Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Category: Work life (Page 1 of 3)

Stay on top of workplace trends, and get tips to improve workplace culture.

It’s time to get comfortable with casual dress codes

The business formal dress code has been dying for decades. The rebellious anti-dress codes of ‘70s Silicon Valley spread slowly through American offices until business casual struck even the most old-school firms in the 1990s. The rise of the tech start-up in the 2000s has slackened dress codes even more. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, dress codes are relaxing even more.

The pandemic has shifted employee expectations

After more than a third of American workers spent the better part of a year working from home, getting them back to the office may be enough of a problem. Getting them back into blazers and slacks? That may not happen at all.

Casual dress policies have long been considered a perk, but for some workers they’ve been turning into a requirement for some workers. The shift from soft and stretchy loungewear at home to less comfortable clothes is just not desirable for employees., especially in a market where businesses are struggling to hire.

What’s the point of your dress code?

It’s important for your company to nail down why it has the dress code it does to see whether it can change. Is it the desire to be perceived externally as professional? Is the goal to maximize productivity? If so, how is your dress code maximizing productivity?

There’s a popular belief that to work their best, employees need to dress their best and that can be true. Wearing a suit may give a sales representative more confidence and authority, but people in other positions may not need those boosts to be efficient in their job. It may be more distracting dealing with shoes that hurt your feet or slacks and button ups that are too heavy for the summer heat. In those cases, the cons of uncomfortable clothing may out weight the pros.

The financial burden of formal dress codes

It’s easy to say that people who have uncomfortable work attire should just buy new clothes, but is that always reasonable? Work suits can cost hundreds of dollars and professional clothes for women can be prohibitively expensive and the costs can add up quickly. Business casual outfits cost much less on average which allows workers to invest in more options and replace uncomfortable workwear.

For women, makeup and hair care present an additional financial burden as well as a considerable time commitment. Women spend an average of 55 minutes on grooming and $8 worth of makeup each day. Many women have reported that they intend to leave additional grooming behind after a year of not needing to go through their routines.

Online work and relaxed dress codes may help lessen the divide between the cost of men and women’s work wardrobes will hopefully lessen. If your weight fluctuates, you don’t need to buy a full suit or new dress to be comfortable and professional on video calls. Casual or no makeup can free up time to get other things done, so you’re less stressed while working.

Finding the balance

For most companies, returning to in office work in some capacity is a necessity. This is the opportune moment for a company to reassess its dress code to prioritize productivity, diversity and inclusion and the company culture they want to cultivate. Figuring out a way to balance an employee’s expectations of comfort and financial investments with what is an actual necessity for your company is a great place to start.

Tips for remote work a year into the pandemic

When coronavirus hit, many offices sprang into action and adapted to remote working environments. As we settle into our second year of living with a pandemic, there’s still much room for improvement in our day-to-day work lives. If you or your employees are working from home, consider sharing these tips to keep them in top mental and physical shape.

Create boundaries

When the lines between home and office blur, maintaining a proper work/life balance can be a challenge. Setting boundaries is important to both getting work done and knowing when the workday is done.

  • Separate your working and living spaces. While you likely didn’t choose your home based on the idea that you’d be working from it daily, carving out a space that’s dedicated to work is a great way to stay on task. Working from bed or a couch can muddle the idea of your home as your sanctuary. Find a corner where you can set up a desk and use it as your office.
  • Stay on schedule. Without a train to catch or traffic to beat, workers have gained back some of their valuable time. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American worker gained more than half an hour of leisure time in 2020. While it may be tempting to stay online past normal working hours, burnout is real and affected more than two thirds of the remote workforce last year. One report even found that people worked an average of 26 extra hours a month during the pandemic. For your mental health, disconnecting is vital. Set a schedule and stick to it to protect your personal time.
  • Limit distractions. Setting boundaries goes both ways. Just as you should protect your personal space and time, you should also remember when you’re on company time. Sharing your space with family and roommates can invite limitless distractions. If you can’t physically close a door behind you, communicate your working hours with the people you live with and set strict time limits for work and breaks. 

Set routines

In uncertain times, a little routine can go a long way. Creating a routine, the way you would if you were going into an office every day, helps give your day structure and can lower stress and encourage focus.  

  • Dress professionally. Yes, one of the perks from working from home has been escaping from the confines of structured suits and other constrictive workwear for cozy sweatpants. While you should absolutely be comfortable while you work, our brains can form a Pavlovian response to these kinds of clothes. Putting on professional attire is a great way to tell your brain that it’s time to buckle down and tackle the to-do list.
  • Build a routine. Routines give us a sense of structure, accomplishment and well-being. Give yourself time before work to savor coffee, do some journaling, read or go for a jog. If you’re not an early bird, reward yourself after work with some quiet time or a favorite show.

Stay healthy

The American Psychological Association recently reported that 61% of Americans experienced “undesirable weight gain” during quarantine. If you picked up some bad habits in the past year, you’re far from alone. Luckily, there are little things you can do throughout the day to get back on track.

  • Take more meaningful breaks. By now, you’ve heard the importance of getting away from your computer screen a few times a day. If you walk away from your computer screen only to find yourself staring at your phone screen, find other ways to occupy that time. Go for a walk around the block or do a few yoga stretches.
  • Stay on top of your oral health. The American Dental Association reported that routine dental visits were down 20% last year. If you’ve been snacking at your computer, breaks are a great time to squeeze in an extra brushing or flossing to keep your mouth healthy and refreshed.
  • Invest in ergonomics. If you’re still working from an old dining room chair or using an old TV dinner tray for a desk, it’s time to upgrade — your body will thank you for it. Haphazard workstations and poor posture can wreak havoc on your body. It can even cause jaw pain. Proper ergonomics doesn’t need to equal expensive new furniture. Often, a few height adjustments can work wonders. Check out this checklist to adapt your workstation. 

The new normal: hybrid workplaces

Over a year after non-essential workers quickly adapted to operating from home, a survey by PwC found that nearly 70% of executives believe that employees should return to the office three days a week while just 20% of employees agreed with that sentiment. In fact, that survey also found that 30% of employees would stay remote a full five days a week if allowed. Additionally, the New York Times found that just 25% of workers would prefer to go back to an office full-time. As COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted, the compromise for many offices has been hybrid work models. These models not only accommodate workers both remote and in the office as a means of safety, but have also become staples of employee satisfaction.

“Compromise,” however, is the key word. As hybrid work is new to much of today’s workforce, a learning curve is to be anticipated. Here’s what you need to know about the future of hybrid workplaces.

Why go hybrid?

In a post-pandemic world, only one thing is for certain: there is no “back to normal.” Many everyday practices have evolved to accommodate new health and safety protocols, including day-to-day office life. In a hybrid model, social distancing is made easier by having less people in the office, thereby minimizing the chance of a virus running rampant.

Going hybrid may also help companies save budget otherwise spent on office space. As of January 2021, demand for office leasing was down 61% from December 2019, according to Business Wire. As some businesses opt to let go of their leases, they might also choose to stagger in-office and work from home days for some teams to accommodate staff while maintaining less space.

While some companies may fear that this newfound flexibility could hurt productivity, research shows that it is simply not the case. A 2020 report by Microsoft found that 82% of the leaders they’d surveyed found their teams to be at least as productive working in their new remote environments as they had been in an office.

In addition to flexibility, other advantages include:

Disadvantages of remote work

As many workers have now experienced, not every aspect of remote working is a positive. While the hybrid model might help remedy some of the disadvantages, there are still some concerns:

  • Burnout. Perhaps you’ve heard of, or even experienced, “Zoom fatigue” — the physical and mental exhaustion brought on by too many video conferences. Screen burnout is very real. In a hybrid work culture, time spent with your team truly face-to-face may help relieve that draining feeling associated with spending hours meeting virtually.
  • Company culture. One disadvantage of working from home cited repeatedly through the pandemic was the feeling that company culture and values are harder to upkeep virtually. Bringing workers back to the office a few times a week may help create physical reminders of the company mission.
  • Reliance on technology. Technology is not infallible. There are internet outages, security risks and keyboards accidentally taken out with a spilled water bottle. When a single laptop is your only means to get the job done, there’s a lot riding on a little piece of technology.

Considerations for employers

With so much uncertainty about what the next year holds, flexibility and adaptability in the workplace is an important consideration for all employers. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, these are a few of the questions that company leaders should ask themselves when considering a hybrid workplace:

  • Why does a specific employee need to perform his or her work in the office?
  • To what extent does an employee need to collaborate with others?
  • How is someone feeling about working from home versus in the office?
  • Is that person feeling disconnected or overwhelmed?
  • Is the employee clear about the organization’s strategy and his or her role and responsibilities?
  • What types of meetings are best to hold in person?

Perhaps the largest lesson for employers from all of this is that employee safety should always be at the forefront. Whether employees spend their days at home or in the office, keeping them viable, healthy and happy is a victory in and of itself.

Remote work and employers: what are the pros and cons?

In 2020, we all learned just how fast the world could adapt to new measures. In the workforce, this has meant relying on coworkers and employees to bring their work home without missing a beat. With a year passed since COVID-19 changed the world, it’s time to reflect on the first year as full-time remote employers, what has been learned from it, and how to continue to adapt moving forward.

Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of remote working:

Pros

Flexibility

Working from home is far from a new concept. In fact, it’s often touted as a job perk by hiring managers. For employees, it often comes down to flexibility. Working remotely can be an opportunity schedule quick errands, focus in a less distracting environment or even to enjoy more time with the pets while still accomplishing the tasks at hand. The freedoms of remote work can be a major morale-booster. A study by PwC recently found that 55% of would like still to keep working from home at least three days a week once it’s safe to return to the office.

Lack of commute

Who wouldn’t choose walking to their living room over an hour commute on an over-stuffed train? Eliminating this often stressful part of the day saves time, money and headaches. It also takes more cars off the road, meaning less air pollution. In November, NASA announced that global nitrogen dioxide concentrations had been reduced by nearly 20% since February of 2020.

Larger pool of candidates

Eliminating a tough commute can also mean a more competitive job market. When people can work from anywhere, it widens the pool of potential candidates. For permanently remote jobs where location isn’t a requirement, employers can reap the benefits with a larger number of viable applicants.

Saved money

Less people in an office means a smaller office space, fewer everyday office expenses like supplies and cleanup, and less utilities at work. These kinds of savings aren’t just beneficial during uncertain times — they can be lucrative to new businesses trying to grow.

Cons

Blurred work/life balance

One of the more complicated issues to arise from remote working has been the stress of balancing a regular workday with our rapidly changing world. When the physical barrier of an office is removed, the lines between professional and personal lives can get a bit fuzzy. While flexible work hours may be a pro, they can become a slippery slope of overtime and burnout if left unchecked. In fact a recent Gallup poll showed that 29% of people who always work from home feel burnt out “very often” or “always.”

Encourage your staff to set up a corner of their home just for work if they can and to stay online for office hours only. Check in regularly to make sure that they feel heard and supported in their work endeavors.

Internet complications

We’ve all heard the horror stories: Someone forgot to mute themselves in a meeting or couldn’t figure out how to turn a Zoom filter off. In 2020, the learning curve got a bit steeper as our toolboxes grew along with our reliance on technology.

A little bit of training and empathy can go a long way in these cases. As expectations change, offer learning guides, webinars and other resources to help employees with the learning process. Additionally, understand that complications can occasionally arise when employees are at the mercy of Wi-Fi, laptops, and other far-from-perfect technologies.

Less organic opportunities for connection

With no watercooler to gather around, those little day-to-day opportunities for staff to connect can be tougher to find. Don’t let it wedge a gap between the team.

Schedule a little time for virtual team-building opportunities, be it a lunch meet-up or a Friday game hour. Take this time to focus on company values and consider how you can foster trust and communication.

As the world continues to change, take some time to reflect on how much you and your team have already adapted and give yourself credit where it’s due. Creating a culture of openness and empathy will help address issues as they arise and keep you connected to your team.

What lasting effects will COVID-19 have on the workplace?

COVID-19 has brought about seismic shifts in most aspects of American life. Saying with certainty what the future will bring is impossible, but these four major trends are likely to shape how companies do business.

More remote working than pre-COVID

Working from home has become the new normal for 42% of the American workforce, according to a study from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.  Despite its challenges, an increasing number of workers have developed a preference for work-from-home arrangements.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 5% of working days were spent from home. That number currently stands at 40% and is expected to drop to 20% post-pandemic. The two most common responses to the question “[After COVID-19] how often would you like to have paid work days at home?” were “5 days a week and “never.”

For that reason, we anticipate that most employers will seek to find a balance where they allow their workers to work remotely for one-to-three days each week and come into the office for meetings and collaborative work on the other days.

More tools and benefits that facilitate remote work

With more people working remotely, employers will do more to provide the tools and resources that those workers need to be productive. A survey by the global professional services firm Aon has found that 42% of companies around the globe are either already helping their employees pay for home office expenses or are planning to do so. This includes hardware such as keyboards, monitors and headsets; software such as productivity and creative suites; and stipends, such as a monthly internet stipend or a one-time grant to purchase home office equipment.

Because the line between personal and work life can blur when working from home, benefits such as stipends for and wellness may become more common as well. There could even be a shift away from more in-office and commute-based perks. After all, company-provided lunches and public transit stipends aren’t very useful to someone who is working from home, but a monthly stipend for health and wellness costs may be. Such a stipend could be used on everything from traditional health needs (such as doctors’ appointments and prescriptions) to mental health needs (such as counseling and therapy) to overall wellness (such as yoga and guided meditation apps.)

More part-time and contract workers

In the initial stages of an economic downturn, part-time and contract workers can be hit hard, as they tend to have fewer protections than full-time workers. The early stages of the COVID-19 lockdown were no exception, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finding that part-time workers accounted for one-third of the job losses in the initial stages of the pandemic despite being 20% of the workforce. However, this trend has begun to reverse as businesses have reopened with varying levels of success.

Economic uncertainty may lead to more roles for part-time and contract workers. Companies may be hesitant to bring on full-time employees out of fear of another downturn, and an unstable economy will lead workers to an increased willingness to take contract and part-time positions with fewer benefits.

Changes in business plans and organizational complexity

COVID-19 has laid bare many of the assumptions that undergirded common business thinking. For the past few decades, efficiency has been king. Businesses have tightened their supply chains, focused on reinvesting profits or paying out dividends rather than keep cash on hand, and generally strived to operate as leanly as possible. The disruptions to global supply chains and daily life caused by COVID-19 have demonstrated the need for resiliency in both business plans and organizational structures.

In the future, businesses may keep more cash on hand in order to help them weather unforeseen economic shocks. Some of the money that would be invested into research and development or payouts for investors may instead go towards reinforcing supply chains and building up reserves of essential equipment and material. After all, businesses have a financial obligation to their stakeholders, and that obligation can’t be met if the business doesn’t have the resources it needs to stay afloat.

Plan on adapting

Both small businesses and large corporations will have to plan for a post-pandemic future. The biggest lesson from COVID-19 is not that there is any single best practice, but rather that unforeseen events can cause massive disruptions across entire economies. Employers should keep in mind that illnesses, natural disasters, economic downturns and more are all possible, and they should have plans in place to deal with a major disruption.

6 strategies to ease employee stress and create a happier workplace

4‑minute read

Stress is costly. From teeth grinding to high blood pressure and anxiety, our bodies often pay the price. Just reading this list of 50 common physical and mental symptoms of stress is stress-inducing itself! But the effects of stress go beyond health — it can even take a toll on your business. In fact, a recent study found that businesses lose billions in productivity due to employee stress. 

Take a deep breath. We’re here to help you with proven strategies to help reduce stress in your workplace (and even have some fun)!

Harness the power of good (deeds)

Volunteering is one of the best ways to combat stress. Research shows that volunteering has many health benefits, including stress reduction.

Volunteering can also give your employees a sense of purpose and appreciation, strengthen relationships and even encourage exercise — all great ways to lower stress. One study even found that people who volunteered for at least 200 hours in a 12-month span were less likely to develop high blood pressure (a common symptom of stress) than non-volunteers.

If your company offers a volunteer time off (VTO) benefit, you can organize events and activities that encourage employees to attend together. If VTO isn’t an option, you can share local volunteer events with employees that happen outside of work hours. Bonus points for including volunteer events with dogs (keep reading to see why)! 

Fight stress with fitness

Exercise is a stress triple threat. Why?

  • Increased happiness: Exercise boosts the body’s natural production of endorphins. This perky chemical has been proven to boost happiness.
  • Positive outlook: Concentrating on your body’s movements — like achieving that perfect push-up form — helps shift focus from life’s stressors to a calm, more positive energy.
  • Improved sleep: Various studies suggest that exercise improves sleep. Poor sleep can increase cortisol levels, which is often referred to as the stress hormone 

To get employees moving, try organizing an intramural-style team sport or sponsoring a race for your company. If you’re not sure what types of activities your employees might enjoy, send out a survey to find out. 

Laugh it off! (And no, we don’t mean ignore it)

Stress is no laughing matter. Or, is it? Are you familiar with the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine?” When it comes to fighting stress, laughter may be an effective remedy. Studies show that laughter can relieve some of the physical symptoms of stress by stimulating circulation and muscle relaxation. Over time, “positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses,” according to Mayo Clinic.

Don’t worry — there’s no need to host a daily comedy hour at the office. But taking a moment to share a funny story or keeping a joke book on hand may be a good idea. To really get the workplace rolling, why not try a group outing to a laughing yoga class? In addition to getting the giggles, you get a wonderful opportunity to encourage employee bonding and create endorphins.

Create a serene space

Is there a big deadline coming up? Holding a wellness fair soon? Consider contacting a local pet therapy organization that can bring in dogs to interact with employees. Multiple studies suggest that dogs can lower our stress levels — oftentimes even more than a supportive friend according to new research. Plus, dogs can help fulfill our longing for human touch, which can boost dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin (aka our feel good hormones). 

Let’s start with color. For centuries, people across the globe have believed that certain colors can affect mood. In 2003, a Minnesota State University study actually found that subjects placed in a red room gave higher stress ratings than subjects placed in green and white rooms. Why not pick up a paint brush or add some calming accents of green and white to your office space?

Beyond color, research continues to show that exposure to nature can alter mood. A 2018 study even suggests that just visiting a natural environment can reduce stress levels. If your office is in a natural setting, encourage employees to get out and enjoy it during breaks. If a concrete jungle is your landscape, consider organizing nature walks for employees at a nearby park. Adding plants and nature-inspired artwork may also help! 

Send in the dogs

Not only can these furry visitors perk up your workplace, but they can also help employees feel more comfortable connecting with each other. Win-win!

Check stress levels and offer support

With the rise of telecommuting, face-to-face interaction with employees might not be as regular as it was in the past. However, that doesn’t mean we should be less connected! Sometimes just acknowledging employee stress can provide relief. Remind managers to check in on employees’ stress levels regularly, not just when there’s a big project on the line.

In addition to using the stress-busting strategies in this article, encourage managers to stay current on the types of services your company offers to help cope with stress. And, if it seems like employees are feeling more than situational stress, it may be time for them to seek professional help.


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