The pandemic has blurred the lines between work and personal lives, accelerating and amplifying the “always on” mentality, and stretching people to their limits. While each employee handles this experience in a unique way, responsible leaders need to take steps ensure the mental wellbeing of their employees.
With the number of adults in the United States suffering from anxiety or depression increasing more than 30% over the course of the pandemic, how employers respond will directly affect organizational success. Notably, as we enter what’s considered to be the Great Resignation, companies that make their employees’ mental health a priority will enable their people and businesses to thrive. The foundation for this environment is built on empathy — and strengthened through engagement and flexibility.
Empathy Comes First
Fostering a culture of empathy is the first step in providing employees a healthy work environment. This starts with company leadership, ties directly to organizational values and requires ongoing attention to allow for adjustments in how the ship is steered. Leading with empathy involves attentive listening, relating and compassion.
Some ways to embed empathy in your culture to best support mental health include:
• Have regular check-ins with your team members. Asking “How are you feeling?” followed by active listening can make all the difference in someone’s day.
• Ask what could make things easier for your team and follow through. This gives them the space they need to feel listened to and understood.
• Stay on top of important events happening outside of work, like social movements, natural disasters and political unrest. Acknowledging that these phenomena affect your people will make it easier for you to navigate their impact.
• Show empathy to yourself. When you demonstrate self-care and healthy boundaries, you set the tone for your employees.
Engage to Cultivate Belonging
When empathy is the core of your culture, it’s easier to drive employee engagement. And that’s vital for a healthy team. Our research shows that two in five consumers feel less connected now than prior to the pandemic — and it’s taking a toll on their mental health.
To create a sense of community and belonging, managers need to build opportunities for engaging with each other in the workday. Authentic, transparent, two-way communication should be a pillar in your employee engagement strategy. This way, your employees feel they are valued contributors in the organization’s journey. And it sets a clear vision of what the path to success looks like, all of which can limit the anxiety that the unknown creates.
Flexibility Comes in Many Forms
When there’s flexibility in the workplace, it’s far more likely that people can get the help they need. Flexible work environments make it easier for employees to navigate work and life demands, which helps to maintain balance and avoid overload.
Flexibility isn’t just about adjusted hours and encouraging the use of vacation time. It comes in multiple forms, including taking virtual meetings while out for a walk, caregivers feeling empowered to balance work with other responsibilities, identifying a no-meeting day, or providing services like Talkspace or Calm. Find creative ways to provide options — flexibility isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
Unfortunately, employees around the world don’t think their companies are doing enough to improve mental wellbeing — 76% believe their organizations should be doing more. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to create new standards and destigmatize mental health in the workplace going forward. Organizations that take these steps will see great benefits in improved employee health and engagement, increasing loyalty and decreasing attrition.