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    Over the last year, the COVID pandemic has forced us all to readjust our routines and lifestyles. So too have employers adjusted their attitudes and practices toward employee wellbeing. Some of these pandemic-related practices must be sustained and amplified even after the pandemic is in our past.

    The importance of self-care

    A recent NY Times article called Recycle Your Pandemic Habits by Tara Parker-Pope made the point that we would be wise to repurpose, recycle, and refashion some of our positive pandemic-induced lifestyle changes and attitudes, and to do so in ways to sustain them and grow the personal and social wellbeing benefits they create.  One example Ms. Parker-Pope mentioned was self-care.  She pointed out that self-care is not only good for us as individuals, but also good for our communities and good for our workplaces.  She notes that self-care is not being selfish or self-indulgent and that “I don’t have the time in invest in things that are good for me” is not an excuse.

    Self-care is not just activities like getting enough rest, but its really about examining our daily routines and setting priorities that balance and sustain our wellbeing so that we can be our best at work and in our personal lives.

    Lessons for employee wellbeing

    The article caused me to think of how employers over the course of this now nearly year-long pandemic have changed their attitudes, practices and investments that support employee wellbeing, morale, and engagement.  Progressive employers have stepped up to their responsibilities in these areas.  Employers must learn from, sustain and repurpose some of these lessons.

    Here are 3 actions employers should continue beyond this pandemic.

    • Continue your sensitivity to employees as whole beings. Meaning that many employers during the pandemic came to better understand and appreciate the impact of the stresses that their employees experienced outside of their work lives. Work can be  stressful enough,  but employee concerns and anxiety over Issues like caregiving, parenting, managing tightly stretched finances, coping with health conditions, grief and loss, and wondering about personal safety in their own neighborhoods don’t go away when employees punch in for work.  While some employers had already combined both words and actions to help employees bring their best selves to their workplace, many others gained a new appreciation of the importance of this approach during the pandemic and made additional investments.  Employers need to continue this sensitivity and continue to thoughtfully invest in employee wellbeing.
    • Continue to put actions behind your words of support and sensitivity to Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion efforts. The summer of 2020 seemed to awaken an awareness in many employers of what those of us in the profession of social work have long recognized and worked against- systemic and institutional racism. An awareness that diversity contributes to innovation in a global economy where innovation is key. That equality and inclusion are vital for businesses and not just society in general.

    DEI efforts took center stage in 2020.  C suite leaders and HR Managers took efforts to acknowledge our unpleasant national history of discrimination, a history that has marginalized some groups in the workplace.  Employers came to realize that diversity, equity, and inclusion really do make better workplaces. The January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol Building that featured many actors who were unashamedly white supremacists and anti-Semites may have given additional impetus for corporate America to not only continue but to be intentional and redouble its DEI efforts beyond the pandemic.

    • Be engaged with your assistance programs. During the pandemic, many employers seemed to have rediscovered their Employee Assistance Programs.  Stepping outside the box, they engaged their EAP providers in offering creative and convenient ways to assist their many employees who were fearful of the coronavirus, had experienced deaths of friends and family members due to the disease, who were struggling with parenting concerns or financial problems, or who were having trouble adjusting to disrupted routines.  Essential workers such as law enforcement, healthcare workers, professional drivers, teachers, meat packing plant workers and retail store employees needed emotional and psychological assistance even more given their daily risks of infection from direct exposure to the public. These workers could not work from the relative safety and isolation of their homes.

    There is even more value to be derived from competent and robust assistance programs.  Don’t retreat into thinking of your assistance programs as safety nets or insurance programs. Stay engaged.  Repurpose them to be the proactive tools they can be to enhance employee wellbeing and morale. It’s good for your employees engagement and good for your business.

    About the Author

    Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

    About Espyr

    For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

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