Finding a Cure for The Summer Scaries

Today’s post comes to us from the executive director of The Workforce Institute, Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

Here at The Workforce Institute, we recently released the results of a survey we just completed that hits pretty close to home for me, a full-time employee and father of four kids under the age of 18 (that’s right, I said four!).

Our “Summer Scaries” survey looks at how working parents, and working people in general, are feeling as Fall approaches and the global pandemic we are all living through shows no signs of slowing down.

Amongst our key findings:

  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of U.S. employees with children under 18 in the household are anxious about balancing the demands of their job with childcare – including school re-openings, virtual learning, and daycare capacity – in the coming months.
  • Both employees working remotely due to COVID-19 (68%) and employees who worked remotely prior to COVID-19 (64%) feel this year’s stress-inducing events are affecting their work at higher rates than employees still going into a physical workplace (55%).
  • Two-thirds of 18-34-year-olds (66%) and nearly three-quarters (72%) of employees aged 35-44 say stress caused by 2020’s events is impacting their work, which is higher than older age groups, including 45-54 (60%) and 55+ (49%).
  • And it’s not just parents of young kids that employers need to be worried about: Employees without children under 18 may need more encouragement to take time-off to mentally and physically rest and recharge. Just a third (37%) have done so since the start of COVID-19 (as opposed to 58% of employed parents with children under 18), potentially putting them at risk of burning out.

These numbers should catch the eye of employers and managers everywhere. You, as an organization, are only as good as your employees, and if they are feeling stressed and burnt out, it’s going to affect your organization. Summer is usually a time when employees take time off to unplug and recharge but this summer has been unlike any other, with travel restrictions and limits on gatherings. Many employees were unable to vacation the way they normally do and are also dealing with the stress of the pandemic, worrying about their job security and the health and well-being of themselves and those they love. For parents, we’ve been monitoring (okay, maybe obsessively) the decisions school districts are making around the country and waiting to hear what the Fall will look like for our own kids as we ponder how on Earth we’re going to make child care work.

It’s a lot.

Now more than ever, employers must prioritize self-care and open communication to reduce the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that everyone – whether a parent or not – is facing in order to reduce the likelihood of burnout later this year and next year.

Thinking about self-care for employees made me think of my fellow board member Sharlyn Lauby’s blog post on this very site three years ago focused on the topic (Sharlyn is always ahead of the curve). While some of her ideas were specific to being in an office, many are even more relevant now than they were then. Here are a few that feel especially spot-on right now:

  1. Create “stop doing” goals. Often, when we talk about goals, it’s in the context of the things we plan “to do”. Instead of always doing more, what if every employee had to set one goal of something they wanted to “stop doing”? It might be very helpful in changing attitude and behavior.
  2. Offer stress and time management courses. Schedule a lunch and learn session – there are so many options out there. Just one: SkillShare has a class on how to “Create a Perfect Morning Routine” that can be accessed from Facebook.
  3. Practice mindfulness. Harvard Business Review published an article earlier this year titled “Spending 10 Minutes a Day on Mindfulness Subtly Changes the Way You React to Everything”.
  4. Have “walking” meetings. We’ve heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”. Instead of having a conversation with a colleague in a conference room, the new trend is to talk while walking. It makes the meeting go faster and you get in a little exercise.
  5. Recognize employees for their work and accomplishments. In general, people like to know what they do well. It’s comforting and affirming. Managers have the ability to lift the confidence of employees by giving them recognition in a way that means something.

All five of these great ideas can be adapted for working remotely. If you are a manager, encourage your team to make a “stop doing” goal, suggest classes your team can take or apps they can use for stress management and mindfulness. I love the idea of everyone taking their phone and heading out for a walk wherever they may be and conducting a meeting this way. Perhaps most of all, don’t forget to recognize your team for their work and accomplishments during this time. Make time to celebrate your employees’ wins and get creative about how you do it. Practice gratitude and see how it transforms your working life. Recognize the magic in a “thank you.” People need appreciation and simple kindness perhaps most of all right now.

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