How to diminish the effects of isolation during social distancing
by Charles Benayon
Do you remember a time when you had to isolate yourself for an extended period and limit your movement beyond the confines of your household walls? Neither do I.
What we are currently experiencing with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic are measures likely not experienced by most of us in this lifetime. With social distancing and isolation in full effect, there’s no doubt that changes have been made to your organization to comply with the recommendations made by government health officials.
While we focus on what we should be doing to “flatten the curve” by practising what I call “safe health” (such as washing hands, social distancing and self-isolating), little has been written about the effects of staying confined to our homes to live and work, whether with our families or, for many, alone.
Feelings of loneliness occur when we feel “alone, unwanted or isolated,” according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Loneliness can have varying effects on our physical and mental health, from damaged sleep quality to increased risk of heart disease.
The call for social distancing means “physical distancing” and does not preclude being “social,” albeit in ways that we are not accustomed to. As an employer during this unprecedented time, by promoting a sense of normalcy and wellness at home, you can protect employees from the negative effects of loneliness.
Maintain a visual connection with employees
With many employees now working from home, it’s easy to rely on the familiarity of the telephone and email for communication. While these are effective means of communication, consider hosting virtual meetings as well.
By using video calling software such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Hangouts, you can maintain a semblance of face-to-face connection with employees for one-on-one meetings or group “town hall meetings.” Additionally, you may wish to encourage hosting virtual “lunches” during the work week where you and your employees can discuss non-work-related topics to foster a social atmosphere.
As studies have shown, face-to-face communication can reduce the risk of depression. Though virtual meetings are not face-to-face in the true sense of the word, they’re the closest we’ll get to it while respecting physical distancing.
Many employees may have never experienced the luxury of working from home. Encourage them to get creative with their workspace and promote a little friendly competition. Ask for photo submissions of each of your team member’s workspace and vote on which workspace is the most creative. Not only will this task break up the monotony of one’s day, but creativity has been shown to have positive impacts on mental health and brain-boosting effects. It’s a fun activity that can bring entertainment to your entire team from the comfort of their home.
Maintain a routine
With the closure of non-essential businesses across the country, and being asked to work from home, our daily routines have certainly been uprooted. For instance, you can no longer go to the gym in the mornings, have your morning coffee at the local coffee shop, or go out to a restaurant at lunch. Many companies are adapting the way they conduct business to continue to serve their customers.
For example, employee assistance programs (EAPs) have shut down face-to-face counselling for now to respect physical distancing and have embraced telephonic and virtual counselling sessions for clients. You can promote online workouts to your employees and encourage them to support local restaurants by ordering takeout coffee or lunch. Maintaining a routine has been linked to healthier sleep cycles, better mental health, and a minimized risk of developing emotional difficulties.
Most importantly, check in with your employees regularly. Reinforce government measures as they are announced and social responsibility, ensure they feel supported, and accommodate their needs as best as possible. Promote your EAP through all employee channels, remind them that they can receive counselling support from their EAP through video, telephonic, and digital platforms.
Remember, we are all in this together and I firmly believe that we will come out of this on the other side stronger, and better.
Charles Benayon is founder and CEO of Aspiria in Markham, Ont. at www.aspiria.ca.