The last two years have probably been some of the most difficult years that some people have ever experienced. Uncertainty and fear have become part of our norm, and we’ve had to contend with many challenges across all aspects of our lives. 

One domain that has been particularly affected is our work life. Many of us are now working from home 24/7 (I don’t think anyone could have predicted how difficult remote working would be!), and this means that there have been drastic changes to the way we interact with each other in the workplace. Now, everything is virtual. We communicate solely through our screens or phones, with anything ‘in-person’ being a thing of the past. This means that both getting work done and getting to know people has become much harder than before, and it is taking a toll on us. Of course, these are two critical aspects to functioning optimally in any job. This pandemic has been the disruption that none of us expected but all of us have to confront. 

I’d like to think that all hope is not lost. I do believe that we are capable of developing the resilience, strength, and will necessary to keep going. I do believe that we can still thrive despite these circumstances. And I’m not the only one.

I recently read a very inspiring article by the CEO and president of Midwest Business Group on Health, Cheryl Larson. It not only discusses the issues that individuals and workplaces face today but also offers some great tips and tricks to tackle these challenges. Larson’s article shares effective strategies (conceptualized by her colleague, Pam Hannon) that will help people and organizations alike remain adaptable, compassionate, and engaged. I also believe that these insights are great ways to promote well-being and wellness. I can’t help but share a few of my favorites.

One of the strategies I liked the most was the recommendation that people should continue to protect and prioritize both their mental and physical health. Now, while this may not sound radical, there is much more to it than eating right, exercising, and practicing self-care. While this is an important part of it, maintaining our physical and mental health means receiving the necessary vaccinations and getting enough sleep. It also means making sure our schedules are balanced and putting aside time to do activities that we enjoy and that relax us. This is easier said than done, but these strategies are effective because they help to prepare our minds and bodies for any new challenges that we may encounter. They, in this way, build our resilience and strength so that we can keep going in these difficult times. 

Another great tip that Larson shared was to develop and maintain genuine relationships with the people around us. This means that we should spend time developing good, quality connections with the people in our lives - whether our friends, family, or colleagues at work. The more genuine and honest connections we have, the better impact they have on our well-being. This is an incredibly useful strategy.  Not only do these relationships involve more mutual trust and respect, but they also help to get us out of our comfort zones. They compel us to take the time and effort to make a connection with someone we can relate to, speak honestly with and see as a source of support. Now, while I recognize that this is a difficult thing to achieve - especially in our increasingly virtual world - I don’t think it is impossible. I think with effort, time, and intention, we can all have these relationships and ultimately benefit from them. 

In addition to providing insight for all individuals, Larson’s article shared the specific ways that workplaces can support and protect the health of employees.

For example, Larson suggests that to promote the wellness of their workers, leaders should take the opportunity to speak with workers and discuss the collective goals and priorities of the team. This is a fantastic way to make sure everyone is aligned in their end goals. Productive and meaningful conversations will also allow leaders to ask for constructive feedback from their employees. Leaders should also use this time to ensure that everyone is able and willing to participate and to encourage the group to “co-create a vision.” Note, this isn’t a novel strategy, per se, but the traditional approach does need to be somewhat modified to fit into the virtual workplace. Building a rapport and having this type of conversation can go a long way.

Another effective strategy employers can use to maintain the wellbeing of their employees is to encourage them to hang out with each other, and to build a “fun, team connection.” Whether it be through coffee or lunch chats, virtual book clubs, or even a virtual workout session, employees should be involved in group activities to get to know each other. We initially tried and gave up pretty quickly on this type of strategy when COVID-19 first hit, but it may be time for us to finally bring it back. This strategy is great for building camaraderie and helping employees unwind. In my opinion, it is one of the strongest (and easiest) ways for leaders to support their employees and prioritize their mental health. 

Although we are going through a difficult time, there are things that can be done - for individuals and organizations alike - to stay healthy and happy. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all to these strategies. People and employers should choose the approaches that work best for them. What we need to remember - above all - is that there are always going to be ways for us to regain our strength and prevail despite the circumstances.

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