This past year, I traveled more than any year since COVID hit. It feels good to connect physically with people again, and not rely solely on virtual meetings. My travel has catapulted me around the country, including internationally, and it has afforded me the opportunity to meet many different people from different companies and to ask questions about mental health and teams.
For years, I have been doing an unofficial research project. I ask people, “How is work going for you?” I heard from people at all levels of organizations, from first-year employees to C-Suite executives.
Pre-COVID answers to the question, “how is work going for you”, were statements such as:
- Work is going great or fine.
- I love the people.
- My boss is great.
- Love it, but there is so much travel
- It’s good, but I want more vacation.
- It’s going great, but I am looking forward to some time off.
Since COVID, the answers have changed dramatically.
Ninety-five percent of respondents, in my unofficial study, expressly stated that their jobs are overwhelming, stressful, and less satisfying than they have ever been. Many are leaving, or trying to leave, their current jobs in search of something else.
The shift in answers point to the mental health crisis.
I asked many why they feel overwhelmed and more stressed at work. Most stated that they couldn’t put a finger on the main issue but listed several as reasons:
- More work than Pre-COVID – because we lost workers
- Losing people but not rehiring fast enough (or at all)
- Supply chain stressors – working longer hours, managing backed up customer/consumer demands
- Political discourse
- After spending time at home during the pandemic, going back to work did not have the same appeal. They want to work remotely.
- Don’t see the value to in-person interaction as it cuts in their productivity
- Not enough work-life balance
- These “Gen Z” kids don’t care about work as much
If you are experiencing any of these issues, you are not alone. The post-pandemic world has challenged leaders to evaluate both their personnel and their systems.
Why is this important for leaders to care about mental wellness
Why must leaders get more involved in the mental health of their workforce? The main reason is that it has become a national crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the numbers continue to rise. Depression, feelings of anxiety, substance abuse, and suicides are all increasing.
It’s not going away
If you feel like your organization is pretty issue-free with mental health, think again.
You may have the problem but not be aware of it. According to a study by JAMA Network Open, many people are not sharing their mental health issues or dealing with them for fear of the cost, being judged by others, ramifications at work, or being committed a crime. Others thought they could deal with it on their own.
Further, according to the CDC, the age group most affected by mental health issues are from the ages of 18-24, with nearly half of them experiencing a mental health crisis this year. So if you feel like you don’t have employee issues now, make sure you check in with your people and be aware of who you bring in through the hiring process.
It affects productivity
Mental health and workplace productivity are in direct correlation to each other, according to a study by the National Library of Medicine. An employee who feels good about themselves or their work is naturally going to have a more positive outlook and subsequently give more to the organization than someone who is struggling. And, the reverse is also true; if an employee’s production has declined, rather than “laziness” or “lack of care”, their high level of stress may have turned into a mental health crisis.
Solutions for leaders
So what can you do? Here are some tips for leaders:
Care about the person
Most leaders genuinely care about their employees, but many employees don’t know it or feel it. In the post-COVID work environment, people have been isolated, and even if they are back in the office, that feeling is not going away overnight.
Employees want to be heard, and they want someone to care. And the higher up the ranks that employees feel heard, the more satisfied they’ll be. Leaders can no longer be away from their work force or be tucked away in the corner office.
A good leader will be seen, and in genuine conversations, with the people that work for and with them. With this communication comes purposeful listening, not just head nodding and checking each communication off a list. Purposeful listening is giving your full attention to the person talking to you. This will help you identify issues that are occurring in the workforce before a crisis begins.
Purposeful listening gives employees the feeling of being heard, which in turn helps them feel cared for.
One simple question, then long-pausing for a response, will open the door to that conversation, “How are you, really?” Try it with a team member or a peer, then listen without a compulsion to solve it. Just listen.
Implement mentoring systems
You might be cringing at the thought of having to mentor more people. I had one manager tell me she was tired of mentoring and really wanted to hire someone who was not “a project.” I explained that as a manager, every day is a mentoring day. It will never end if you are a great leader.
With that said, it doesn’t have to fall solely on the manager of the organization or even the leader of a particular team. A mentoring system is a system, with shared responsibility, that searches all levels of the organization and identifies employees and other leaders who are adhering to the rules of the company. They are meeting the demands in their actions, outcomes, and verbiage. In other words, they get it.
A mentoring system is put in place whereby everyone mentors someone, and helps them not just within the organization, but also with the other passions and interests.
Increase education and services for mental health
In today’s competitive market to retain talent, companies must invest in mental health education, resources and services. With increasing numbers of individuals experiencing mental health crises, you must take inventory to see what you already have established and brainstorm how this education can improve.
You can implement other resources as well. Paid mental health days could be given to employees that are going through a tough time. Some companies have instituted workout facilities, fitness classes, meditation, and yoga studios on company grounds for use by the employees.
You know what works for, and what you need, in your company. If you don’t, now is a good time to call someone that can help you figure this out
Connect and network
Bring the social back. Many companies have slowly brought folks back to work, but the emphasis has been on the work and not on the people. It’s understandable. Most companies lost revenue during COVID. You may feel like you are behind and playing catch up. You are not alone. But you must realize that work won’t be like it was pre-pandemic, and it may never be. Things have to change. You may have to change.
Employees need help reconnecting and socializing. You could have lunches, meet for coffee, bring donuts to work and encourage folks to come out and partake, take the team to a different location in the building to work on something, or just visit different offices throughout the day. If the leaders are seen connecting and socializing, others are likely to follow.
Many prefer to work remotely, at least part of the time, now that they have had a taste of remote. Your flexibility may be challenged in this effort.
On the flip side, if your company turned 100% remote post pandemic, you must now find ways to help folks reconnect, network, and work together remotely on their teams.
It will take you and others, in the organization, to purposely set up brainstorming sessions and whiteboards to create new ideas that would work for your organization. Asking for help from your employees will go a long way to improving the company culture.
The worst thing you can do is sit back and wait for the crisis to come to you. It would be better to be proactive and willing to look at your situation. In this reflection, understand what the numbers are telling you. What trends are forming, and how will they affect the company down the road?
Many adults are suffering more mental health issues and the majority of them are the younger generations.
You must be prepared and ready to adjust, to care, and to help them resolve their positioning in a society where they lost ground due to their COVID years. Today’s leaders must genuinely care about the mental wellness of their teams. It must become more of a priority within organizations.
Your teams’ wellness depends on it, and the future of your business is at stake.culture, Leadership, Mental Wellness