Employees clock in more downtime when working from home

Did you know: since many employees have started working remotely due to the coronavirus, there has been an average of two hours of downtime, a day. Read this blog post to learn more.


Since stay-at-home and shutdown orders were enforced amid the coronavirus fallout, hundreds of businesses in the U.S. have turned to working from home to reduce exposure. But as the remote workforce expands, employers and employees have been faced with a new set of challenges — one of them being more downtime.

Remote employees average two hours of downtime per day, which is 20 minutes more per day than on-site employees, according to a new Paychex study, where 1,000 remote and on-site employees were surveyed about their daily downtime at work.

The transition to remote work has been beneficial to some workers, who have reported increased productivity due to fewer in-office distractions. When asked about the biggest reasons they decided to work remotely, 79% of remote workers responded with increased productivity and better focus, according to a study by Owl Labs, a video conferencing technology company.

But other employees may be negatively affected due to supervisors being unable to physically monitor downtime, says Joey Morris, a project manager at Paychex.

“The two most popular reasons for downtime were that employees completed work too quickly and that the availability of work was inconsistent,” Morris says. “Interestingly, nearly one in three employees said they chose to make downtime during their workday, making this the third most popular reason.”

The study found three hours of down time a day was considered too much, leading to boredom and other negative effects. Workers are more likely to leave a job due to excessive downtime than to be terminated for it, Morris says.

“This kind of excessive downtime was related to lower rates of job satisfaction, salary satisfaction, and employee retention,” he says. “More than one in 10 employees said too much downtime was responsible for leaving or being let go from a position.”

However, downtime can have some benefits, too. Thirty one percent of employees said they chose to make downtime during the day, and 23% said their work wasn’t urgent. Thirteen percent said they could ask for more work, but chose not to.

Taking breaks at work is important to make employees feel more engaged and productive, according to a survey from Tork, as North American workers who take a lunch break every day scored higher on a wide range of engagement metrics, including job satisfaction, efficiency, and likelihood to recommend their company to others.

The top ways in which employees spend their downtime at work are browsing the internet, socializing with co-workers, texting or messaging, eating food and browsing social media, according to the Paychex study.

While employers may want to reduce downtime and increase employee efficiency, results from the study indicate it is important to maintain a balance, Morris says. Having too little downtime was nearly as bad for employee satisfaction as having too much.

“Efficient management of employee time is not only important to a business' bottom line, but it is also important to employee satisfaction,” he says. ”Employees want to feel engaged when they come to work and there is an understanding that stagnation in any position can negatively influence one's career trajectory.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (1 May 2020) "Employees clock in more downtime when working from home" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/employees-clock-in-more-downtime-when-working-from-home


Keeping Up with Professional Development During the Pandemic

As many state and local governments recommend and require social distancing, many professionals are looking at other ways to continue growing and developing. Read this blog post to learn more.


Many employees need to accumulate credits to keep their professional credentials, and they may look forward to large gatherings with their peers each year where they can learn about the latest developments in their industry. But the coronavirus pandemic is changing the way employees and businesses are approaching professional development, with many opting—at least for now—for online learning.

"We've seen a large shift in the manner in which these things are being done," said Melissa Peters, an attorney with Littler in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Since March 31, the U.S. State Department has advised U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to COVID-19. Within the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had urged residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to temporarily halt nonessential domestic travel and asked people everywhere in the country to carefully consider the risks before traveling.

"Some employers are going further and recommending that employees cancel or postpone all nonessential travel," observed Douglas Brayley, an attorney with Ropes & Gray in Boston.

The White House and many state and local governments have either recommended or required people to practice social distancing through April and even beyond—which is causing some business and professional associations to find creative alternatives to their in-person meetings.

Going Virtual

A webinar or videoconference may be a good alternative to an in-person meeting, Brayley said.

Elizabeth Wylie, an attorney with Snell & Wilmer in Denver, noted, "Many companies are bolstering their remote conferencing access to ensure it is adequate to meet the anticipated increase in needs in the coming weeks."

Kathleen Sullivan, chief human resources officer at law firm Clark Hill in Pittsburgh, said her firm is using webinars, videoconferencing and phone conferencing technologies. "Our goal is to continue to provide excellent client service while we ensure we are taking care of our employees," she said.

In response to limits on travel and social gatherings, some licensing bodies have eased up on their e-learning limits. For instance, the Indiana Supreme Court and other state high courts have temporarily waived distance-learning limitations for attorneys seeking continuing education credits.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has transformed its 2020 Talent Conference & Exposition to a virtual experience so attendees can stay current and earn professional development credits without leaving their homes.

"We've been working with public health officials and collaborating with the conference venue and vendors to make an informed decision based on the latest science, local public health guidance, and our ability to provide the HR community with the best event and professional development experience you've come to expect from SHRM, in a safe environment," SHRM said on its website.

Should Employers Reimburse Nonrefundable Expenses?

"There is not a uniform practice in terms of [employers] reimbursing for canceled or postponed trips," said Mark Keenan, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Atlanta. He said organizations need to make such decisions based on:

  • The health and welfare of their employees.
  • Whether such trips can be rescheduled or postponed with limited incidental additional expense.
    "However," Keenan said, "most organizations would still reimburse such trips as an appropriate business expense, and therefore should reimburse nonrefundable costs as they would with any other itinerary change."

If the employer paid for the professional development and travel in the first place, any cancellation costs would generally be absorbed by the employer, said Susan Kline, an attorney with Faegre Drinker in Indianapolis. "If it's something the employee signed up for as a personal matter for a weekend or vacation, employers might treat it like any other vacation."

She noted that some states, such as California, require employers to reimburse reasonable business expenses.

Peters said employers are making difficult business decisions as they struggle with the economic impact of COVID-19. "There are legal aspects, but whether or not you want to reimburse people for professional development should be aligned with the company's philosophy and business needs."

The best practice for each business is highly dependent upon its business needs, industry and workforce, Wylie said, and is subject to change as the recommendations of public health agencies evolve.

Stay Updated

"The employer community seems to be very proactive in communicating updates on the coronavirus and the impact on their workforces," Keenan observed. For now, he said, the best practices are to not panic and to monitor the CDC's website.

"The situation is evolving rapidly," Sullivan said. "It is important to stay up-to-date with the current information."

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (13 April 2020) "Keeping Up with Professional Development During the Pandemic" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/keeping-up-with-professional-development-during-the-pandemic.aspx


Worker burnout is soaring. Here’s how to reach your employees before it’s too late

Did you know: 77 percent of employees have experienced burnout at their current job. With the coronavirus causing employees to change the way they work, that number may be standing firm. Read this blog post to learn how to reach your employees before they become burnt out during this pandemic.


Coronavirus has caused a total upheaval of the workplace, forcing the majority of companies to work remotely. As workers balance their professional responsibilities with increased stress and anxiety, the risk of burnout is soaring.

The typical signs of burnout in the workplace include missed deadlines, declining relationships, absenteeism and poor performance, and 77% of employees have experienced burnout at their current job, according to a 2019 survey by Deloitte. Ninety-one percent said that feelings of stress and frustration impact their work and personal relationships. The abrupt change in routine caused by coronavirus has pushed more workers to feel the strain.

“Global crises can affect the economy and the job market — even employees who don't deal with mental health issues might need behavioral health support during this time," says Dr. Rachelle Scott, a medical director of psychiatry at Eden Health, an insurance provider. “And in times of high stress, burnout may be accelerated.”

Burnout, when not addressed, can lead to more serious mental health issues. Now characterized as a psychological syndrome, 59% of people diagnosed with burnout were also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and 58% were diagnosed with depression, according to a study by Frontiers in Psychology, a medical journal. These mental health diagnoses negatively affect workplace productivity and the company’s bottom line. Burnout is estimated to cost $125 to $190 billion in lost productivity and healthcare costs, according to Gallup.

And while now is a critical time to work collaboratively and communicate openly, even those close virtual quarters can spread feelings of stress and burnout faster than normal.

“Burnout is likely to pop up from employee to employee and affects all levels,” Scott says. “If an employee is burned out, others may have to pick up the slack. And if the employee quits, it takes time and money to replace them.”

Employee healthcare programs can be the first step to identifying the early signs of burnout and addressing a treatment plan, says Matt McCambridge, chief executive officer of Eden Health. A company’s healthcare plan needs to allow employees to have relationships with both a primary care provider and a behavioral health provider within the same network.

“Primary care physicians will be the first people to hear about employee burnout, so the better they know their patients, the earlier they can notice these changes," McCambridge says. “Health plans need to integrate primary care and behavioral health, where a PCP can recommend a behavioral health person within their own practice."

Without the ease and accessibility of comprehensive care, companies and their employees are missing out on essential benefits and cost-cutting measures.

“Unless people can get the services directly, you're not providing the benefits you should," McCambridge says. “Comprehensive health care reduces burnout and reduces cost by 9-17%.”

Beyond healthcare measures, employers should take the lead and be cognizant of changes with their employees, says Kathleen Harris, the former vice president of benefits at WarnerMedia. Offering support through programs like remote lunches or video one-on-ones with managers can help foster a sense of understanding and compassion.

“Employees need that time to have open and honest conversations and raise their issues to their manager," Harris says. “While you can't change company culture overnight, you can put policies and programs in place. Celebrate the wins and give them acknowledgement.”

Without addressing burnout early on, managers and employers are missing an opportunity to provide care to their employees, before it’s too late.

“There are multiple opportunities to step in and support those employees before they get to rock bottom,” Eden Health’s Scott says.

SOUCE: Place, A. (03 April 2020) "Worker burnout is soaring. Here’s how to reach your employees before it’s too late" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/worker-burnout-is-soaring-heres-how-to-reach-your-employees-before-its-too-late


Nearly a third of workers 'actively avoid' going to HR with problems

Did you know: nearly 30 percent of employees avoid going to their HR departments with their problems. Read this blog post to learn more.


Dive Brief:

  • One-fifth of workers don't trust HR, and nearly a third (30%) actively avoid going to HR with problems, according to a new survey of more than 500 employees and 300 HR professionals conducted by Zenefits' Workest.
  • Of the workers who avoid going to HR, 35% said it's because they don't trust HR to help, and 31% said they feared retaliation. Some of the reluctance may be due to a negative perception of HR or their employers overall; 23% of respondents said they had witnessed or experienced "poor HR, hurtful management, or discrimination." Thirty-eight percent of employee respondents felt that HR did not equally enforce company policies across all employees; 18% of that group said they believed managers received special treatment.
  • Most of the HR respondents said that fewer than 30% of complaints they received in the last two years resulted in any disciplinary action. According to a Workest blog post about the survey, "Having less than a third of cases result in disciplinary action led employees to wonder — if they bring complaints forward, will anything even result?"

Dive Insight:

Some employees may have an inaccurate perception of what HR does, but the survey makes clear that workplace culture-building efforts still leave a lot to be desired — particularly when it comes to employees and HR working together to stop harassment.

According to a recent Emtrain study, most employees (83%) would not report harassment if they saw it. Additionally, similar to the findings in the Workest survey, 41% of workers were not confident that management would take a complaint seriously.

Nonetheless, culture is becoming a priority for some business leaders, many of which are hiring chief people officers both to help remedy toxic environments and also as a proactive strategic talent measure.

Investing in retention and culture makes sense for companies' bottom lines: In the past five years, the turnover cost of a toxic work environment was more than $223 billion for U.S. employers, according to Society for Human Resource Management research.

In order for culture efforts to bear fruit, they have to be more than mere lip service. Some believe business leaders and corporate directors are not making real efforts toward these goals. In a recent Accenture survey, business leaders reported financial performance and brand recognition as their most important priorities. Just over a third (34%) of the leaders surveyed ranked diversity as a top priority.

SOURCE: Carsen, J. (02 April 2020) "Nearly a third of workers 'actively avoid' going to HR with problems" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/nearly-a-third-of-workers-actively-avoid-going-to-hr-with-problems/575303/


Virtual Presentations, Meetings Require New Approaches for Success

While working remotely has become the new norm for many employers and employees, it's important to keep a strong communication base, especially with team meetings and presentations. Read this blog post from SHRM on various strategies to succeed in leading online meetings.


As more people work from home, many are being asked to take on tasks and use technologies with which they have only a passing familiarity, such as leading team meetings and presenting online rather than in person.

SHRM Online spoke with experts about the different strategies required to succeed in those scenarios, as well as how to use the features embedded in videoconferencing and Web conferencing platforms.

Presenting Online

Giving presentations online rather than in person requires thinking about how to design PowerPoint slides, keep remote audiences engaged when they're facing more distractions and troubleshoot technology snafus that arise in these situations.

Pick up the pace. Attention spans dwindle during virtual presentations. "That doesn't mean you need to cut the amount of your presentation content, but rather that you spread it over more slides so there is more frequent on-screen change for audiences," said Roger Courville, a Portland, Ore.-based speaker and trainer who teaches people how to communicate online and is the author of The Virtual Presenter's Handbook (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2009).

Be proactive in guiding audience attention. Presenters should assume that some people are multitasking during an online presentation, Courville said. "You have to ask what the audience is taking away if at times they only glance at what you're presenting," he said. "One thing you can do is make sure the titles on your slides are more descriptive and capture the main point of the slide."

Virtual presenters also should use their voices to guide viewer attention, said Andrew Dlugan, a communications and presentation skills trainer in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Don't rely only on slide pointers or annotation tools provided on Web conferencing platforms.

"What happens if some people aren't looking at their screens for a while?" he said. "A presenter might say something like 'What do you see below the picture of the woman on this slide?' or 'Look at the data on the right-hand portion of your slide.' "

Courville said presenters should monitor audience attention levels by checking whether people are actively participating on chat features or submitting questions during a moderated Q&A. Some Web conferencing platforms also have a feature called an attention indicator that detects the active application on audience members' screens. If a conference participant has switched to checking e-mail, for example, that tool would register the change. Courville said that while the tool shouldn't be used punitively, it can help presenters get a read on when attendees may be drifting away so they can switch tactics, such as by introducing an audience poll or a short Q&A.

Unnecessary flair can cause technical problems. The use of animation and complex transitions on slides might work well in person, but they can cause problems online, said Bethany Auck, founder and creative director of SlideRabbit, a presentation design and production company in Denver.

Web conferencing platforms handle slide upload and display differently, and experts say it's best to go simple when designing slides, keep file sizes low, and avoid the use of animations or complicated transition techniques between slides.

Consider slide contrast issues and viewer screen size. Assume that many will be viewing your online presentation from smaller laptop screens or even on mobile devices, said Ken Molay, president of Webinar Success, a Web conferencing training and consulting company in Cary, N.C. "Design your slides as if you're creating them for viewers in the back of a large auditorium," Molay said. "Use larger fonts and plenty of white space, and don't put things near the edges of your slides."

Keep in mind that you won't be able to see how your slides display on your audience's screens, and your viewers' computer settings for contrast, brightness and color may vary widely. "Remember that light colors can easily wash out online. Stick with high-contrast color designs, and avoid using subtle tone variations that can be difficult for virtual audiences to see," Molay said.

Leading Small-Group Virtual Meetings

Many of us have been conditioned to hold hourlong meetings, but experts say that standard should be reconsidered with today's new reality.

"One of the most powerful tools built into videoconferencing solutions is the instant meeting," Courville said. "You can easily set up virtual meetings and collaboration sessions in short blocks of time as needed. There are product development teams I know who hold 15-minute videoconferences every morning. The medium can be used as flexibly as a phone call."

Leaders, mute yourself when others are speaking. "Many of us use words like 'OK' or 'uh-huh' as confirmation that we're listening when others are speaking," Molay said. "But in an online meeting, especially if you're the leader or a person of higher authority, others often hear that and they stop talking, wondering if you wanted to interrupt to say something or even that they might have said something wrong. If you stay completely silent, it lets people complete their thoughts."

Not all technology platforms are created alike. If you haven't yet purchased a videoconferencing or Web conferencing platform (most major providers are offering discounts or free trial versions of products during the coronavirus outbreak), Molay said it's important to understand the differences between systems.

For example, the videoconferencing platform Zoom is among those that Molay said have a useful "push to talk" feature that is handy for small-group virtual meetings.

"Everyone enters the meeting in a default mute mode, but when they hold down the space bar, it opens up their microphone," he said. "It only stays open while it's pressed and people are speaking, like the old walkie-talkie."

Molay said the feature is good for group discussions in which everyone wants a chance to participate but a leader doesn't want all microphones open at once, since they're likely to pick up background noise when participants work from home.

You also may want to compare audience polling tools in different systems, Molay said. "Some only allow for a few response choices, while others offer more," he said. Many users will also likely want a polling feature that allows participants to select the best answer rather than all that apply, he said.

Question management tools—a helpful feature for more-structured and moderated Web conferences—also can vary by platform. These tools give session leaders a way to prioritize audience questions.

"If you have 100 people in a Web conference, you'll want a way to mark that certain questions might be a high priority to address on air versus a lower priority that you can follow up on later," Molay said. "Some platforms are better than others in how they allow you to reorder and organize questions."

He added that other key system features to evaluate are the number of participants allowed on video calls, ability to automatically record Web conferences for later viewing, and tools that allow you to easily edit recordings or create transcripts of online meetings.

Watch how you position yourself on webcam. Don't position yourself in front of bright windows, which will place you in shadows. Raise your laptop so the camera is at eye level or higher.

"Laptop webcams are sitting lower and often shoot straight up into your nostrils," Molay said. "That's not the best look for most people."

Troubleshooting Technical Problems

People will inevitably experience problems with video, audio transmission or other functions in virtual settings. "The first thing to do is isolate whether it's just that person having the issue or  everyone," Courville said. "In most cases it's just one person, but you usually don't want to stop the whole meeting or presentation just because one person is having a problem."

Molay said leaders can afford to spend only a limited amount of time trying to fix an individual's issues. "It's easy to focus on squeaky wheels in online settings, but you don't want to slow down 30 people to satisfy one person."

Meeting leaders also can mute and unmute participants on most platforms if people are having technical issues and bothering others, Courville said.

Auck, SlideRabbit's founder, said one tactic she uses when leading virtual presentations or workshops is to keep a second computer in view and log in as an attendee. "It won't account for all of the variables of people logging in remotely, but you'll have a tighter view of any lag in how your slides are advancing for viewers," she said.

Mike Fasciani, senior research director at research and advisory firm Gartner, said employees who reside in bandwidth-challenged areas can take steps such as turning off video and joining meetings using dial-in audio options while still seeing the content that's being shared through a browser.

Remote workers also can use their 4G-enabled smartphones rather than laptops or desktops in virtual meetings, he said. "Many video-meeting and workstream collaboration applications were built with a mobile-first design intent and so work as well as, if not better than, the desktop and Web client access," he said.

SOURCE: Zielinski, D. (30 March 2020) "Virtual Presentations, Meetings Require New Approaches for Success" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/virtual-presentations-meetings-require-new-approaches.aspx


Soft skills training is a priority, but lack of time and resources stands in the way

While soft skills training may be the number one priority for most HR professionals, allocating time and resources is one of the biggest challenges standing in the way. Read this blog post to learn more.


Dive Brief:

  • Soft skills training is the No. 1 priority for more than a quarter of HR and L&D professionals in a Talespin study released in March. Nearly half of the 70 respondents ranked it among their top three priorities.
  • But lack of time and resources stand in the way of soft skills training, reported nearly 70% of the respondents. Other challenges included difficulty measuring ROI and insufficient or ineffective training tools. Developing tech may make up for this, however. More than half of respondents said they are "actively implementing" e-learning tools, which allow employers "to offer personalized feedback and a safe learning environment."
  • Leadership is the most highly sought soft skill; nearly two-thirds of respondents said it was "a key point of focus in 2019."

Dive Insight:

Soft skills have been in high demand for quite some time. LinkedIn declared soft skills the top training priority of 2018, and many reports since have heralded the demand for and importance of soft skills throughout job levels, job functions and industries.

The infiltration of AI-based technology at work has partly created the demand for soft skills, changing the way most work is performed, an MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab report concluded in October. In doing so, tasks that require soft skills — the tasks that cannot be automated —​ are increasing in value. And as those tasks gain importance, so do the skills workers use to complete them, the report said.

Perhaps ironically, the same tech that created the need for soft skills is establishing itself as the medium for soft skills training. In fact, Talespin launched a "virtual human technology" tool last year aimed at helping workers learn soft skills such as communication, empathy and leadership in "a safe, repeatable learning environment." Tyson Foods used virtual reality (VR) tools to conduct safety and hazard awareness training. And Walmart has used VR to train associates to cope with crowds ahead of Black Friday.

SOURCE: Clarey, K. (24 March 2020) "Soft skills training is a priority, but lack of time and resources stands in the way" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/soft-skills-training-is-a-priority-but-lack-of-time-and-resources-stands-i/574779/


How HR leaders can make remote work pain free

As employees begin to transfer from office desks to kitchen tables, their bodies will begin to experience pain that may be foreign. Due to several state governments creating laws about closing down businesses and emphasizing social distancing, working from the comfort of the home may become the new everyday norm. Read this blog post to learn helpful tips on how to stay healthy during this period.


In response to the COVID-19 crisis, workers around the world are leaving their office chairs and desks for couches and kitchen tables. As HR professionals work to keep employees healthy and productive while they're at home, back and neck pain from these ad-hoc arrangements will quickly become another challenge to tackle.

Back pain is extremely common — 80% of us will experience it in our lifetimes. Even under normal circumstances, research has found that back pain in the workplace can make it more difficult to focus and make decisions. And stress and anxiety can make the experience of pain even worse.

“Problems come up when you’re sitting in one position for too long slouched down, or with your back rounded forward,” says Jim White, exercise specialist at Fern Health, a company that provides digital musculoskeletal pain programs to employers. “This can overstretch the ligaments in your spine and put strain on your spinal discs, which protect your vertebrae from rubbing together.”

HR managers can help support employees working remotely by recommending how any workspace can be made safe and comfortable. White suggests the below tips, whether employees are working from their own home office or are making calls from the couch.

Check your posture. Posture alignment makes a big difference, White says. A daily posture checklist should include:

  • Align elbows and wrists. When sitting and typing, elbows should be at ninety degrees and aligned with the wrists. Shoulders should be relaxed and level.
  • Straighten up. There should be a straight line from the top of your head to your back. Don’t let the pelvis rotate forward – this creates a curve in your lower back that contributes to pain.
  • Check your chair. If you’re sitting in a chair that isn’t designed for an eight-hour workday, try placing a rolled-up towel behind your lower back. Living room couch your best option? Arrange pillows so your lower back is supported, and try not to sink in and slouch if your couch is particularly soft.
  • Keep the top of your computer screen at eye level. Positioning your computer too high or too low can contribute to neck and shoulder pain. If you’re sitting on the couch, put a pillow on your lap to raise the screen and protect your legs from your device’s heat.

Get a change of scenery (without leaving the house). Create your own “standing desk” by sending a few morning emails from the kitchen counter or a high dresser. And throughout the day, listen to your body. If your lower back feels stiff when you stand up, or if your feet or legs “fall asleep” while you’re sitting, these are signs that you’ve been in the same position for too long.

Continue to exercise. Without commuting or having access to the gym, it can be difficult to keep activity levels up – but it’s critical. Exercise increases blood flow to the muscles and is one of the best ways to combat pain, says White. Aerobic exercise can also help tackle anxiety, which makes pain worse.

Try simple stretches throughout the day. One perk from working from home is that employees most likely have more privacy and can take a quick break for a big stretch or even a few yoga poses. Try two or three of your favorite stretches from below and try to stretch every hour or so, White recommends. Just note that they may not be safe or tolerable for everyone.

  • Pec stretch: Stand in a doorway and place your forearms on each side of the doorframe. Push your chest forward slightly so you feel a stretch in your chest and between your shoulder blades. Hold for as long as is comfortable, up to 10 seconds. Repeat as tolerated, up to three times.
  • Child’s pose stretch: Start on a mat or towel on the floor on all fours. With your big toes touching, spread your knees apart and sit back onto your feet as best you can. Hinge at the waist and extend your arms in front of you or next to you. If you can, touch your forehead to the floor. Hold for up to 15 seconds.
  • Chair rotation: Sit sideways in a chair. Keeping your legs still, rotate your torso to the right and reach for the back of your chair with your hands. Hold your upper body there and hold for up to 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side, up to three times.

A comfortable workspace is critical to a productive day, especially in places that aren’t designed for the nine-to-five. During this chaotic time, HR leaders can provide guidance on creating a space that supports back and neck health, and helps employees avoid the added stress and distraction of being in pain.

SOURCE: Ryerson, N. (23 March 2020) "How HR leaders can make remote work pain free" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-hr-leaders-can-make-remote-work-pain-free


Mental Well-Being During a Quarantine

Maintaining Mental Well-Being During a Quarantine

In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have recommended that individuals who may have been exposed to the disease self-quarantine at home for 14 days. In addition, public health officials are recommending that healthy individuals practice social distancing, staying at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Following the advice of public health officials can help stop the spread of COVID-19, but if you don’t take proper precautions, your mental well-being could suffer while you’re quarantining.

If you’re self-quarantining or practicing social distancing, keep the following tips in mind to maintain your mental well-being.

Maintain a Routine

One of the best things that you can do to preserve your mental well-being is to stick to a routine. For example, if you’re used to going to the gym before work, try to wake up early and get an at-home workout in before you go to work or start your workday from home. Maintaining as much normalcy as possible with your daily routine can help keep your mood as lifted as possible, and prevent boredom and distress from taking over.

If you have children that will be at home now, it’s also important to create a routine for them. Whether they are practicing virtual learning with their schools or if they will just be home, you should implement a structured schedule for them so they know what your expectations are. Try to limit as much screen time as possible and incorporate learning activities throughout the day.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

This suggestion goes hand-in-hand with sticking to a routine. While you’re at home, it can be easy to go to bed or sleep in later than you typically would. Breaking your normal sleep routine can have negative effects on your overall mental well-being, so you should try to stick to your typical schedule as much as possible.

Spend Time Outside

Unless health officials give you explicit instructions to stay in your home no matter what, try to get outside periodically throughout the day. This could involve going out in your backyard or taking a walk around the block, but shouldn’t include going to a park or other areas where large groups of people may be.

Being outside also helps to promote higher vitamin D levels, a vitamin the body makes when skin is directly exposed to the sun. Many people are deficient in vitamin D, so exercising outside can be a great way to correct that.

Leverage the Power of Technology

When in quarantine or self-isolation, it can be easy to feel lonely. Fortunately, advancements in technology have made it easy to connect with others without having to physically be in contact with them. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends reaching out to loved ones with technology to reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety, and to supplement your social life while you’re quarantining or social distancing. If you’re feeling down, use video calling technology or social media to get in touch with friends and family.

Don’t Obsess Over the News

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by watching the news and reviewing the updates of the COVID-19 situation. While it’s important to be informed of the situation, you should not obsess over the news. For example, instead of monitoring the news all day from home, consider checking for updates once in the morning and once at night.

Practice Positivity and Gratitude

Taking five minutes a day to write down the things that you are grateful for has been proven to lower stress levels and can help you change your mindset from negative to positive. While you’re quarantining or social distancing, it’s important to build time into your routine to practice positivity or express gratitude to change your mindset on your situation and boost your mood.

Summary

Your mental well-being plays a huge role in your overall health and well-being, and it should be prioritized. These six suggestions may help you maintain your mental well-being during a quarantine, but shouldn’t be considered as medical advice.

If you have concerns about your mental well-being while you’re in quarantine, please contact your mental health professional or use SAMHSA’s National Helpline by calling 800-662-HELP (4357).


Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?

While coronavirus (COVID-19) is disrupting the workplaces of many in various countries, it is imperative that the United States takes as many precautions as possible. Many workplaces have emergency plans into fruition for storms and unforeseen weather, but are there plans in place for a virus that is spreading quickly? Read this blog post to learn more.


This coronavirus (or COVID-19) has taken a more serious turn in the U.S. with warnings that it could very well impact how, when and where we work:

"Disruption to everyday life may be severe," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned at a news conference. "Schools could be closed, mass public gatherings suspended, and businesses forced to have employees work remotely."

The global spread of the virus may be a moment that reveals whether employers are ready to respond rapidly to unexpected workplace changes. Business travel could decrease or come to a full stop. More employees may need to work outside of local "business hours" and use video conferencing to operate across time zones. And, if it gets bad enough, many could indeed be asked, or request, to work remotely.

Are organizations ready? Chances are probably not. But even for those open to rethinking how the work would get done, are they ready for the inevitable post-crisis question: "Why don't we do this all the time?"

How do you prepare your organization to not only flexibly respond to this potential disruption, but also to use it as an opportunity to reimagine work broadly? Here are five steps to get started:

Acknowledge the possibility that all or part of your workforce may need to work remotely.

Hoping and praying it doesn't happen, or simply ignoring it, is not a strategy. Neither is handing everyone a laptop and saying "Go work someplace else" on the day they expand wide-scale quarantines. Plan as if the only way to remain operational will be for as many employees as possible to work remotely. Gather a cross-functional team together now that includes business-line leaders, IT, HR, communications and facilities to start to plan for different scenarios and optimize execution, should circumstances require a rapid response.

Map out jobs and tasks that could be affected.

Note which roles and duties: 1) Can be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the workplace, 2) Cannot be done, even somewhat, outside of the physical office, and 3) Not sure.

Challenge any potentially inaccurate default assumptions about specific jobs you may have thought couldn't be done remotely. And for those in the "not sure" column, be willing to experiment. For example, for years, I've been told, "Administrative assistants can't work flexibly." And, for years, I've worked with teams of administrative assistants to prove that is not true. Yes, certain tasks they complete require physical presence, but those can be planned for. The majority of their tasks can happen effectively outside of the traditional model of work and benefit the business.

Audit available IT hardware and software, and close any gaps in access and adoption.

Assess the comfort level with specific applications, such as video conferencing and other collaboration/communication platforms. Where you find gaps, provide training and opportunities for practice before people need to use them. Real-time mastery is not optimal and is inefficient. Identify devices owned by the organization that people could use and clarify acceptable "bring your own" phone and laptop options. Determine if there are any data-security issues to consider and how best to address them beforehand.

Set up a communications protocol in advance.

This communications plan needs to outline: how to reach everybody (e.g., all contact information in one place, primary communication channels clarified — email, IM, Slack, etc.); how employees are expected to respond to customers; and how and when teams will coordinate and meet.

Identify ways to measure performance that could inform broader change.

After the flexible response period is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn't and why. The data will also prepare you in advance to answer the inevitable question once the crisis has passed, "Why don't we do this all the time?" Depending upon the outcomes, you may decide to continue certain aspects of the flexible response permanently. For example, perhaps you cut business travel by 25% and substitute video conferencing. You determine afterward that about 80% of those meetings were equally as effective virtually. Therefore, a 20% decrease in business travel will continue, but this time as part of the organization's sustainability strategy to cut carbon emissions.

Global health emergencies, like COVID-19, are scary, disruptive and confusing for everyone. And if you plan and nothing happens? Then, at minimum, you have an organized, flexible work disaster response ready the next time there's a challenge to operational continuity, which chances are, there will be.

SOURCE: Williams Yost, C. (10 March 2020) "Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/viewpoint-whats-your-companys-emergency-remote-work-plan.aspx


Coronavirus pandemic puts the spotlight on mental health resources

Mental health is a sensitive topic for those who are affected by it, but as businesses begin to close due to COVID-19, certain behaviors and uncertainty has led to an increased amount of anxiety. During this time, mental health is being challenged with balancing the stress of the COVID-19 outbreak and daily lives. Read this blog post to learn more.


Managing mental health in and outside of the office is a challenge for more than half of Americans, but the added stressors of coronavirus are pushing many people to reach out for help.

As attempts are made to quell the spread of COVID-19, companies have mandated employees work remotely and have cancelled conferences, gatherings and other non-essential travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended implementing “social distancing,” which involves minimizing exposure by avoiding large crowds, working remotely if possible, and practicing personal hygiene like washing your hands frequently.

“Obviously it’s a stressful time, and we’re seeing significant increases in sessions for therapy and psychiatry,” says Russ Glass, CEO of Ginger, a virtual mental health support platform. “The disruption in behavior and the uncertainty has led to a lot of anxiety.”

The increasing severity of the pandemic has many people on edge. The World Health Organization released guidance for dealing with stress and anxiety associated with coronavirus. Among their recommendations: avoid watching the news and implement plans to feel prepared and safe.

“Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that can cause you to feel anxious or distressed — the sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried,” the WHO guidelines say.

But for those with mental health issues, balancing the demands of work with this new reality can add additional stress and make work challenging.

“When people are experiencing fear, they try to exert control in whatever situation they can, but the results are often destructive,” says Ken Zuckerberg, vice president of training at ComPsych, a global EAP provider. “Employees are not performing their best if they’re dealing with feelings of isolation, or fears of being quarantined.”

Eighteen percent of Americans struggle with mental illness, and 61% of employees report their mental health affects their work, according to the CDC. Even in times when external stressors are not as prevalent, these issues lead to productivity loss and absenteeism in the workplace.

“People at work who are dealing with behavioral health issues self-report 20% or greater productivity loss and also develop other chronic health conditions,” Glass says. “Employees are coming to their employer and saying, ‘I need help but our current insurance plan or current EAPs aren't providing the right level of access. I can't get care.’”

Now more than ever, employers need to provide resources that address these mental health issues, Glass says.

“Companies have to be thinking about both physical and mental health and recognize that this is a very stressful time for their employees,” says Glass, whose mental health platform, Ginger, connects users with behavioral health coaches for chat and video-based sessions. Users can seek help from therapists and psychiatrists through the platform. Glass says they’ve reported an 16% increase in session volume and a 10% increase in their daily users in the past two weeks.

For those struggling with anxiety or feelings of isolation because of coronavirus, WHO recommends people maintain their daily routines and reach out for support and connection.

“Even in situations of isolation, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines. Stay connected via email, social media, video conference and telephone,” the guidelines say.

Ensuring the mental well-being of all employees, especially in high-stress times, involves providing communication and access to help, Glass says.

“Putting resources in place or communicating the resources you already have in place can be helpful to your employees,” Glass says. “If you're feeling anxious, it’s a good time to reach out to family members or friends or your behavioral health coach and talk through it. Have some outlets to discuss this in a way that's not just social media.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (13 March 2020) "Coronavirus pandemic puts the spotlight on mental health resources" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/coronavirus-pandemic-puts-the-spotlight-on-mental-health-resources