By Sarah Molloy and Libby VanderMolen [Header image credit: Canva]
The focus on wellness in the workplace has been steadily rising in recent years, but the need for it has skyrocketed since COVID-19 forced many of us out of our offices and into the confines of our homes almost a year ago. At the beginning of the pandemic, this didn’t seem quite so bad – saving time on commuting, staying in pajamas all day, and being able to do laundry any time? Cool. But a year in, we’ve learned that the convenience of working from home comes at a price, and for many of us, the price is our mental health.
We’re finding it difficult to unplug from work when our office and our living room are the same place. We’re struggling to feel connected to our coworkers the way we did when we saw them every day. Suddenly, we have a completely new set of needs.
Here at TMA, we saw a need to focus on wellness early on. We knew we had to work harder than ever to help people feel connected to each other and combat the feeling of burnout that is almost inevitable. We had to adapt our efforts to motivate our people and help them feel engaged.
Flexing existing benefits to enable the use of sick days for mental health days was a simple first step we took to utilize current resources as wellness support for our teams. People can have a tendency to feel guilty when taking mental health days, so we wanted employees to feel encouraged to take time for themselves. By repositioning sick days as time you can take to address your mental health, we hopefully relieved our employees of this guilt.
During this quick transition to a remote work environment, we learned that each individual at TMA was experiencing a different set of needs. Each person was faced with a new set of challenges, work schedules, and responsibilities. We saw an opportunity to find a way for managers to better support their employees. To address this new challenge of managing a remote workforce, TMA partnered with Unstuck Minds to develop a training workshop called Leading Adaptive Change. The workshops provided tips and tools for supporting teams as our workforce began to institutionalize new ways of working. We were able to guide our managers with the best ways to ensure our people felt informed, involved, and connected.
In addition to the persistent feelings of existential dread and isolation that people are experiencing, people are also seriously struggling with personal finances. When budgets are tight, expenses put towards self-care are the first to go since they’re considered “unnecessary” by some. For this reason, we introduced a wellness stipend for our employees to invest in their personal wellness or WFH-related costs. This is compounded with a stipend TMA introduced at the very beginning of the pandemic, a monthly allowance for each employee to put towards increased phone bills, Wi-Fi bills, or office supplies. We want everyone to feel equipped with everything they need to be their best selves, both in and out of work.
When the pandemic hit, the role of a parent became a balancing act of involved parent and highly performing employee, substitute teacher, and personal tutor. This burden was the catalyst for TMA Family, a group created by and for the parents and caregivers of our agency. By offering a sense of community, support and resources, this group allowed parents a safe place to rest their worry, share the small successes, and celebrate each other’s larger triumphs while navigating the often-stormy waters of parenting during a pandemic.
To help support our employees’ wellness while on the clock, we put together a Wellness Speaker Series with the intention of opening the conversation around mental health and physical wellness. We hosted one-hour sessions with three amazing speakers from diverse backgrounds, and each one was a hit. Before the series, we had heard from a lot of employees that they were feeling anxious, tired, and burnt out. Our people let us know that these speakers made them feel heard and gave them permission to take an hour for themselves to address their own needs. We look forward to making the Wellness Speaker Series a recurring program.
We’re lucky to have a few employees who are also part-time fitness instructors. They often led classes at our Dallas hub before the pandemic, and these have been reintroduced virtually.
Additionally, we hosted a marquee fitness-related event to encourage our employees to be active. Back in October we hosted a virtual TMA 5K and gave employees a half day off to participate in their respective locations. There were prizes for those who completed the 5K the fastest, but there was fun for everyone, from opening ceremonies to fitness instruction, all performed by multi-talented TMA employees. On top of all of this, we mailed out race kits including TMA-branded gear and a kit to make a tasty, healthy treat.
The belief that we can leave our personal problems and opinions at home was never a practical idea, and is even more unrealistic now. Our employees, like so many others, are hurting. We are hurting from the immense racial injustices and violence against Black people and POC in our country. We are hurting from the pandemic that swept away life as we knew it. We are hurting from grief. While we can’t take all of these worries away, we can create space for people to experience these worries and feel supported. Veronica Appleton, our VP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, started Space For You, a one-hour biweekly session where people can air their concerns and come together with their fellow employees on a human level.
The need for wellness programs has become extremely necessary this year, and many companies are responding accordingly. If you wish to increase your company’s focus on wellness but don’t know where to start, start with your people. Listening to the needs of your employees is hugely important and will ultimately help you help them effectively. TMA surveys all employees a couple times a year so we can gauge whether or not our people feel their needs are being met. There is no real end goal here – improving company wellness is a marathon effort, and we will always be seeking new ways to be better. That is, to be well.
Libby VanderMolen and Sarah Molloy are operations coordinators at TMA.