Note to boss: I get more done if I feel supported

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When the survey results came back, one statistic stood out. Productivity was down across the board. Blame it on barking dogs, distance learning, crowded houses or plain old cabin fever. For more than 40% of the respondents, working during the COVID-19 pandemic was admittedly less productive.

But when researchers studied the numbers more closely, they found a silver lining in the COVID cloud.

“The relationship between employer support, or perceived employer support, and productivity is fairly dramatic,” says Seth Serxner, chief health officer at OptumHealth, who led the consumer sentiment research.

How dramatic was the difference? Check out the chart:

Productivity Chart

Among the people who agreed with the statement, “My employer is supporting me,” only 39% say that they’re less productive. On the other hand, of the respondents who agreed with the statement, “I don’t think my employer supports me,” more than 7 in 10 admit their productivity is down.

That might seem like a no-brainer, but it represents a huge opportunity for managers whose direct reports might be feeling like unanchored boats right now.

“This is telling,” says Serxner. “They’re looking for leadership support, they’re looking for their manager support, they’re looking for their coworker support. And it’s easy to feel alone, it’s easy to feel vulnerable, it’s easy to feel insecure about your job situation.”

Boosting productivity by supporting employees

Serxner says one of the most important tasks during the pandemic is to communicate clearly with your people. He says tone is as important as content. It should be honest, direct, transparent.

In this video, Serxner explains what can happen when bosses go silent.

Read the transcript.

There are lots of things managers can do to help their teams feel supported:

  • Take time to connect with employees one-on-one.
  • Set up a buddy system to help colleagues check in with each other.
  • Consider temporary policy changes — like more flexible paid time off (PTO), extended childcare benefit and wider open enrollment windows.
  • Offer equipment to help your employees better work at home, like keyboards, laptop computers and better lighting.
  • Adjust benefits packages to waive fees for virtual visits.
  • Remind employees about available resources to them including employee assistance programs (EAPs), online wellness information and virtual visits.
  • Share how your organization is helping during the pandemic by making donations and/or relaxing policies.

By letting your employees know how you’re helping the community, you’ll provide comfort to all the Girl Scout leaders, Little League coaches and Humane Society volunteers who’ve been sidelined by the pandemic.

Serxner says: “It’s important to help people feel good about their company, as they feel like they can’t go do the normal volunteer things that they would do.”

Millennial employees need more support, Generation X less

Serxner urges bosses to pay extra attention to younger employees, since they were more likely to report feeling less productive in the survey. “Those millennials, the 18 to 34 (age group), took the biggest hit on their productivity.”

Productive chart by generation

Conversely, employers can worry a bit less about their Generation X team members. “For some reason, they were more dialed in,” says Serxner. “Maybe they were more used to working at home, or maybe that had a different routine, but their productivity took the least impact.”

Setting yourself up to succeed at home

If working at home is putting a dent in your productivity, try some of the strategies Harvard’s Extension School recently published to help people stay “disciplined, focused and positive” while working from home:

  • Establish healthy self-care habits. That covers the stuff we should do every day — eat, drink water, get dressed, take breaks and sleep. Bonus points if you can get outside and get some exercise.
  • Plan your day. Set goals, make a schedule and try to stick it. And don’t forget to schedule breaks.
  • Start the day with a house or family meeting. It’s a great way to get feedback, manage expectations and keep the whole household on track.
  • Build a dedicated workspace. You’ll get more done if you have a place in your home where you go to work. Ideally, this won’t be your bed or couch.
  • Eliminate distractions. Consider turning off notifications or putting your phone in another room. Also set some ground rules to keep yourself from getting interrupted.
  • Focus on the positive. This is a challenging time, and nobody’s going to be perfect. If you can be kind to yourself and others, keep a gratitude journal and do things you enjoy, you’re likely to get more done.

COVID-19 culture shift?

One impact of the massive shift to working from home is a kinder culture during video conferences. Watch Serxner describe the new normal … and find out why he hopes this more relaxed, less judgmental approach is here to stay.

Read the transcript.

Take a closer look at the survey findings, and access additional research-based insights from our consumer survey.

Read more stories.

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