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3 Actions Leaders Can Take to Help Employees Cope with Stress

The workplace is a difficult place to navigate these days. Estimates indicate 80 percent of employees have been impacted as a result of Covid-19. The pressure of working during this health and economic crisis is causing anxiety, frequent distractions, and financial concerns. The Covid-19 Pulse Survey, conducted by the Willis Towers Watson’s Research and Innovation Center, identifies actions employers and company leadership can take to mitigate these three concerns and improve employees’ situation. 

In the words of one respondent, “radical honesty is necessary.” Based on the report’s findings, there are immediate steps employers can take to help employees better cope with these “real and severe” problems.

  • Reduce anxiety: Offer employees support to better manage stress and improve wellbeing 
  • Reduce Distractions: Build stronger teams to address work distractions
  • Reduce Financial worry: Focus on the basics fundamentals of operating the business

1. High-levels of Anxiety
It’s not surprising 92 percent of employees are feeling anxious. More than 76 percent of respondents are now working from home. Companies had little time to plan and lacked experience in mentally preparing employees for the emotional challenges of working in isolation or managing competing priorities outside of a structured work environment.

  • Fifty-five percent feel a moderate to a high degree of anxiety
  • Fifty-seven percent are finding ways to cope with the added stress
  • Thirty-nine percent believe their co-workers feel the same levels of stress

The survey indicates that employees who can manage problems outside of work can better adapt to stress. Their level of moderate to high stress was 49 percent. The percentage was significantly higher (80 percent) for employees who had difficulty managing stress outside of work. 

How Employers Can Help
Offer wellbeing support and acknowledge what employees are feeling. Research shows that the best way to reduce anxiety is to engage with managers who understand employees’ job challenges directly. These are the people in the best position to communicate the actions being taken by the company to protect everyone’s health and wellbeing. Sharing on this level reduces anxiety. c

2. Distractions during Work
Concentrating on work is difficult if your family is dealing with issues related to covid. Seventy percent of survey respondents feel distracted at some point during the day. In contrast, 26 percent of people are moderately or highly distracted. Only 32 percent of employees think they can work from home and also manage other responsibilities. 

How Employers Can Help
Respondents who work in well-connected teams experience a much lower level of distraction (16 percent). Those associates who struggle with collaboration have a distraction rate of 56 percent, more than three times higher than other participants. Employers who build robust team environments by offering positive reinforcement during phone conversations, team video conferences, or messaging can keep teams engaged and limit distractions. 

3. Financial Worries
Twenty-five percent of employees wonder if the companies they work for will be around in the future. This uncertainty causes them to worry about their finances and current position. When employees don’t believe their leaders are doing a good job, 56 percent of them worry. Only 23 percent report moderate or high financial concerns when they see management taking specific steps. 

How Employers Can Help
There are specific steps companies can take to make employees feel optimistic about the future. Respondents who are confident that leadership is performing well and are capable of meeting the current business environment’s challenges tend to worry less. 

  • Clearly communicate the controls that have been mandated to reduce costs.
  • Focus on implementing procedures that increase productivity 

Overall, leaders received high grades for performing most of their job responsibilities. Especially in the areas of maintaining focus, execution of work projects, communications, and building trust. However, there remains significant room for improvement in those areas most frequently mentioned by respondents (ex., communication, work-life balance, company performance). 

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