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The Importance of Supporting Remote Workers’ Personal Lives

What are your remote employees thinking? How are they feeling these days? Not just on the job, but in their personal lives? Never has it ever been more critical for leaders and HR teams to focus on supporting remote workers’ personal lives by placing their personal and professional health and wellbeing front and center.

In July 2020, when Lenny Mendoca suddenly resigned from his position as chief economic and business advisor to the governor of California he wrote: “What does it say about me that I have a mental health issue? It says that I am human.”  Some six months later by December 21st, over 42 percent of Americans participating in an online survey reported symptoms of anxiety or depression over the preceding seven days.

Personal Lives Have a Bearing on Our Organizations 

Remote workers exposed to the stress and strain of isolation and on-site employees faced with potential COVID exposure underwrite a McKinsey forecast that the pandemic alone “could result in a potential 50 percent increase in the prevalence of behavioral health conditions.”

The kickoff to 2021 isn’t helping as COVID cases spiral out of control and shocking socio-political unrest rocks the U.S. and reverberates worldwide.

When it comes to mental health, it’s imperative that we do whatever it takes to dispel the stigma. We can normalize mental illness by talking about it often. By encouraging managers and their remote team members to have and hold regular (at least weekly) one-on-one conversations. By expanding programs and access to services. By ensuring employees know there’s assistance. And by issuing frequent pulse surveys – a window into our employees’ hearts and minds, especially those absent from the physical, onsite work world.

Support remote workers personal lives - stressed man

Hybrid Workplace Considerations for a Better Remote Experience

Virtual networks are a feeble substitute for the kind of collegial support that happens informally over a coffee refill in the lunchroom or quick chat in the corridor. Spotting signs of overwhelming burden or excessive worry are difficult when people work from home.

An empathetic approach builds relationships. Frequent, transparent communication builds trust. That’s why it’s so important for our organization’s leaders to set an example of vulnerability. To talk openly. To be real.  And as suggested by Tom Haak, founder and director of The HR Trend Institute, to become more predictable and authentic with team members, and to show respect for what they do “but most of all for who they are.”

For the benefit of remote workers and their peace of mind, it’s also become apparent that overt control tendencies like “time theft” policing needs policing too. According to HR Executive, more than one out of four companies has bought new technology to passively track and monitor their employees during the pandemic.

Using data to create an environment that naturally fosters engagement and productivity is one thing; using data as a workplace surveillance method is something altogether different.

The umbrella group for UK unions has published a report warning about “the potentially negative effects that intrusive technology of this type can have on workers’ well-being, right to privacy, data protection rights, and the right not be discriminated against.” This all plays into the hands of litigation, something several HR seers predict more companies will face in 2021 if the rights and personal lives of employees are disregarded. In supporting remote workers’ rather than undermining their efforts, we would all do well to replace continuous tracking with continuous listening so that leaders can understand precisely what people are thinking and needing in order to feel their organization genuinely cares.

Establishing a caring culture also means addressing old-held notions that work must occur between the hours of eight ‘til six. Shift the corporate mindset to “output” verse hours put in. Give remote workers power over how and where they manage their time so that they can better balance their work and personal lives with the blessing of their functional leader.

Support remote workers personal lives - mom with two kids

An AIHRDigital article about how “work-related stress is a response to an imbalance between demands on the individual and the resources they have to deal with those demands,” underscores how flexible work hours positively impact employee stress levels. The result is a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.  Among working parents, the author writes, 84% consider work flexibility the most important factor in a job. Given the struggles facing mothers and fathers who work from home juggling parental duties, domestic chores, and job expectations this should be reason enough, don’t you think?

One of the major experiences during the pandemic has been the experience of looking into the personal lives of our employees. We have seen the struggles that they have faced when it comes to working from home, from balancing raising kids and working, and from caring for their family members. What we have learned is that if we help employees support their personal lives more effectively, not only do they have better lives, but they perform at a higher level as well.”

– Brian Kropp, chief of research, Gartner HR practice.

Recognize that certain populations in your workforce may need more support in dealing with their personal life circumstances than others. For instance, those anxiety and depression figures reported in December 2020 by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics were higher for Latinx (46.3 percent) and Black respondents (48 percent) than the overall 42.4 percent average. For people aged 18 to 29 and 30 to 39, rates of anxiety and depression were higher still at 56.2 and 49.1 percent respectively.

Remote workspace challenges are yet another well-documented home-life problem for many marginalized groups. Census data from the U.S. shows Black and Latinx families have more people living together than White households. For many, this translates into a lack of space, privacy, and quiet, as well as limited at-home access to technology. To compound mental health stressors, these same populations are three times as likely to know someone who has died from COVID.

Bottom line: place Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives on your top priority list. In the aftermath of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests – as documented in the Forbes’ articleDEI Resolutions Your Company Should Commit To” – employees have become more outspoken about the discriminatory treatment they’ve experienced in the workplace. It’s a fundamental must that we create safe environments for people to speak up. Unfortunately, the stories of former Google employees April Christina Curley, a Black queer woman, and leading AI ethics researcher Dr.Timnit Gebru, are examples of individuals who spoke out about inequities and were fired as a result.

Recurring DEI surveys are an avenue that invites honesty while assuring confidentiality. They are key in supporting remote workers’ professional and personal lives by identifying their real-life experiences and flagging the gaps and opportunities for your organization to make a difference, in real-time.

Additional Resources

Check out our guides on workplace culture, employee engagement, and employee surveys. Learn about every aspect of a successful employee voice initiative!

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