It’s no secret that stress levels among workers have been on the rise amid the Covid-19 pandemic. However, reports of positive signs are beginning to appear. Steps that can cut stress among contingent workers and others are also making the rounds.
A survey of 2,000 workers across 10 industries conducted by The Travelers Cos. Inc. found that most workers reported some type of negative effect from mental health since the pandemic began but most of the respondents reported their mental state appears to be recovering. It found that 73% of workers surveyed described their mental health as excellent or good, up from 67% in the early months of the pandemic.
“It’s encouraging to see workers’ mental health trending back toward pre-pandemic levels because when employees are in a good mental state, they are safer, more productive and can often recuperate quicker if they do get hurt,” said Dr. Marcos Iglesias, VP and chief medical director at Travelers.
The news comes in May, which is Mental Health Month.
The good news is laced with concerns over stress and burnout among workers. For example, a survey released by The Conference Board among 1,100 US workers found that 59% cited mental/psychological wellbeing as their top concern at work. In addition, the return to the office for both contingents and directly employed workers may itself be a source of stress.
A survey by Limeade, an employee experience software company, found that 100% of respondents said they have some anxiety about returning to the office. Among the concerns, 77% cited being exposed to Covid-19 as their top source of anxiety, 71% cited less flexibility and 58% cited commuting.
The Limeade study also reported that burnout remains high overall with 60% of employees saying their company doesn’t discuss burnout with them. The poll included 4,553 full-time workers in France, Germany, the UK, Australia and the US.
The Travelers survey found that those with improved mental states used different means to cope with the stress, including looking for the positive given the situation. For example, when asked to name any “silver linings” they have experienced during the pandemic, 84% identified at least one of the following:
- Ability to multitask between personal and professional responsibilities
- Connecting with others virtually
- Having a job
- Not commuting
- Picking up a new hobby
- Saving money
- Working remotely
Exercise and spending time with family were also cited as top responses for managing stress and loneliness.
CW managers typically rely on staffing suppliers to follow up with contingent workers when it comes ensuring they are OK, says Dawn McCartney, VP of Contingent Workforce Strategies Council at SIA. Meanwhile, there are steps that managers of both contingent workers and others can take to help their teams avoid burning out.
Some include ensuring deadlines being set are reasonable and making sure workers get time to rest when needed, said Janice Litvin, a workplace wellness speaker based in the San Francisco Bay Area and author of the Banish Burnout Toolkit.
There are other ideas as well, according to Litvin, who has 20 years of experience as a technology recruiter and has worked with companies from Charles Schwab to Symantec to the US Army. In addition, she has worked as an IT consultant herself.
For example, managers need to be patient. Many managers are chosen for technical skills, but don’t always have an emotional intelligence background. In addition, there tends to be an attitude in tech of just grin and bear it. Training can help managers, and managers must also remember they are managing human beings and not machines. Workers’ needs must be taken into account. Remote work can be disrupted as children run in and out. And even when back in the office, things will still come up. “You have to be patient with people and know they are professionals and will get the job done,” Litvin says.
Vitamin D. Encourage workers to take time to get outdoors and get in the sun. “You’re sharper in the brain, you’re in a better mood, you’re just happier when you go outside,” Litvin says. Now that spring is here, companies might consider walking meetings — everybody agrees to join the meeting on their phones as they walk outside.
Buddy system. Another idea is an accountability buddy. Loneliness is a huge issue, she says, and remote work has made connections more difficult. One idea to combat loneliness is assigning workers an “accountability buddy” when they begin with a company. The accountability buddy could make sure new workers are connected, and the accountability buddy could come from a staffing firm as well and help introduce the worker to other contingents.
Smooth return. Onboarding for furloughed workers might also work to cut stress about returning to work. Staffing firm Randstad UK said a poll of 8,000 workers in the UK found that 45% of furloughed workers were anxious about returning to work. However, it found one best practice was having a good onboarding experience for returning workers. Its poll found of those who returned from furlough and classified their onboard experience as “good” or “very good,” only 32% were anxious, compared to 61% of returners who had either no onboarding or an experience they regarded as “poor” or “very poor.”
“Normally, the onboarding process would be reserved for introducing newly hired employees into an organization,” Randstad UK CEO Victoria Short said in a press release. “But these aren’t normal times and workers who have been furloughed for a year will benefit from some organizational socialization to help them integrate back into the wider company.”
Short noted that post-furlough onboarding can be far less lengthy then for onboarding of new employees, which can take a couple of weeks to be effective.
Wellness benefits. Whether a small stipend to join a gym or information on how to manage money, wellness benefits can help affect worker stress. Client firms could encourage staffing suppliers to provide such benefits.
Notably, the Travelers’ survey found a correlation between employer-provided resources and workers’ mental health. Thirty percent of respondents who believe their employer has provided ample mental health resources also reported that their ability to manage stress improved during the pandemic, and 33% noted that loyalty to their employer increased.
“It’s important to note that employers can positively affect the overall well-being of their employees by taking a more holistic view of their health beyond just physical safety,” Iglesias says.