Financial Ambiguity and Well-Being: Effects and Challenges of COVID-19

Hannah Greenwood | | Change Management

it's important to maintain personal well-being while working from homeFinancial strife, uncertainty, social isolation – COVID-19 has affected the lives of more than just those infected, and it goes beyond fear of contracting the virus. As we enter our seventh month of pandemic living, the societal changes haven’t gotten easier. We’re all still navigating this pandemic while attempting to create a sense of normalcy so important for maintaining personal well-being. Among the biggest challenges throughout have been the hardships of financial ambiguity and taking care of physical and mental wellness. There’s a handful of ways employers and HR can prioritize wellness as a "the end" retreats further into the distance.

Potential Compensation for WFH Expenses

If you’ve been working from home since the pandemic began, you recognize the pros and cons of your new workspace. Maybe you miss having your co-workers around to collaboration with or you miss the clearer separation between work and home. These pain points are common, but it’s up to us as individual to learn how to manage it. Or is it?

Employees are expected to work normally from home, to have the necessary equipment and tools to perform their daily duties. But are employers considering the cost to emulate these spaces? According to Refinery29, “those who made home office purchases spent an average of $194.” That doesn’t include employees’ bill increases due to the extra use of electricity, water and internet services while working from home. So, whose responsibility is it to pay those expenses: the employer or the employee?

It’s easy to say those employees are lucky simply because they still have jobs – ones that can be performed safely from home, at that. But the financial uncertainties of a pandemic economy remain a strain. Workers may have partners who’ve been furloughed or laid off, making the added expenses of a work-from-home setup a burden. Some companies are working with employees to help cover some costs of working from home, providing necessities like laptops and additional monitors or allowing workers to expense some of their internet costs.

Wellness = Top Priority

While financial stress can affect workflow and mental health, medical professionals are also worried about the physical well-being of work-from-home employees. While working in the office, employees take time to get up to use the restroom, stretch, take a walk with co-workers or travel offsite during lunch breaks to get fresh air. At home, those incidental instances of exercise and mental breaks can be few and far between.

“A survey of 900 people conducted by Hinge Health found that back and joint pain is a common health problem among those working from home, and that depression and anxiety are on the rise” –BenefitsPro

telemedicine preventive care helps maintain well-beingEmployers should encourage employees to perform routine health check-ins with their providers via telehealth and make the mental and physical well-being of their staff a top priority. An article by Forbes mentions, “one in five adults suffers from mental health challenges each year.” And that’s during years without the added stresses of living through a pandemic.

So, how can employers encourage their employees to put their wellness first while adapting to the recent changes?

Make sure employees’ workspaces are comfortable and productive.

Workers should be equipped with everything they need to be successful. However, they might hesitate to broach the subject of expensing things for a home office. Instead, make the offer. List some suggestions of what the company is willing to pay for to give them ideas. It shows you care about their well-being and even little things can make their at-home setup more user friendly.

Urge employees to take necessary breaks and stretch.

These little breaks are vital for optimal focus and mental clarity. Moving regularly is necessary for maintaining health and well-being – even if you're just walking across the room or climbing a flight of stairs once an hour. The physical movement improves blood flow and circulation, both of which are necessary for productive mental faculties.   

Offer wellness/fitness programs or classes to employees.

Classes can help workers cope with new changes and maintain the sense of camaraderie that being together at the office built. A mix of fitness, meditation, virtual talk therapy and support group programs are ideal. Whether it’s something you do as a team or simply offer for workers to take advantage of as they like, making them available is the first step.

Maintain open communication and encourage feedback.

parenting during the pandemic is constantly changingSupport your staff as much as possible to ensure their work-from-home experience is as smooth as possible. Even several months in, we’re all still learning how to make this work and improve existing processes. Plus, circumstances are still changing frequently. What worked when kids were homeschooling full time may not work for parents with kids starting the new school year learning through a hybrid model. Adaption requires communication and feedback on both sides.

Be receptive to altering your workplace benefits.

Make sure the benefits you offer work with employee needs during this time. This might mean offering a WFH stipend or additional personal days/PTO. Some of what might need to change is how you communicate workplace benefits, especially with open enrollment around the corner. Do you offer voluntary benefits like EAPs or hospital-indemnity coverage where you can provide additional education to workers?

As we continue to work through these hard times, we must remember that we’re all human. We have emotions, flaws and needs. We require support from one another but, most importantly, we require compassion. Right now, employers must act as the backbone, the foundation that grounds employees and keeps them productive, focused, excited and well. Whether that be with additional benefits, wellness perks or just being a shoulder to lean on. We’re in this together and we can come out of this stronger and prepared for just about anything.

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