The irony looms large for HR pros: Employees need to disconnect from work more than ever. Yet they need to connect with colleagues like never before.
The pandemic caused employees to work longer hours and become burned out. It also forced them to be separated from co-workers – who are often the relief they need from the stress.
“Workers report that communicating with colleagues, learning on the job, and sharing best practices have been easy to do remotely,” say researchers on the Pulse of the American Worker Survey. “Socializing with co-workers, which is important for building and maintaining culture, was reported as the most difficult part of work to replicate in a remote environment.”
We’ve shared scads of ideas to engage employees throughout the pandemic. And we passed along dozens of tips on helping them feel connected when they worked apart.
But like most things in work and life, they can get old. That’s why it might be time to rethink or redo how you help employees disconnect from work and connect with colleagues.
So here are six new ideas to help employees disconnect to avoid burnout and reconnect in healthy ways with colleagues.
Disconnect: Encourage vacations
At this point, many companies find it’s not enough to give employees vacation or paid time off. They need to encourage and incentivize employees to take it – or even penalize them for not taking it!
A few examples:
- PriceWaterhouseCooper offered employees $250 for every full week of vacation scheduled, up to $1,000 for the year
- Third Factor, CitiGroup and SAP added at least two companywide closings to their annual schedules, and
- LinkedIn gave its entire workforce a paid week off work.
The key to these major initiatives: The companies encouraged everyone to take off time.
That’s because, vacation guilt is real. Employees often feel if they aren’t doing their part, others will need to do more – and resent them for it. Or they might feel like they’ll fall behind in work and their career advancement if they step away.
Employers want to make it easier to step away from work. If you give entire groups time off, there’s less email and progress for people to worry about. They can disconnect more, knowing they aren’t missing much.
Disconnect: Focus on total leisure
In the office or working remotely, employees need to totally disconnect, says Adam Waytz, author of The Power of Human, on Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University’s KelloggInsight.
“The key for organizations is to get away from needing to control employees at all times and let them disengage,” Waytz says, calling it “committing seriously to leisure.”
How’s that? Some companies have gone so far as to make it nearly impossible to access email after hours!
You might not want to go that extreme (and your IT pros may not like the idea either), but your leaders can take a much more low-tech, effective route: Leaders shouldn’t send or expect responses to email after hours or when employees are taking time off. Period.
Disconnect: Encourage wellness
We’ve said it before, and we’re saying it again: Employees continue to feel stressed and burned out, and they don’t know where to get help.
The worst part is you probably offer mental health and wellbeing benefits. But they don’t know about them or they don’t know how to access or use them.
Plan a series of information blasts or learning sessions to introduce different elements of your wellness benefits – from mental health assessment tools and outpatient diagnostics to virtual counseling and group therapy.
And, if you don’t already do it, consider giving employees access to nutrition counseling, yoga, meditation and other fitness classes. You’ll want to make those available in a variety of ways, if possible – virtually, outdoors and in-person.
Reconnect: Revisit culture
Despite needing to disconnect from work, many employees feel a need to reconnect with colleagues. Almost half still feel overly disconnected, the Pulse of the American Worker Survey found.
The place to start building the reconnection: company culture. More than half of employees say they don’t feel connected to the company culture since working remotely.
Yes, company culture and norms have changed. But it’s not all lost. You may be adapting as working conditions change in coming months. So plan learning, activities and socializing rooted in your original company vision and culture goals.
Reconnect: Just like old times
So the gang can’t get together like it used to – at the local sandwich shop for lunch or pub for beers after work. Or can they?
Some companies took onsite social rituals online. For instance, for people who liked to try new brews – and those who just like a beer – you can organize virtual events such as beer and cheese tasting, brewery tours and beer making. Others might enjoy similar wine events – tasting, pairing and touring.
Another idea helps employees reconnect and laugh together again: Laughter on Call facilitates lunchtime, after-hour and real-time fun activities for small and large groups of employees.
Reconnect: Step back
One of the best ways HR and front-line managers can help employees reconnect with each other is to take a step back. Give them space and time to be together – like they used to congregate in the break room, chat at the picnic benches, and meet up for sports leagues and book clubs after work.
When possible, give them access to space – virtual included – resources and time to plan events. Let them take the lead on how they’d like to connect again. And encourage them to promote diversity, equity and inclusion through it all.