We have often spoken about the need to admit that the vast majority of workers have never quite recovered after the trauma of the pandemic. This is constantly and bizarrely overlooked in all industries and despite living and breathing people topics and speaking to tens of companies, we can’t cite one example of an enterprise that has done the right thing and offered tangible help to their employees on this topic in particular.
At most, there would be access to a counselling service that has been set up but often times even that is unheard of luxury and people are simply expected to have “gotten on” with it.
Is it a factor in the way the mental health state of the workplace is in deplorable shape and we are dealing with a generalised crisis? Of course, it is and the bulk of it hasn’t even been reflected in the crisis yet as data makes its way towards us, and we’ll likely see more and more of it reflected in productivity and health issues as we move along. Sure, some workers may “self-repair” and do so despite the complete lack of support but most will not.
What’s the answer? What should be the golden standard?
- Easy access to external advice and guidance - whether a counsellor, a therapist or at least a life coach, creating a robust “talk about it” program is essential;
- An internal network of mentors or a buddy system. As an extension of “talk about it”, employees will have someone internally to lean on and that can be very restoring and empowering;
- Encouragement and true support for self-care. Creating a culture of respect towards self-care where everyone is praised for being consistent with any type of self-work while the time and resources for it have been firmly laid out by the company;
- A focus on emotions and the human work. Normalising feelings and the fact that most of us are unsure of how or if we can express them and fostering a climate where having and communicating emotions and having empathy and care is recognised as a strength as opposed to a weakness.
This last one is truly essential because it works for the enterprise in so many ways! It combats burnout and allows people to do the self-work but more importantly, it breeds much-needed new practices of real communication and fearlessness helping everyone become much more invested, trusting and open and therefore more productive by extension.
The fact that productivity has all but become a taboo topic with people either fearing the conversations around it or shunning them completely is a manifestation of the lack of care and absence of the actions above because indeed, why would people be accepting of their productivity being measured and benchmarked when they have received none of the necessary support to be in good enough shape to deliver at their best? While productivity in itself hasn’t suffered across the board with the move to hybrid -despite what middle management paranoia believes-, the mere topic is thorny as a reaction to how little care employees feel coming their way.
What happens from here on? Will everyone be able to just get on with it even at the actively disengaged level at which they are? No, many people will start cracking soon enough in particular as we are now faced with the prospect of a severe economic downturn which will put immense pressure on every household. The incoming recession alone would be sufficient to demoralise and disable workers from bringing their best selves to work, when it comes on the tail of a major global life event of the magnitude of the pandemic, it is impossible to fathom the costly implications to everyone’s mental state.
A point that oughtn't to need clarification but it does in this day and age due to the extreme divide between most employees and management is that these adverse effects on everyone's well-being are in no way constricted to a certain layer of the enterprise and leadership is in no way exempt, on the contrary, they may need much more support than the steps detailed above.
So if you’re reading this and you’re in charge of people ask yourself how have you helped with the points above. Do they have a way to talk about it? Is there a culture of self-care? Most importantly, do they understand the permission to be human and have emotions and that you need them to learn more about them and undertake regular human work? If nothing else accomplishing this -admittedly gargantuan- task, would go a long way to restore people’s mental well-being and it is the one topic that costs you nothing as an enterprise beyond an internal campaign to encourage humanity and the people work your employees can undertake themselves.
There’s no glimpse of easier times ahead so all we can do is brace ourselves and find support, solace and inspiration in each other to carry us through.