4 Tips to improve employee productivity and mental health

4 Tips to improve employee productivity and mental health

It’s no secret that stress impacts productivity. It's also common for employees to bring stress from their personal life into the workplace, and vice versa. Studies have shown that after 12 weeks of therapy, employees reported feeling more energized, productive, and engaged. According to the World Health Organization:

  • Depression and anxiety have an estimated impact of $1 trillion on the global economy each year in lost productivity
  • For each $1 invested into mental health treatment, companies see a $4 return in improved health and productivity

But can the same be said for the reverse? If you improve employee productivity, can you improve mental health as well? With work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid work, employees are being asked to be more productive and increase their output. This puts more pressure (stress) on employees, and more pressure means worse mental health, including depression and burnout. Instead of focusing on doing more-more-more, these are tips you can enact right away to help your remote teams refine their productivity while also improving their mental health.

 1. Offer stipends for setting up a dedicated work area

Companies should provide employees with home office stipends so they can have a setup that’s comfortable, fits the space, and helps employees be more productive. Jing Wang, an Associate professor at York University’s School of Human Resource Management, says, “Employers are obligated to provide anything employees need to do their job... more conveniently and productively.” She further explains, “When they receive benefits, employees feel the need to reciprocate, they’ll feel more committed to their work and work harder.” Providing a home office for your employees makes them feel more connected to the company, improving both their productivity and their mental health.

Many companies offer home office stipends. These are great hiring incentives for the recruitment team and help make employees feel taken care of.

  • Basecamp offers new employees $2,000 to furnish their home office and $1,000/3 years thereafter.
  • Webflow gives new employees $1,000 to spend in their first 90 days to “build out your dream office setup.”
  • Hotjar has a one-time €2,500 home office budget.

The stipend should cover one-time purchases like a comfortable chair, appropriately-sized desk, and good lighting, as well as ongoing purchases like office supplies, telephone payments, and monthly Wi-Fi fees.

2. Enforce realistic work hours and schedules

Employees who WFH should establish clear work hours and stick to their schedules (whether that’s 9-to-5 or not). This also helps separate work and home life more easily. That means fewer home-related interruptions — kids, pets, calls, deliveries, cooking, cleaning, laundry — while you’re working. And it means less work-related interruptions — emails, phone calls, meetings, deadlines — while you’re with your family.

This starts with HR establishing company-wide procedures around WFH schedules. For example, you could require up-to-date online calendars to make it easier to schedule meetings. Ensure management also follows these steps in order to model the behavior to their teams. When managers set and respect boundaries, employees will follow suit.

By setting and enforcing realistic work schedules, you’re showing your employees that a work-life balance is important. WFH can make it hard to shut off at the end of the day, so these boundaries reinforce that WFH employees aren’t on-call. A better work-life balance means employees don’t have the added stress of always being on, while delineated schedules help employees be more productive while they’re working.

3. Cut down on unnecessary meetings

Zoom fatigue is real and here to stay. With more and more meetings happening via video conference, employees are dealing with burnout from Zoom fatigue. That can lead to problems like difficulty concentrating, frustration, irritability, feeling apathetic, and reduced work performance.

Create company-wide guidance around meetings to ensure employees at all levels aren’t experiencing Zoom or meeting fatigue. This includes not requiring the camera to be on for all meetings since this gives the impression that everyone has to be “on” during the call. Even if they’re not personally presenting, everyone can still see them, so they have to be dressed accordingly and in an appropriate spot. This causes stress to the employees when it isn’t always necessary and can be avoided.

You can also prevent Zoom fatigue by requiring meetings to be as productive as possible and no longer than necessary. Scheduling shorter meetings is helpful because the call will be straight to the point and cut out some of the pre- and post-meeting small talk. If you do need a meeting longer than one hour, it should include a 10-15 minute break. This will allow everyone in the meeting to take a bathroom break, stretch their legs, refresh their drinks, and come back refreshed and ready to continue. Creating agenda templates also make meetings more productive. Following an agenda means you won’t likely forget any important points that need to be addressed.

In a study from the University of California Irvine, researchers found that employees compensated for interruptions by working faster. The research concluded, “After only 20 minutes of interrupted performance, people reported significantly higher stress, frustration, workload, effort, and pressure.” By cutting down on unnecessary meetings, you are alleviating undue stress and frustration for your employees.

4. Encourage employees to take regular breaks

Regular breaks are important no matter where or how you work. They provide a refresh for your brain, improve memory function, reduce depression, and improve productivity. That’s because:

  • When you give your prefrontal cortex (the part that keeps you focused) a break, you increase creativity, motivation, and get a renewed sense of focus.
  • Stretching your legs and moving around during the day, even for just a few minutes at a time, is good for your physical and emotional health.
  • Breaks help you form memories, process and retain information you just learned, and reflect on your internal thoughts.

Depending on where in the U.S. employees are located, the legal allocation for breaks can vary. However, employees aren’t always taking these breaks. This Tork Takes Back survey reveals 39% of employees only occasionally, rarely, or never take breaks during the workday. And 22% feel “guilty or judged” when they step away from work midday. Yet 91% of employees agree or strongly agree that breaks help them maintain mental focus. And 88% say they feel refreshed and reenergized after a break.

What’s more, 9 in 10 employees are more likely to stay at a company if their boss encourages them to take breaks. So promoting breaks throughout your organization is a great way to not only support your employees’ mental health and productivity but also help employee retention. Lead by example- by showing your team that taking breaks during the workday is not only acceptable but encouraged, employees are sure to follow suit.

Lastly, explaining to your team the benefits of taking breaks — give your prefrontal cortex a break, stretch your legs, retain information — helps them understand why breaks are important.

Getting more out of your mental health

These productivity tips for employees who work from home can help them reduce work-related stress and, in turn, improve their mental health. Continue exploring different ways for measuring employee productivity and supporting workplace wellness. To see how Talkspace can further support your employees’ mental health every day, request a demo today.

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