With the shift to work from home (WFH), many employees lost a daily source of camaraderie and the structure of a work routine. As the weeks have marched on, some employees have stepped into a comfortable rhythm with working from home while others have struggled.
Check in on Your Extroverts...
There’s no doubt that certain personality types respond less successfully to WFH. Extroverts, who recharge by interacting with other people, tend to feel drained and anxious as a result of working in isolation.
“Our introverts are thriving right now, because they work better alone, but our extroverts are really struggling,” says Jennifer Walden, director of operations at WikiLawn Lawn Care, an online marketplace that connects people with local residential and commercial lawn care companies in cities throughout the U.S.
“We’ve found extroverts need the social interaction and ability to bounce ideas off of one another. They rely on social cues, including body language. Such cues aren’t easily communicated right now,” says Walden. “These employees feel extremely off-kilter, and depression and anxiety are common for them.”
“Some people just aren’t suited to remote work,” he says. “Extroverts need plenty of in-person interaction to thrive and crave validation from their peers. For some of them, a videoconference is a poor substitute for real in-person meetings.”
... and Your Newer and Tenured Employees
In addition to extroverts, newer and tenured employees may be struggling to WFH, each for their own reasons.
“Less-experienced employees may not have the maturity to deal with self-directing in the WFH scenario,” says Amie Devero, coach, consultant, and owner of the consulting company Beyond Better. “If they crave approval or feel uncertain about the quality of their work and value to the company, they’ll find it hard to get their bearings and may be challenged to stay productive.”
On the other end of the spectrum, senior employees used to accomplishing a great deal are also at risk of floundering, adds Michelle Bengtson, a neuropsychologist in private practice.
“Leaders, go-getters and perfectionists are at increased risk of depression during this time, because many are unable to function in their usual capacity.”
Avoid making employees feel as if they’re unusual because they haven’t adapted easily. Normalize their trouble by sharing your own difficulties with working from home and anxieties around this ‘new normal.’
—Samantha Dutton, associate dean of social work, University of Phoenix
Even those who prefer an isolated work environment are affected by the unprecedented nature of mandated isolation. Employees in cramped or overcrowded home environments may find WFH challenging.
Tell-Tale Signs an Employee Is Struggling With WFH
Isolation can cause changes in employee actions and attitudes.
“Depression due to WFH isolation can present as struggling to get out of bed and excessive crying, but there are other signs,” says Bengston. “We’re seeing irritability, frustration, anger, difficulty concentrating, focusing and making decisions and meeting deadlines.”
In order to spot a struggling employee, check for the following signs.
- Does the employee seem less happy or easygoing?
- Are excuses for not performing up to task increasing?
- Is it taking them longer than usual to complete their work?
- Does the employee have a shorter fuse than usual?
- Is the employee complaining about lack of sleep or inability to focus and accomplish tasks?
- Is there an uncharacteristic lack of communication?
- Do you see or hear signs of fatigue or sadness?
- Has the employee’s work become sloppy and incomplete?
How to Approach an Employee Who Appears to Be Struggling
If you have a close working relationship with an employee, it may be as simple as having a private conversation.
“Avoid making assumptions when you talk,” suggests business coach Padma Ali, founder of the N.E.W You Blueprint. “Express curiosity about what’s happening. It might be that the person has young children at home and is overwhelmed.”
Whatever you do, suspend judgment and be compassionate.
“Many employees are scared about losing their jobs. If they feel threatened, they might not respond honestly,” says Ali.
When you speak to employees about their troubles with working from home, avoid assuming everyone is having the same experience, advises human resources specialist Melissa Deroche. (Deroche is global head of coaching at BTS, a professional services firm.)
“Take the time to listen, be curious and connect,” she says.
For the conversation to go well, it’s vital that you express empathy and let employees know it’s okay not to be okay.
“Avoid making employees feel as if they’re unusual because they haven’t adapted easily,” says Samantha Dutton, associate dean of social work at the University of Phoenix. “Normalize their trouble by sharing your own difficulties with working from home and anxieties around this ‘new normal.’”
How to Help Employees While Still Getting the Job Done
Your job as a company leader is effectively striking a balance between company productivity and the well-being of your employees. Many leaders find that taking the people-first approach is often the answer.
“Knowing that I’m willing to accept lower productivity in order to ensure employee well-being actually motivates my team,” says Jim Guilkey, president of global learning services firm S4 NetQuest. “Employees are greatly appreciative and motivated by me checking in on their well-being.”
You staffs’ peace of mind must come first, agrees Grajek.
“Most people won't respond well to an offer of help from you if they feel it's an attempt to squeeze more work out of them," he says. "Let your employees know it’s not a sin to need help and that you’re willing to help them get back to a good place personally.”
Here are additional ways to help your employees get through WFH struggles.
- Survey employees. Ask what the company can do to help with WFH challenges.
- Schedule regular check-in meetings. “Companies are experimenting with virtual lounges and leader-led learning sessions about wellness,” says Deroche.
- Offer assistance. Arrange for free or low-cost anonymous access to professional therapy or coaching. Memberships to online physical fitness companies can also be helpful.
Read more articles on motivating employees.
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