History is repeating itself. One of the delayed consequences of the 1918 influenza pandemic was a mental health crisis—and the same thing is happening now in workplaces across the continent. However, the seeds for this wellbeing crisis were planted long before the pandemic arrived on our shores. Professionals were already suffering from stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression, but the pandemic exacerbated these problems.
During a recent Achurch Consulting webinar, Laura Putnam, CEO of Motion Infusion, shared the research supporting a strong business case for wellbeing. It’s not only good for employees, it’s essential for building a high-performing team and improving your bottom line. Pick a metric—employee recruitment, retention, productivity, safety, or profit—they’re all tied to employee wellbeing.
3 solutions for improving wellbeing in the hybrid/remote workplace
Now that the pandemic’s second act has brought the mental health and wellbeing crisis to the forefront, employers must reckon with these issues and make necessary changes, starting with organizational culture.
#1: Look to your culture for wellbeing remedies, not your employees.
Media headlines promote self-care hacks and resilience advice, leading us to believe that wellbeing is up to the individual. The onus is put on employees to adapt to workplace stressors. But these messages are misplacing the focus.
Putnam said the top five drivers of employee burnout, according to a Gallup study, have nothing to do with the individual.
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of role clarity
- Lack of communication and support from managers
- Unreasonable time pressure
In many workplaces, the culture is aligned against employees. To remove the root causes of burnout and stress, you must first focus on improving your culture.
Putnam shared a clever analogy illustrating the essence of culture. Imagine culture as water and employees as fish. Just as a fish can’t see the water, employees can’t see culture, but it shapes their behavior and experience in ways we can’t ever imagine. We’re creatures of culture. We adapt our behaviors to the culture we’re swimming in.
Employers must normalize wellbeing as part of the workplace culture. Codify wellbeing into your policies and pay more attention to the carriers of your culture—managers.
#2: Train managers to detect, discuss, and handle wellbeing issues.
C-suite executives model cultural norms, set priorities, allocate resources, and issue policies. But in the day-to-day experience for employees, managers are the culture carriers and permission givers. They play a huge role in diminishing or increasing a sense of wellbeing in their staff. This is includes all types of wellbeing, from physical and mental wellness to career fulfillment.
Now, we certainly are not expecting or asking managers to be therapists or mental health experts, but they must develop the skills to detect signs of healthy or at-risk wellbeing and feel comfortable discussing these issues.
A manager’s ability to motivate, support, and retain their team is more critical than ever during the Great Resignation. The pandemic has been a Great Reset and people are rethinking what really matters most. Managers must understand and support their staff’s desire for a meaningful career and a balanced life.
Everyone has a deep need for mastery. This intrinsic motivation feeds the desire to feel like a positive contributor. Managers must help their staff tap into their purpose and strengths. Gallup researchers found that if someone knows their strengths and uses them regularly, they are six times more likely to be engaged at work, adding to this area of career wellbeing.
Managers must understand and promote psychological safety by allowing people to bring their whole selves to work. A team with a high level of trust is significantly more likely to be a high-performing team. Help employees feel like they belong. Help them feel connected to one another in a workplace where everyone’s voice counts. The soft side of business matters—it’s an essential part of being a manager.
#3: Bridge the disconnect between leadership and employees on returning to the office
During the pandemic, despite the prevalent uncertainty and uneasiness, people working from home experienced the joys of flexibility in where, when, and how they worked. This new arrangement satisfied the deep human need for autonomy—another intrinsic motivator and ingredient for wellbeing.
Researchers discovered employees are three times more likely to report being more innovative, productive, and collaborative when they are given the flexibility of working from home. Yet, executives are three times more likely to believe employees can only be that innovative, productive, and collaborative in the office.
Another great divide between leaders/managers and employees is how each experiences and perceives control and flexibility—or the lack of it. Most people believe that as you move up in an organization, your stress levels go up, but the opposite is true. People in higher positions feel less stressed because they feel more in control of what they do and when and how they do it. Meanwhile, employees in lower positions are more stressed because they feel a lack of control over what they do and when and how they do it.
Executives have always enjoyed this level of flexibility and autonomy when working in the office, but employees didn’t. Self-care hacks might work for senior and executive management, but not for the rest of the org chart. These burnout remedies assume people can come to work as their authentic self in a job that allows for breaks. However, the pursuit of wellbeing is easier for some because of their position, race, gender, geographic location, and education. In reality, the wellness privilege is not enjoyed by all.
If you’re serious about addressing wellbeing issues like stress and burnout, you must give employees autonomy and flexibility in when, where, and how they do their work. In this competitive talent marketplace, employees are now in a position to demand these essentials. If you don’t address these issues, employees will vote with their feet and seek an organization with a positive, healthy culture that prioritizes wellbeing and flexibility.
Our Remote Workforce Assessment will help you find out how your employees are really doing, how connected and engaged they feel, and where you can make valuable and strategic changes to your workplace culture and operations.