Another year of remote work? How to help employees beat the January blues

Another year of remote work? How to help employees beat the January blues

The pandemic has highlighted more than ever the critical importance of providing mental health support for employees, as stress and burnout in the global workforce spiked to unprecedented levels: 42% of global employees have reported a decline in mental health since the onset of COVID-19. Yet as we head into the New Year, the majority of employees looking for the exit say their company hasn’t followed through on pandemic-era promises to address this critical need. 

If there was ever a time to go the extra mile to support your employee’s well-being, it’s now: January is often seen as a low point in the working calendar, with shorter daylight hours and festivities coming to an end. Around 2 million people in the UK also suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs in a seasonal pattern and is more severe during the winter months.

The government’s recent advice to work from home, plus the looming prospect of another lockdown, means employers must reconsider how they can help employees take care of their mental health. 

Ensuring remote employees feel supported

Remote work in itself can lead to unhealthy practices. Employees can often find themselves working through their lunch hour because there is no social impetus to step away from their desk, or work late to finish a project because they have lost sight of the typical boundary between work and home that a commute used to provide. 

Encouraging workers to take breaks is key ‘ particularly during daylight hours, to help combat the effects of seasonal affective disorder. This is where initiatives like implementing a company-wide lunch ‘power hour’ or providing mental health days where the entire business closes can provide significant benefits. If your organisation is meeting-heavy, consider rolling out a company-wide meeting-free day to encourage blocks of free time where employees can take a walk or coffee break without running between meetings.

It’s also important that employee resources and perks are not compromised in a remote environment, and that there’s transparency around available benefits. Businesses should ensure that their mental health policies are clearly publicised, as people may not feel comfortable asking. Consider dedicated channels to discuss mental health challenges and resources. Traditional, in-person perks like practical support and quality time with team members should continue to be offered, albeit in a virtual manner. 

Balancing workplace culture in a hybrid world

Whilst organisations in the UK have returned to working from home, many have settled for something in between going fully remote and bringing all employees back into the office over the last year- and employees are expecting flexibility when offices open up again. Whilst 42% of organisations plan to adjust their remote work policy to give employees the option to work from the office or remotely, recent research from employee benefits provider Unum UK reveals that more than half (54%) of employees aged 18-34 years old said they would likely quit if the organisation they work for stopped offering remote or hybrid work options. 

Employers need to keep in mind, however, that a successful hybrid approach is not as simple as allowing people to work from home a few days a week. Adaptations will have to be made around staff skills, training, and company culture in particular.

Drawing from lessons learnt during previous lockdowns, companies must identify effective strategies to take advantage of in-person connection where they can, while also nurturing a people-centric culture from home. For example, it’s increasingly important to encourage conversations with colleagues through virtual mediums and offer as much ‘social’ interaction as possible, in formal and informal settings. January is a great month to schedule New Year check-ins or celebrations to keep spirits high. 

For organisations that lead a geographically dispersed workforce, efforts to maintain culture should be driven by a strong corporate vision and mission, and employees should continue to receive the right development, mentoring, and coaching. This extends as far as ensuring that virtual team-building activities aren’t a temporary fix, but rather a permanent solution. Many companies will likely be working in a hybrid format for the foreseeable future, so conducting new hire meet-and-greets, happy hours, and other team-building activities over Zoom should remain the default approach. 

New year, new perks

Along with maintaining the social side of work, companies need to ensure they’re addressing how their employee perks and benefits are hybrid-work friendly ‘ especially during the gloomiest month of the year. 

Consider initiatives that will introduce cheer into employee’s workdays, like introducing home office stipends, supermarket vouchers, and early Friday finishes. These are just a few examples of how businesses have begun adapting their employee benefits to suit the remote work lifestyle, but you can get creative, and won’t necessarily need to dedicate significant time or resources to make an impact. 

While benefits relied heavily on geography in the past, they’ll warrant a rethink in a hybrid world where employee location matters less. To combat the January blues and promote a positive company culture amidst ever-changing government health guidelines, organisations should lean into a broader definition of benefits ‘ including offerings focused on mental health, family life, financial well-being, and other deeply personal areas for employees. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Blackhawk Network, 30% of employees said that an increased focus on financial well-being is one of the biggest shifts that needs to happen post COVID-19. 

Keeping employee well-being front and center, all year round

It’s important to support employee’s mental health year round, but January can be an especially tricky time to navigate – and offers an opportunity to strategize how you will help your employees thrive in the New Year. Keep these considerations in mind and you’ll be well on your way to creating a more supportive, positive workplace.

Seth Kramer
Seth Kramer

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