Brokerage Ops

Pandemic-Induced Stress is New for Us All

Q&A with Ali Payne, President, Ethos
By Zach Ewell Posted on April 28, 2020

For some, working from home has been a seamless transition, but for employees who have been thrust into multitasking between their full-time job requirements, home schooling their children and tending to their family’s safety in this COVID-19 world, stress is a serious concern. April, quite fittingly, is Stress Awareness Month. Leader’s Edge recently interviewed Ali Payne, President of ethOs, a Holmes Murphy company, via phone to learn how employers can help their employees manage their stress levels during this unprecedented time.

Keeping track of employees’ health and wellbeing seems to be even more important during this pandemic. What is your advice to organizations that are looking to provide additional resources for their employees as they juggle the stresses of working at home, homeschooling their kids and protecting themselves and family?
Most employers today have a lot of really great resources already in place. The problem is that most employees don’t know what they are or where to go to find them, or even what might apply to them at this moment. There’s so much coming at employees that they’re really having a hard time just figuring out what’s most important and what they should be focusing on. And the hard thing about this is it changes every day. Everything is heightened now that we’re all dealing with things that we maybe have never dealt with. I’m a really good example. I’ve spent 16 years of my career working from home. That part for me isn’t hard. But working from home with three little kids is really hard. It doesn’t matter if you have kids or not. For employees, it’s really just understanding what your employer has for resources and for employers, it figuring out how to deploy those resources quickly.
How would employers go about understanding what their employees need and want when it comes to the resources they offer?
You could do a couple of different things. The first one would be organizing all the buckets of wellbeing and communicating with whoever owns them—whether it’s HR, the CFO, or someone else. An example could be financial wellbeing and retirement plans. And then you have physical wellbeing–what are all the things you do to offer health insurance? You may offer dental and vision insurance, but you may also offer other things like a gym reimbursement. So you need to understand what the offerings are and then secondly, you have to understand, what you are paying for those resources. Some of them just come with your package.
April is Stress Awareness Month and the coronavirus has certainly brought on a whole new level of stress for people. Are the best ways to deal with stress in the middle of a pandemic the same tips and tools as dealing with stress in general?
I think we need to find ways to understand what impacts our stress levels and how we deal with it. There isn’t a right or a wrong way to manage stress; how we handle it internally and externally is probably a good place to start, but also even taking a step back to determine what it is that triggers it and how we identify that trigger. Ultimately, we call it resilience. The best ways to deal with stress are simply acknowledging that we have it and then taking steps to determine your best way to manage it. For me that means going for a run, usually alone with my own thoughts. I remember many times where a work situation would have me stressed and my leader would ask if I had gone on a run yet. After a run my mind is always clearer and I can tackle the issue or the stressful situation better. Simply admitting we all have stress and sharing how we manage it can really help everyone learn from each other. . Take a walk, take a bit of time for yourself, take a break to work on something else, call a friend, keep it positive, tomorrow is another day.
Is there a specific amount of screen time you believe people working from home should adhere to, or does it vary?
I think it’s less about total screen time and more about taking chunks of screen time, because when you think about how you worked prior to this, people still looked at their computers all day. When we transitioned to working from home, people’s hours typically just naturally got longer because there’s no commute time. There’s not those random interruptions you have and so people tend to just spend more time in front of their computer. It’s not necessarily right or wrong or good or bad. It’s just really being able to recognize what’s right for you and what’s right for your time. And that’s easier for some and harder for others. You may want to set a stopwatch or something that reminds you every 20 minutes to close your eyes and turn around and not look at the computer screen or stand up and move to a different room.
How does physical health play into managing stress and how can companies help their employees practice physical health while working from home?
Everyone defines physical activity a little bit differently. I don’t think that we need to tell people that they need to run a marathon ordo anything like that, but I think just moving more helps. So, if you have the ability to get out and go for a walk, or you have the ability to use something that gets you moving, whether it’s a treadmill or a bike, or whatever your pick is. It doesn’t have to be a lot and it doesn’t have to be all at one time. If 10 minutes here and there gets you by that’s awesome. And that change of scenery really does help you both from a stimulation standpoint. It kind of goes back to that not looking at your screen all day long and taking a break and even if it’s 10 minutes or five minutes or a walk around your couch.
How important is taking breaks while working from home? Some people are easily distracted and may trick themselves into believing they took a long enough break or that scrolling through social media is the only type of break they need. What does taking a break, and allowing your brain and body to destress look like?
Most of the time, you can ask yourself whether you think you’ve had a long enough break and it really depends on how tired you are. And I think some people, they just naturally take breaks because they know their body, but if you don’t, then it might be harder [to take breaks]. And so it’s just kind of like drinking water, right? You have to remind yourself to drink enough water every day. I know that’s something I always struggle with. So when I’m looking at my computer all day, every hour or every 45 minutes, I try and get up and do something for five minutes. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be something specific. It could just be getting up and going into a different room. And that 30 seconds might be enough to recharge.
What kinds of new ideas and innovations do you think might pop up as a result of this unusual time, in terms of increasing employee engagement in wellness solutions and driving costs down?
I think more innovation really comes on the technology side of things—look at how many more people are using tools like Zoom or Skype. It is crazy the amount of business being done virtually, than ever before. It will definitely change the dynamic of how we do business and how we make connections over the long term. If the whole work from home situation hasn’t impacted how your leaders lead, I am not sure what will. How many times are you connecting with leaders and how much more intentional have you been around the conversations? Even changing the start of your conversations from “how are you?” to “tell me something good,” shifts the whole dynamic about the day you might have had. Even people who have always worked from home are seeing changes in leadership. The wellness or wellbeing of your employees is also pretty different than it once was. Bringing your whole self to work is totally different. In some cases, you are bringing yourself and your whole family. People are needing the right resources now more than ever and not just in physical wellbeing but also in emotional, community and financial.
Zach Ewell Content Specialist Read More

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