Increased stress and anxiety surrounding Covid-19 has caused work productivity to plummet. Here are some strategies to beat distraction, reduce stress and increase mental clarity. Parents of New Britain students will have the option to keep their children home for all-online education, send them to school for traditional classes or try a mix of both. In explaining the school district’s plan for teaching 10,000 students during the pandemic, Superintendent Nancy Sarra emphasized that parents will have choices. When it comes to helping employees balance work hours with relaxation, Acuity Insurance Chief Executive Officer Ben Salzmann has a unique tool at his
As politicians debate whether or not to extend federal aid to millions of out-of-work Americans, school districts are debating if there will be a traditional school year. This means parents working at home will once more have the added distraction of supervising and teaching their kids, possibly throughout 2021. Add to that the stress and anxiety about saving for retirement, job security and health complications all related to the pandemic, and you’re left with millions of Americans feeling burned out.
The World Health Organization recently updated its definition of burnout from a stress syndrome to “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by three symptoms: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job or negative feelings toward one’s career; and reduced professional efficacy.
According to neuroscience expert Dr. Patrick Porter, founder of BrainTap Technologies, mental clarity is crucial for productivity. “Increased stress and anxiety surrounding Covid-19 has understandably caused work productivity to plummet because your emotional state is directly connected to your ability to focus.”
Porter says stress, anxiety and fear elevate cortisol levels in the brain, which interfere with memory, making it impossible to concentrate on your work. Not only is this bad for employees who are stressed out and scrambling to make ends meet with growing to-do lists, he says, it is also bad for businesses, as the decrease in productivity significantly impacts a company’s bottom line.
People at all levels of business are grappling with this issue, and they desperately need positive strategies to beat distraction, reduce stress and increase mental clarity, says Porter.
Yet according to a survey from the Pew Research Center, psychological distress resulting from the pandemic varies across different demographics. Women, young people and those whose jobs or income have been cut are more likely to fall into a high-stress category.
Until the pandemic subsides, here are a few useful ways to deal with burnout.
It is no secret that exercise can relieve stress. Physical activity helps your brain produce more endorphins — the feel-good neurotransmitters associated with runner’s high. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can lower the symptoms associated with mild anxiety. It can also improve your sleep and ease your stress levels.
But if you’re not an avid exerciser, you want to avoid overdoing it; otherwise, you could get discouraged. Brief aerobic exercise, like walking, can help you stay focused and solve problems more efficiently.
Tetra images | Getty Images
This might sound obvious, but it wouldn’t be if everyone got enough sleep. Deep sleep is restorative; researchers believe that during sleep, cerebrospinal fluid flushes out toxic wastes, thus “cleaning” the brain. The National Foundation for Sleep recommends that adults clock between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.
It is also important to limit the amount of screen time before turning in. Scientists recommend that you stop using your devices at least 30 minutes before bed. Setting an alarm to remind you to start winding down can be an effective way to get more sleep.
Photo: Caiaimage/Chris Ryan
Stop expecting satisfaction from your job. Burnout affects passionate start-up founders just as much as it affects dissatisfied cogs. For a lot of people, a job is nothing more than an exchange of labor for capital. If you’re no longer satisfied by your work, try volunteering or giving back.
Covid-19 may have complicated matters, but there are ways to volunteer online. Starting a new hobby is also a good way to fill the void left by your job. Investing time in your family and friends can also be rewarding and fulfilling.
Author: AJ Horch
New Britain students may take classes in-person, online or on a hybrid schedule
Parents of New Britain students will have the option this fall to keep their children home for all-online education, send them to school for traditional classes or try a mix of both.
In explaining the school district’s plan for teaching 10,000 students during the pandemic, Superintendent Nancy Sarra emphasized that parents will have choices.
One option that might help working parents and guardians is a hybrid system: They may design a schedule for their children to attend in person on certain days, and take classes virtually on the others.
If families choose in-person classes, they should prepare their children for a daily schedule very different than usual.
“All of our desk in the classrooms will be 3 feet apart, all students except for preschool must wear a mask and a face shield,” Sarra said in a recent online town hall for city parents.
Staff will maintain distance from students, kindergarten through eighth grade classes will have essentially no interaction with other classes, and high school schedules will be written to keep students together in the same small groups as much as possible, educators said.
Gym, music and art classes will be held in the student’s regular classroom — not in gyms or other special rooms. Students will eat breakfast and lunch at their desks, said Jacqui Maddy, supervisor of school nurses; they can remove masks during meals and during several “mask breaks” each day.
Students who can’t wear masks — or choose not to — won’t be able to attend classes in person, so their families will need to enroll them in the online-only option, Sarra said.
“If you believe your children won’t be able to make it, start putting the mask on now and see if you can build their stamina,” she advised parents. “Or you might choose to have them learn virtually.”
The schools have been contracting for software so that systems for instruction, grading and parent communication are similar at all schools and grades. Students who take in-person classes will arrive with only a table or Chromebook — supplied by the school system — and a back-up mask.
All students — those in the buildings and those learning remotely — will use the devices for learning. The schools are asking parents to get headphones for their children to use, said Jeff Prokop, head of the system’s IT department.
“Communication between teachers and student will be happening very much through the computer,” Sarra said. “We really want to build the capacity of our students to work remotely to use their computer all day. There will be very little paper passing — we’re trying to limit contact as much as we can.”
That will also help New Britain prepare for a mid-year switch if coronavirus outbreaks worsen.
“Our goal is to make sure students are computer literate in case we have to shut down schools altogether and go entirely virtual,” she said.
Much of how the school year progresses will depend on the virus; if conditions in central Connecticut are good, the plan is for six-hour school days and buses running at full capacity.
If conditions deteriorate a bit, students will attend in-person one week, then alternate to virtual learning. Buses will run at less than half capacity. And if community transmission rates become even more troubling, all students will switch to entirely online classes.
The school district this week is sending questionnaires to all parents asking if they plan to have their children attend online or in person. Parents are able to view the entire video explanation of the 2020 plan at https://tinyurl.com/y5koq74q.
Don Stacom can be reached at [email protected]
Author: Don Stacom
How the Pandemic May Change ‘Work-Life Balance’ Forever
When it comes to helping employees balance work hours with relaxation, Acuity Insurance Chief Executive Officer Ben Salzmann has a unique tool at his disposal: a 65-foot Ferris wheel.
Before the pandemic struck, Salzmann would regularly fire up the amusement-park staple inside the company’s Sheboygan, Wisconsin, headquarters. About twice a month, employees were invited to bring their families in for a ride or two while drinks and kid-friendly food were served.
After-work social events like these have been hallmarks of companies looking to boost employee morale and foster a sense of community. But as we all know too well, those days are over for now—and companies interested in keeping workers content and productive face an unprecedented challenge. Even among those employers that workers say handle work-life balance best, adapting to the work-from-home world has been a struggle.
“Some of [the best companies for work-life balance] have really great paid-time off policies, flexible working schedules, good parental leave, sabbaticals and gym credits,” said Amanda Stansell, senior research analyst at workplace website Glassdoor. But as workers shifted to remote work, the spirit of in-person events and company culture needed to be recreated at home.
Acuity is one of those U.S. companies regarded as best for work-life balance, according to Glassdoor data from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. IT staffing agency Digital Prospectors, accounting software developer Sage Intacct, online survey provider SurveyMonkey, business software firm Slack Technologies and digital security trainer KnowBe4 are also among the top rated.
Take Time Off
Some are taking very different approaches to maintaining their worker-friendly reputation, but a consistent theme has been making sure employees take time off. Whether because they can’t go on a real vacation due to infection fears or they simply fear losing their job when tens of millions of Americans are unemployed, many employees just won’t stop working at a time when stress and burnout are likely off the charts.
This year is unlike any other in recent memory when it comes to the American workplace. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in 4.3 million confirmed infections and more than 148,000 deaths in the U.S., numbers that are expected to keep rising for the foreseeable future. For some workers, it has meant an unprecedented transition to working from home.
Human resource managers said schedule flexibility and supporting working parents have been popular solutions, according to research published in the MIT Sloan Management Review in June. Extending time-off policies and helping employees better manage workloads were less common approaches. Some companies said they are even contemplating permanent shifts away from full-time office work.
Mental health has become more important. San Mateo, California-based SurveyMonkey said it added internal programming for social isolation, potential burnout and anxiety. The company said it also provides confidential mental health services as well as “employee assistance programs” that provide family support, legal and financial assistance.
The firm played to its strength, designing questionnaires for its own employees which ask how they’re adapting to working remotely. The company has encouraged workers to take breaks to prevent video conferencing fatigue and provided a $500 stipend for setting up a home office.
The stipend can also cover subscriptions to child-care service platforms, child-care services and other dependent care support such as home nurses and academic subscriptions for in-home schooling, the company said.
SurveyMonkey also has an unlimited leave policy called “responsible paid time off,” where employees decide how many vacation days they should take. Such policies, however, can sometimes cause workers not to take time off, rather than risk being seen as taking too much. The company sought to alleviate this issue somewhat by giving employees a few “care flex days” to use before the end of June.
Some 70% of employees took advantage of the policy, said Janelle Lopez, senior director of people at SurveyMonkey. (The company said it hasn’t extend this perk to July.)
Robby Kwok, senior vice president for people at Slack, said persuading employees to take time has been critical during the pandemic.
Since April, all of San Francisco-based Slack’s employees get a Friday off together once per month—a change the company says it’s keeping until the end of the year (and which works because its employees are spread over different global regions).
When the company CEO took a week off, he encouraged those under him to do the same, said Robby Kwok, senior vice president for people at Slack. “If your leaders are not taking time off, it does not matter how much you say to the company [‘take time off’],” Kwok said. “They’re going to model that behavior.”
Kwok’s definition of work-life balance boils down to employees having the flexibility they need to make room for both. These days, it means things like being able to spend time with your kids in the morning, and then working into the early evening to make up hours. Slack also created “emergency time off” so employees can deal with issues that come up during the pandemic without using up their vacation days, he said.
One of the traditional ways of viewing work-life balance is how cleanly employees are able to disconnect—an especially difficult proposition in the work-from-home environment. At Slack, that means telling every new employee they should use the communication platform’s “Do Not Disturb” function to let others know they’re unavailable—and not be ashamed of it.
“Culturally, we made that very acceptable,” Kwok said. “Everyone from the CEO to the newest hire all know about that.”
When the pandemic eventually recedes, Kwok said, he expects employees will want to retain their new flexibility, further integrating work-from-home options into everyday, post-pandemic employment.
While some workers have turned their commutes into more time on the clock, there are other ways in which working from home has made life more stressful. One of these is spending more time jumping from virtual meeting to virtual meeting throughout the day.
Calendar software company Clockwise said it “processes” 500,000 calendars, which CEO Matt Martin said show employees are spending an average of 12% more time in meetings per week since the pandemic began. Bianca Repasi, a spokesperson for the company, declined to reveal the number of calendar users.
Software firm Sage Intacct said it found a simple way to deal with this virtual meeting mania: Tell employees to schedule each meeting five to 10 minutes after whatever time they originally planned. Carmen Cooper, senior director of people operations at the San Jose, California-based company, said it’s a change they plan to keep when they get back to the office.
At Acuity, the Ferris wheel reflects a key component of the company’s pre-pandemic effort to achieve work-life balance—activities. From wall climbing to maintaining a fitness center and even interest clubs, the insurer used them to build morale and give workers a way to recharge. They didn’t, however, translate too well into the world of Covid-19.
Now, those Ferris wheel rides have been replaced by gift cards for restaurants and local (and online) shopping. Fitness center services have now become virtual classes, the company said.
Productivity and mentoring have actually improved since remote work began, Acuity contends—so much so that Salzmann recently told employees they could keep doing it permanently if they wanted.
At cybersecurity firm KnowBe4, the pandemic has also pushed workplace culture online. Erika Lance, senior vice president of people operations, said they’ve started offering virtual daily classes, such as kickboxing and yoga, through the company’s intranet. Managers are even asking employees to share photos of their new “co-workers,” whether it’s kids or canines.
“I think the virtual community will still stay alive and be incorporated into the in-person community,” Lance said.
While the Clearwater, Florida-based company isn’t rushing back to the office, Lance said that when they do make the transition, they’ll need to accommodate employees who require a more flexible work environment. But that doesn’t seem like it will be anytime soon: They’re planning a drive-thru event for Halloween, with theme of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Top Photo: Acuity Insurance Co. employees gather in front of the company’s ferris wheel with CEO Ben Salzmann (kneeling). Carrier Management Magazine.
Copyright 2020 Bloomberg.