How to keep workers happy after 2 years of COVID

'We have to shine a light on our strengths and be grateful for what’s around us'

How to keep workers happy after 2 years of COVID

Over the last two years, HR leaders have struggled to keep staff spirits up while many people faced burnout and stress caused personally and professionally.

But as we inch closer to a return to normal, and many workers remain back at home, how can those workers feel engaged and positive? 

Understanding happiness is one place to start, says Adam Stoehr, excellence and employee happiness researcher at Excellence Canada in Toronto.

“The definition of happiness that I work with is basically a combination of three things that need to be present… satisfaction, engagement, and morale. Those three things need to be overlapping for us to feel happy at work.”

Satisfaction is basically the things that we like at work, he says: “I like my pay. I like my boss. I like my level of supervision.”

Up next is engagement.

“You need deep meaning and you need a level of commitment to be engaged at work and so that’s what we’re aiming for with all our remote workers right now, which is to have them find meaning in their work and find a reason for doing what they’re doing,” says Stoehr.

Finally, morale is this notion that it’s not what one person likes, but what people like as a team.

“Remote workers who are working in a team — which is essentially what we all are doing remotely — it’s hard to establish that sense of culture, that sense of team. That’s the third piece to this; it’s the most fragile of the three.”

Solving the problem

So, how can these three areas be improved? It all begins with the employee.

“We have to shine a light on our strengths and be grateful for what’s around us. It’s based on the quote ‘There is nothing either good or bad, it’s thinking that makes it so,’ so when we talk about the world around us, even in the last few years, it’s been nothing but bad news. In the last two weeks, it’s been horrible news about wars but we are happier when we focus on the positives of situations and our brains can then become the architects of our reality, and create our own happiness,” says Stoehr.

It's about remembering the concept of the silver lining, he says.

“I used to spend three hours in my car commuting every day driving to downtown Toronto, and now I spend zero hours in my car.”

Up next is modifying your own behaviour on a daily basis, according to Stoehr, and actively commiting random acts of kindness.

“Just be kind: thank you notes, encouraging emails, buying the guy next behind you in line a coffee ------ there’s a lot of research that supports [that]. Kindness triggers the release of different chemicals in your brain like serotonin and oxytocin, and it makes us feel happier as a result so those are random acts of kindness can last a long time.”

Sense of community

Many organizations have instituted social events via video meetings and while these are good ideas to keep up morale, keep them short, says Stoehr.

“We don’t want to overdo them because we all have a little bit of Zoom fatigue over the last couple of years as well. Those events are valuable for organizations because we have a chance to unwind and share pieces of our lives that we typically would do around a water cooler [and] things like that; they would help increase remote team spirit.”

Zoom fatigue is becoming an even greater problem than before, found a survey.

For HR departments and leaders, it’s a good idea to show appreciation, especially for remote workers who might feel excluded from casual conversations that happen in-office.

“Teamwork and collaboration is really important for happiness, and making sure that people have that sense of team and that sense of community… and that’s just making sure that people realize that, ‘Hey, we’re one big team working together in our new environment, which happens to be remote for the near future,’” says Stoehr.

Making employees feel “valued” is one of the best ways to help their mental health, according to a Lifeworks survey.

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