By: Lauren Baptiste

This fall, I took on a challenge: Connect with thirty companies in thirty days to discuss COVID-19-prompted changes in the workforce. I spoke with professionals from companies within law, accounting, and finance industries that ranged in size from 100 employees to over 10,000.

These leaders illustrated a key commonality: Albeit a clear understanding that employees are significantly challenged by increased stress in this unprecedented time, and although there’s a desire to make a positive impact, organizations are struggling to actualize meaningful ways to empower their personnel.

I felt called to this outreach initiative as I continued to witness decreasing employee morale. I normally co-create programming within a company by reducing stress and increasing resilience through my coaching and consulting firm, but these prior months were unlike those I’ve ever seen. As a professional who worked in financial services 10+ years and endured an extremely arduous work schedule, I can empathize with the struggle of employers and employees.

Finance, accounting, and law firms have historically adapted well to industry changes, but last year’s turbulent events put an added strain on employees. Professionals in the tax industry, for example, just faced their longest, busiest season yet, and all while navigating layoffs and the transition to working from home. It is no surprise that employee burnout, depression, and anxiety are on the rise.

Leaders must incorporate employee wellness along with other KPIs for the sake of staff retention, financial gain, and company longevity.

[Related: The Secret to Cultivating a Productive Team From Home]

Put wellness in the forefront of your business strategy.

Now more than ever, companies are feeling the pressure to cut corners and save money. This means layoffs and defunding resources they once offered to their staff. The remaining employees bear the burden of extra work with minimal support. While I understand the stakes of financial loss at this time, I invite corporate leaders to consider incorporating wellness initiatives at the core of their business strategy.

When employees overwork themselves, their work becomes less efficient and loses quality. Ultimately, the whole company suffers. Business leaders can address short-term needs and long-term vision. And they can start by going beyond sending the standard “we’re here for you” email with links to check out their designated EAP’s website.

Even in so-called “normal times,” accessing comprehensive mental healthcare can be difficult, let alone during this new normal. The pandemic has shaken our sense of stability to the core, and meeting day-to-day responsibilities can feel emotionally and mentally taxing. Teams need personal accountability, easy-to-incorporate resources, and ongoing support to make sure they are properly eating and sleeping. Now is a time to go back to basics.

Importantly, I do not advocate for business leaders to address their staff’s mental health needs; they are not qualified to do so, and furthermore, it is not the best use of their time or expertise. Instead, organizations can invest in a third-party consultant for subject matter experts.

This can look like intentionally-curated stress management programs, executive wellness coaching, and ongoing professional development trainings, as well as events to boost overall wellbeing. By prioritizing innovative and agile solutions to employee burnout, companies can expect to keep their teams focused and engaged, and ultimately, prevent revenue loss from impacting overall profitability.

Establish healthy boundaries.

In an effort to provide their staff with flexibility in their schedules, company leaders have unintentionally blurred the lines of work and rest. Team leaders have given staff the option to work later hours, as many employees must address new needs during the workday. However, employees’ struggle to “make up for lost time” and the feeling that they can lose their job at any moment exacerbate the gap in efficiency.

The work-from-home experience further intensifies this lack of boundaries. If the living room becomes the office space, how does one distinguish work from home? When an employee continues to receive emails and phone calls at 10:00 PM, they lose crucial time to unplug and recharge for the next day.

Leadership can facilitate healthier boundaries while providing their staff with increased flexibility. This can look like asking anyone working after 6:00 PM to schedule their emails for the morning or mandating that work calls cease after business hours. These small adjustments give employees the option to work at a time that is convenient for them while maintaining a distinction between work and rest.

[Related: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose at Work in a Global Pandemic]

Embrace the human approach.

In my discussions with the thirty companies, I observed that many of the conversations focused solely on executing safety procedures, with employee wellbeing as an afterthought. While a safe and healthy work environment is imperative, leaders can also boost morale through a more humanized approach to inspire and re-engage teams.

Many leaders have facilitated events that unfortunately contribute to anxiety rather than reduce it. A mandatory Zoom happy hour, for example, robs staff of valuable personal time. Employees likely have several responsibilities to address after a full day of work and are already feeling Zoom fatigue. More screen time can feel overwhelming if the content isn’t contributing to their personal needs.

As an alternative, I suggest leaders schedule a virtual coffee, lunch, or a one-one-one meeting with staff members. Fifteen minutes of genuine connection make more effective use of time than an hour-long event.

Additionally, cultivate a culture of wellness by investing in mental health, energy management, and other professional development workshops. As humans, we often put ourselves last. Programs like these can help employees remember they must put their oxygen mask on first in order to thrive.

Address the short- and long-term.

I strongly encourage leaders to reflect on the way they measure the effectiveness of their wellness initiatives. Now is the time to consider the long-term effects of programs that promote employee wellbeing.

Leadership should message the importance of personal health to their staff and lead by example. By implementing long-term focused wellbeing programming, teams will see positive results via lower turnover, higher engagement, and reduced revenue loss, even during these darkest of times.

[Related: Companies Should Include Community Building in Wellness Programs]

Lauren Baptiste is a corporate wellbeing consultant, executive wellness coach, and international speaker. After working 10+ years at a Big Four accounting firm and personally experiencing the effects of burnout, she started Acheloa Wellness, a wellness coaching firm that empowers individuals and organizations to break through the widespread effects of stress. As a practitioner of Ayurveda, hormonal health, and other healing modalities, she brings a holistic approach to transform burnout to balance, joy, and high-performing productivity.