This has been difficult, to say the least. COVID-19 has changed how we interact at work and in our free time. With mask ordinances and social distancing contributing to the abrupt change in professional and social interactions, the holidays seem disjointed and awkward. Adjustments have been made across both the workplace and in home life. Video conferencing platforms have kept people connected professionally and with family and friends, but they haven’t completely made up for the lack of personal interaction in the office or at home.
It isn’t just missing the conversations at the office coffee maker or meeting with teammates, or not getting to go to happy hour or watching the game with friends and missing the travel to see family; health and wellness (specifically mental health), care-giver support, and financial assistance are all major concerns during this time of professional and personal isolation.
At Work: How can employers bridge the gap over the holiday season?
Total Wellbeing: Misty Guinn
Employers are facing a new responsibility. Outside of providing standard health insurance and the new flexibility of working from home, employees need a program that addresses the unique challenges of this time. Employers must consider the difficulties faced by their employees, provide specific support addressing those difficulties, and have a program established to communicate those resources.
Misty Guinn, Director of HR Benefits & Wellness at Benefitfocus, explains how important it is for employers to take action during this time:
"Right now, it’s an earthquake of, ‘We’re not just balancing; we’re trying to create that sense of trust.’”, said Guinn. “It’s employers that employees are expecting to take care of them and give them the right guidance on how to survive. We have that responsibility on our shoulders…It’s a banner time to remind people of all the great things they have to take advantage of.”
Misty knows a bit about successful employee support and engagement. She has implemented a total wellbeing initiative for all Benefitfocus associates. Designing a program that best serves the individual needs of associates in the time of COVID-19 takes a lot of consideration and planning. As part of this employee support effort, Misty has built resources that address mental health and wellbeing, including access to confidential counseling resources, health advocacy programs and a wide variety of wellness opportunities that provide clear support and on-demand availability, including family involvement, group fitness challenges and healthy nutrition support. Misty also added that employee total wellbeing programs should include other benefits like childcare resources, caregivers support, and financial assistance opportunities.
To communicate these benefits and support, Misty has recorded a series of short 10–15-minute podcasts that directly engages employees with discussions on which benefits are available. She explores not only standard medical, dental and vision health plans, but also voluntary benefits like pet insurance and financial wellness. Taking a page from her own book, Misty also focuses some podcasts on company-sponsored benefits that require no enrollment like caregiver support but provide great value to her associates. Accessible communication, like Misty's podcasts, are an essential aspect of fostering employee engagement during these unique times. Misty addresses her effort in a recent article from Human Resource Executive, “I think associates like hearing [about benefits] that way. In the benefits world, we tend to use so much jargon,” she continues, “I want to encourage people to [listen while they] take their dog on a walk or while they’re folding laundry or cooking dinner; get up away from a screen.”1
Celebrations: Something new
COVID-19 has made all kinds of work functions difficult, if not impossible. But there are still opportunities to provide support and encouragement even without the big annual work party or team get-together. Consider virtual alternatives to the close and in-person office holiday party.
Many businesses are pivoting to help employees enjoy their time apart through virtual connections. Employer Benefits News (EBN) explored some options for work-place celebration in a recent article, 4 rules employers should consider when planning a virtual holiday party.2
Offer online, team-based events. Employee Benefit News states that 59% of employees would appreciate a holiday party this year. Virtual events provide the opportunity to keep interaction consistent, to build morale, and to give everyone a chance to relax and enjoy the company of their teams. Some suggestions to keep it interactive are to invite family or pets, make the virtual party themed, or host a virtual happy hour. Remote gift exchanges, either anonymous or not, are also becoming a popular way for teams to celebrate. Look into inviting employees to online group art or cooking classes, or even host one yourself – whether you are good at art or cooking or not!
Don’t require participation. This may be a difficult time for employees, so keep in mind their schedules and ability to attend. Although these events are intended to engage employees and support their wellbeing, the events should remain flexible and optional. Secondly, there are limitations of the virtual technology, like delays and band-width functionality, so make sure you understand and plan for them.
Personalize extra cheer. If you choose to have a limited celebration or don’t have a celebration at all this holiday season, consider using the funds to support your teams. According to the EBN article, more than half of employees would prefer a year-end bonus, one-third of employees want more paid time off. This is an opportunity to make an impact and support your employees when and how they need it.
Always celebrate! This is also the time to consider how you're celebrating your employees year-round. An important part of the support you provide your team is the effort you put into celebrating them with sustained, organic employee recognition and team events throughout the year.
COVID-19 has created a challenging time for employers, but this is your chance to show your employees how much you appreciate and support them!
At Home: What can you do to stay healthy and enjoy the holidays?
A healthy holiday will help you celebrate a happy holiday. If you plan to meet or travel for the holiday, keep in mind the local regulations and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for travel precautions and safe celebrations.3
If you plan to avoid large gatherings and stay home this holiday season, you can still enjoy yourself!
Virtual holiday celebrations with friends and family are still a great alternative and can provide hours of fun and memories to cherish. Consider a regular virtual happy hour with your own favorite holiday drinks, or group celebrations with family and friends taking turns telling your favorite stories. Think about the fun you can have by reading stories to your grandkids or nieces and nephews before bedtime or starting an arts and crafts routine and sharing those creations with each other. To create a bit of mystery or adventure, plan a white elephant gift exchange and unbox your gifts on a chat together, or even better, a secret Santa exchange!
More importantly, simply check in on each other. Make sure your friends and family know that they are important, loved and missed. Think about having your kids make cards to send to Nana, or simply drop a text to a friend you haven’t heard from in a while. Even a single phone call may make someone's day or even their month brighter.
Most of all, be fair to yourself. This is a tough time. Work, home, family, stress, the unknown – all these things are weighing on everyone, and everyone copes differently. Try some routine building if you are feeling lost with regular mealtimes, exercise routines, and sleep schedule. Of course, routines won’t solve all the problems. Be sure to make time for yourself. That could mean taking a walk, practicing some meditation, reading, exercising, getting involved in music (listening or practicing), anything that will help center you.
Finally, reach out to your employer. Find out how they are supporting you. Ask if they provide mental health resources, health and wellness programs, or other support networks if you need childcare or care-giver assistance, or even financial assistance. There are likely resources available that you never knew you had access to.
Everyone’s experience during this time is different, but we are all still in this together. And, together, we can celebrate a healthy and happy holiday season!
Check out more employee engagement tips and tricks on our website!