Welcome to season two of Lincoln Leads! In the first episode of the season we’ll explore how many of the changes the workforce experienced in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic may be considered permanent – whether that’s at home or at work. Listen in to learn about how employers can help support their employees as they navigate adapting to new routines and expectations, and key ways to successfully lead a happy and productive workforce.
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Welcome to season two of Lincoln Leads. We look forward to continuing our conversation on employee wellbeing and key ways that Lincoln is here to help employers navigate unique and complex situations. For our first episode of the season, we' re welcoming back Dr. Glennn Pransky associate professor at the university of Massachusetts Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, who is a scientific advisor for Lincoln Financial Group and Dr. David Berube chief medical officer for Lincoln Financial Group and assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine. In this episode, we'll explore how the COVID-19 pandemic has touched all aspects of employees' lives, whether at home or at work, the lessons we've learned and what the future might hold. Dr. Pransky, we all know our world has experienced profound changes due to COVID-19. Which ones do you think are here to stay?Dr. Glenn Pransky:
Thanks Rana. Yes. There are a lot of them, but first we must acknowledge all of the death and suffering that the virus has caused and the need for compassion for everyone who continues to be impacted. We very much look forward to seeing all of this improve. So besides the illness, think about the other disruptions that have occurred in every aspect of our lives. Many elderly who've moved from assisted living to home care by their children. So much has gone from in-person to online schooling, socializing, family gatherings, religious services, community meetings, work meetings, and many p eople's jobs. And more t ake o ut has replaced dining in for most restaurants, whether it's real estate, business investments or consumer habits, no aspect of the economy has been left untouched. So many of these changes that have taken place in 2020 may remain permanent even after the pandemic is over with. And let me share a few examples that caught my attention. So by mid 2020 in-person retail sales had plummeted by 75% and online shopping had increased by over 31%. Will this go back to the way it was before? Probably not. In one survey, 40% of consumers said that even after the pandemic is over, they are more likely to continue shopping from home for household goods. By mid 2020, tele-health had replaced most in-person routine doctor's visits and over 83% of those who used tele-health recently want to keep using it in the future. Even after the pandemic is over. Most college students were forced to switch to virtual classes and many are now reconsidering whether the higher cost of on-campus education is good value, and this will lead to a likely shift to more online and hybrid options in the future. As we know, business travel practically stopped entirely during the first wave of the pandemic and this forced a shift to virtual meetings and conferences and more use of Slack and other online communication channels. Even after the pandemic is over business travel will likely return to only 60 to 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Also by May, 2020, over 70% of office workers were partially or fully working from home. And it's estimated that up to half of these displaced workers may never go back to full-time in office jobs. And up to a third of these displaced workers might end up permanently working entirely from home. Finally, there are many family challenges. The average working mother for example, is now spending 20 more hours per week on housework and childcare than before the pandemic. And this added stress may continue for parents who are permanently assigned to a home office .Dr. David Berube:
Glenn, I agree, and there's been a lot of disruption to what we previously considered to be essentially a normal way of life. And there's been a major impact on families and the way we have healthcare, income, mental health wellbeing , and the overall satisfaction with our lives. Although there are many signs that some of the changes that you mentioned may be permanent. It's also important for us to recognize that historically there have been lessons learned from past up epidemics, pandemics and developments that have resulted from them have resulted in some improvement. This pandemic, for example, is likely to have similar learnings. And many of them are not fully realized , uh , to this point, some of the potential developments could be things like accessing healthcare, as you mentioned, through wider avenues, including telemedicine, perhaps some of the problems that we have today with shortages in rural areas, reduced numbers of physicians, for example, in certain specialties and things like a reduction of the worktime loss, because one needs to on occasion take a whole day off to see a doctor and really this new ability to meet with providers using virtual technologies can have some positive outcomes for our future. Mental health care in particular is one area where there's a significant shortage of providers. And this is a great example of where we may see more treatment at the right time with scheduling of visits in more real-time versus weeks into the future. We'll also see perhaps some better education, some adaptation of some of these technologies , perhaps some communication of better health habits that can reduce the spread of contagious illnesses. You know, education on things such as hand washing or using a mask and physical distancing, perhaps when we're ill. These may result in some positive outcomes for us all into the future. I also think we may benefit from better communication in some settings with family and friends, especially if we live far apart from them, or if we simply do not have the time. As you know, folks are very busy. There's a lot of two worker families, and some people have more than one job. This really prevents us from having a , a great sense of community and family. And with some of these technologies, we may be able to virtually visit some of our elderly or disabled family and friends where in a sense, they've been functioning in an, a silo alone, not communicating to folks. So hopefully that'll be a future development, which has an improvement for them in particular. We also know that commuting has changed for many and work at home environment. Early on in the pandemic our roads were appearing empty and we saw a reduction in air pollution, a reduction in motor vehicle accidents and other transportation related injuries and so on. And results in the short-term was an improvement in the family unit, a lot of socializing in the home with some stresses, right? You know, so homeschooling of children, for example, provided a new stressor for many people, but overall with more work at home opportunities, we may be seeing some benefits for both the risks air pollution and in the family unit.Dr. Glenn Pransky:
David, these are very good points. You're reminding me that a lot of us have personally benefited from this already myself, accessing telemedicine, and also being able to see my family virtually a lot more often. And I think that these benefits will be long- term positive impacts that we'll see in our lives and work after the pandemic is over. So thinking about employers, it appears that those companies who can adapt how they do business to this new normal and how they support and manage employees and provide the right tools to achieve their objectives, of course, while putting safety first, those companies will be the ones who will be most likely to succeed In the future.Dr. David Berube:
Absolutely. I agree. And you know , that also includes giving up what we might describe as old ways of doing business that aren't working. Right. So when we look at the strategies that successful companies are using to deal with the pandemic and the changes that they've implemented as a result, I think key enhanced business practices that we look at fall into four main categories. So number one, communication with employees, very, very important. And I think a lot of work has been done and a lot of understanding of the , of the return on the investment, those extra touches that previously may not have been necessary. Number two, looking carefully at both the positive and negative impacts of the pandemic, as you indicated, you know, now and into the distant future, number three, evaluating work from home opportunities. Now, obviously not everyone can work at home. We have a lot of, you know , the frontline workers and essential workers who are out there, but when possible, there are some benefits from working at home and , and looking at the value of that for many of the individuals in our companies, number four, maintaining employee health and wellbeing , one critical aspect. I think employers have traditionally provided benefit offerings and so on and now there's a great interest in following them more closely and making sure that the right things are addressed in particular with mental health and wellbeing . So Glenn n , you know , if we look at communication, what's the literature telling us about the employer, employee communication and its effectiveness?Dr. Glenn Pransky:
Well, David its, I think absolutely correct to put communication as the first point on your list because it's a necessary starting point for success. What we've learned from past epidemics is that regular open communication from leadership is critical to gain trust and develop a sense of security and safety on the job. So we encourage leaders to have empathetic discussions with employees. Talk about the impact of the pandemic on financial, physical, and emotional health, the disruption of normal family and social activity, education, and the impact on relationships, listening and engaging with employees about their challenges is key. So leaders can talk from personal experience and also share what they've heard and learned. Again, empathy is really important. So listening is the best way to learn about the challenges that employees are experiencing. It's key to find out where employees need reassurance, access to new programs or supports, and whether there may be additional measures that need to be taken to keep workers safe. We suggest addressing these issues proactively. So employees can instead focus on figuring out what changes and adaptations are needed to keep the business running effectively and put them in place.Dr. David Berube:
And there are many suggestions about how employers may address the long-term impacts of the workplace. First reflect on what's happened as a result of the pandemic. You know, each company is unique in many ways, and there are both positives and negative considerations and steps that can be taken to mitigate the negative impacts and also to continue and enhance the positive change. For example, all those schooling and daycare issues should resolve this may take months to sort out and companies will need to plan for the future until then employers and employees will need to be flexible to accommodate things such as schedules for children and other things that may impact the daily lives of the employees and for essential workers and others who are potentially exposed to COVID-19 on the job, ensuring that they understand the risks, know how to protect themselves and are empowered to do what's needed to keep themselves safe. Uh, you know, empowerment is a critical thing for individuals to experience and feel so that they can successfully perform the duties that are required of them. And they can really enjoy their work instilling that sense of control into their environment and their daily activities is really important for their safety and morale. Evaluating the risks of an individual worker can be challenging, but evidence-based tools to figure this out are available now for employers and are increasingly becoming more available. Also as the situation in the community workplace and, you know, individuals change over time, things change and the level of that employee's risk and the employer's response should be updated on a regular basis to ensure that things are being done as needed and when needed. You know, the positive long-term impacts of these changes include the flexibility in the schedules. The end result of this could be improved family time, empowerment, avoidance of unsafe conditions, and fortunately less transmission of infections within the workplace and outside of the workplace are expected. In addition, employers are also in need to address how to better protect employees from burnout and stressful situations that have occurred. We've seen an increase in burnout and stress in many types of workers and have learned that employee manager communication is critical to address this. Increasing the number of meetings or the format of the manager employee meetings has been found to be very helpful to mitigate worksite stress and burnout topics , uh , to consider such as reinforcing the normal work hours of the employee or addressing safety concerns and scheduling challenges are important things to be addressed. In addition issues such as giving an employee permission to set aside their work phone during part of the day, or being allowed, not to review emails during part of the day, and this could be in the evening. And, you know, oftentimes employees may feel, especially in a work at home environment where the scheduling and the hours of the day get all blurred in, one may not realize that gee , you know, the phone is next to me maybe I, I would feel more relaxed if it's not, and , and really reviewing with the employee's expectations for the activities , uh, rewarding them for the accomplishments and ensuring that the communications that , uh, are not our traditional normal historical ways of communicating, you know, seeing someone in the hallway is just not occurring right now, but we may be able to see them in a virtual setting. So managers could schedule and arrange regular check-ins with their employees , uh , individually, as well as in groups to mitigate and manage some of the stress that's been occurring.Dr. Glenn Pransky:
Very good points. So, David, let me go to your third topic on your list, which is the shift to working at home. We think that this shift is going to be permanent for many former office workers. So this is one area where it's important to review the benefits, as well as the challenges of these new arrangements that become the new normal. So on the plus side, working remotely has expanded access to training access to remote contributors, more flexible work schedules, and it's eliminated commuting time and non-essential business travel. It's important to make sure that all employees are aware of these benefits and options and opportunities and how they will be maintained after the pandemic is over. This could be something that they appreciate and look forward to. But it's also important to understand and proactively address some of the potential challenges of working from home or working i n a different location that might have new risks. Many working parents are worried that they can't manage it all and are hard pressed to maintain a virtual presence, but always looks like business as usual. This is often an impossible task when working from home change, the expectation. Reinforce through example that none us are going to get this down perfectly. Forward-thinking employers are helping families to set up childcare pods, educational collaboratives, eldercare supports , and promoting more flexible work and leave schedules all to solve some of these challenges of working from home. They are also evaluating and improving home- work stations to prevent musculoskeletal problems and also offering suggestions to reduce unnecessary distractions. And some employers are also setting up remote hoteling locations that employees can use when they need quiet and privacy. As you mentioned, David some are, replacing lost informal hallway conversations by opening up channels for sort of virtual water cooler meetups . They're encouraging employees to share ideas with each other about the hardships they face and how they're successfully adapting. This type of peer support has been proven to make a big difference. Flexible schedules are also here to stay. This is another major benefit for workers, but employers may need a time when everyone across the team is available such as the first two hours of each workday. Encourage employees to make a family schedule that includes both work and home responsibilities. This type of advanced planning really does reduce stress and conflict. Another thing for employers to address this technology in a recent survey of a representative sample of employees who are working from home, 65% said that trying to do their job remotely took too much effort and wasted time. In fact, the average respondents said that they spent five unproductive hours each week wrestling with technology issues. So proactive employers have added support and developed programs of expert, peer mentorship, and partner employees. And they are constantly re-evaluating and improving their systems based on feedback from users. But is this an opportunity to think outside the box about use of technology? How could this new normal lead to longterm savings, more effective collaboration and more efficient meetings if done, right. This seems to require implementing new systems that give employees the quality and value of interactions with others. That's close to what they might get if they were actually in the office. So of course training is also part of the puzzle here. Forward thinking companies are really intent on improving their employees, proficiency with the tools they need for online group communication, messaging, sharing documents, and workspaces, scheduling, mapping and material management and tracking. So this is an area where HR specialists can focus on this opportunity and gain a competitive edge, encouraging the right training for the new job roles that will be important in this new reality. It's worth thinking about what is your culture for work at home best practices. And there are several issues to address. For example, how late is too late to call somebody about a work issue? Is it okay to have sounds of children in the background for an internal call? How about for some external calls? What's the acceptable length of a video call or online meeting? Should you encourage the video on mode? So everyone is really present, are simultaneous side conversations in the chat mode, okay or distracting. It's a good idea to clarify expectations, remembering that body language and private conversations aren't present in the virtual world, the way they would be in person. So you need to be much more explcit.Dr. David Berube:
Glenn those are really, really excellent points. Let's return to employee health. We talked about COVID-19 concerns, but there's also an important dimension of overall physical and mental health employees may benefit from learning about the risks of avoided care. Especially for medical emergencies. Educational resources can allay fears about COVID infection. And, you know, this has led to approximately 40% of Americans avoiding needed healthcare during the pandemic. They really feared if they went out to a provider's office that they would get infected. And that that's a real concern. For some conditions, employers can encourage the use of telemedicine when appropriate, the use of an employee assistance program, if available, or other modes of evaluation to ensure that when something comes up, they , they get it addressed properly and they understand how to do so. Providing available benefits does not necessarily mean that employees will use them if they don't understand how to use them. Through education and providing the right resources, employers can help their employees develop a resilient and coping mindset, training, peer support and professional help are important to understand so that when issues occur, the needs are recognized and solutions are realized. Experts also advise the development of skills to identify what we can and cannot control and to stay more focused on what we can control. It's a form of thinking reset. Successful adaptation to change and stressful events is linked to how well we respond to change. And it depends a lot on the factors of resilience, such as flexibility, understanding what motivates us, innovative thinking creativity, understanding our eagerness for change or lack thereof understanding our appreciation of new experiences and simple patience. These are all features of resilience , a quality that can be improved through understanding and practice.Dr. Glenn Pransky:
Thanks, David, your last points are especially important as even when the pandemic is over, there still will be significant stresses for the ongoing change and adaptation that's going to happen in the workplace. I agree the long-term vision is hopeful and positive, but it can be hard to appreciate this when we're surrounded by such high rates of illness, suffering, death and economic challenges. However, we've already seen that those employers who take a fact-based, empathetic and proactive approach, continually seeking employee input, and then responding in ways that address current challenges while at the same time planning for the future. It's those companies that are in the best shape to deal with both the present and what lies ahead. Hopefully once the pandemic is over the changes and adaptations that are long-term will be a positive outcome for many employers, as well as their employees.Rana Czellecz:
Thank you, Dr. Pransky and Dr. Berube for this engaging and thoughtful conversation today. As always Lincoln is here to help our partners navigate all situations no matter the complexity. Tune in to season two of Lincoln Leads to continue on this journey with us in supporting employee wellbeing and navigating the employee benefits landscape.Disclosures:
Please remember that our content is advisory only the information contained in this podcast is for general use and is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney or your human resource professional. Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name for Lincoln National Corporation and its affiliates affiliates are separately responsible for their own financial and contractual obligations.Citations:
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