, meeting times, lunch breaks, etc. congruous with previous operations.
You also need to keep your workers apprised of all relevant news, changes, and statuses within the company. Working from home is isolating by design. Your employees are physically safer at home, but without the reassurance they normally receive from daily interactions with coworkers, they can feel alone and in the dark. Because of this lack in communication, mental health can wane, which lessens productivity, which causes insecurity, and so the downward spiral begins. As a leader in your company or organization, you need to make sure that your most valuable asset—your dedicated workforce—is well cared for. This means that internal communication should be transparent. When secrets are kept from employees during hard times, it makes them uneasy. Tell your workers what is happening with the company, reward them for their good work, and listen to their questions and suggestions. When your staff feels appreciated, heard, and in-the-know, it can focus less on worry and more on work.
Lastly—and maybe most importantly—a great way to keep your workers’ stress levels down is by assuring that they will not be punished for contracting COVID-19. Amending your company’s sick leave policy to cover the recovery time of a Coronavirus case will illustrate to your workforce that employee health is your top priority. This way, employees will not have to worry about their pay if they become ill with COVID. More information on this proposal can be found at the Department of Labor’s website linked here.
A global pandemic will cause enough anxiety in itself without having to worry about work duties. Your employees’ stress levels are at an all-time high at the moment, which is a known factor in decreased productivity. Instead of coming down hard on workers for not meeting pre-pandemic standards, first try out a few of the solutions above. You may find the problem can be solved with a little extra communication and reassurance.