As we adapt to the still-evolving circumstances of the COVID pandemic, companies are trying to figure out how we best go back to work. And while there are some fun and newly novel things to look forward to, like eating in the company café, or the joy of randomly bumping into a forgotten colleague in the break room, there’s a tougher side as well.
As a society, we’re still experiencing a deep sense of loss, both collective and individual. For some, it was the loss of a family member, a job, a stable income. For others it was the loss of graduations, birthday parties, or vacations. We lost time that can’t be replaced. We lost our normal. The grief, and sometimes the trauma of these losses cannot be healed as quickly and conveniently as we might like. We’ve also experienced this giant wave of disruption, a wave of division: political, racial, socio-economic division.
In addition to the pandemic of COVID, we are still going through a pandemic of loneliness. A pandemic of disconnection. A pandemic of mental un-wellness. Recent surveys by the CDC show that in any given week, between 25-40% of us are struggling with anxiety or depression. Another survey shares that burnout is raging. 83% are feeling emotionally drained. One byproduct of the burnout is a widespread apathy: 23% shared that they don’t care what happens to their colleagues. Our capacity for compassion is fraying. And for me, the most disturbing statistic – 11% say that they’ve considered taking their own life within the last 30 days. That’s one in nine.
3 Ways Leaders Can Heal Emotional Drain
As leaders, we have an opportunity to do more than just bring employees back to work. We can also help our teams—and ourselves—to heal. We’re strong. We’re resilient. We’re not broken. But we are banged up a bit. And in some cases, work is adding to the bruising.
There are a thousand things that are causing us stress that companies can’t help with, at least in the short term. Access to daycare, housing prices, transportation, and constant change all fall into that category. Our companies can, however, take a stronger stand on helping with employees’ mental well-being. When our tank is closer to full, all of our other challenges are easier to deal with.
Here are three simple ways that work can help us heal.
1. Model the Behavior
It starts at the top, with the messages that leaders share. A good leader can acknowledge that what we’re going through is hard. They can acknowledge how valuable employees are to the success of the company. Recognizing the challenges and sacrifices we’re all making, they can share their personal gratitude. Employees want to be seen, heard, acknowledged.
When a leader shows their true strength in vulnerability, we’re all able to be real, and the healing emerges.
And then, leaders can show some vulnerability. When a leader shares some of their own journey, some of their own struggles, it gives the rest of the organization an umbrella of safety to have real conversations. Some of the anxiety we feel is caused by the perceived perfection that exists on social media. “Everyone seems perfect on Instagram. What’s wrong with me?” When a leader shows their true strength in vulnerability, we’re all able to be real, and the healing emerges. Teams also start to feel more connected to each other. “I have to measure up to the people around me,” becomes “We’re in this together.”
2. Operationalize Compassion
Companies just want to get things done, and typically, more rules are put into place when trust is low. Instead of tightening up, leadership can shift toward cultivating an environment that’s abundant not only in productivity, but also in trust and compassion. Talking about how employees are valuable is a great start. Showing them is even better. People feel less stressed when they have more flexibility and more control over their work environment.
It’s a different way of managing, but elevating the way we treat employees by trusting them more and giving them more freedom will ultimately yield better results and more loyalty. Specifically, this means establishing policies that give employees more choice about where and when to work. Back in the office? Let employees choose. When to work? Let employees choose. What needs to get done? Leaders set clear expectations, and we all work together as partners to get things done.
With this flexibility, workers can manage their own lives. They can have more agency. Stress is reduced, and this collective exhale will lead to better lives and better results.
3. Actively Support Mental Well-Being
Employees want more help with mental well-being from their companies. In a recent employee satisfaction survey done by Glint, across many companies, they found that nearly 75% of employees wanted more from their company in terms of mental well-being.
There are a range of offerings in this space. Many companies are increasing access counseling solutions, drastically lowering the barrier to receiving help and reducing the stigma of receiving help. At the extreme end, there are crisis hotlines, made readily available to all.
Access to mindfulness resources can help keep us from reaching that boiling point. Workplace mindfulness can include workshops on topics like Growth Mindset, or Building Resilience. It could be regular meditation sessions that everyone is encouraged to join, whether virtually or in person. It’s becoming more common for companies to provide access to great apps like Wise@Work, Insight Timer, or 10% Happier.
In our last 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge at LinkedIn, among participants who practiced for more than 100 minutes during the month, the number of people who said they were “totally stressed and imbalanced” was reduced by half.
I’ve seen firsthand how these offerings move the needle. In our last 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge at LinkedIn using the Wise @ Work app, among participants who practiced for more than 100 minutes during the month, the number of people who said they were “totally stressed and imbalanced” was reduced by half. The number of people who said they were “calm, centered, and had low stress” doubled.
Beyond the numbers, I’m encouraged by the anecdotal feedback I get. During the pandemic an employee, a young mother, reached out to share her gratitude for the mindfulness programs we offer. She was doing her best, trying to work from home with two little ones in the house. She said, “Because of these programs, I’m screaming at my kids a lot less.” She included a little smiley face to say she was kidding, but not kidding. She went on to say “I’m a better version of myself. I’m a better mother, a better partner. And I’m much more focused and better at work. Thank you!”
We’re starting to go back to work, but we’re not going back to the way things were. We’re going through a global reset in how we think about work. Many people are examining their lives, their values, reimagining how they want to work and how they want to live. In a recent survey, 56% of respondents indicated that they were spending time looking for a new position.
Companies will play a powerful role in our mental well-being. Some will add to the pain. Some will get it right and add to the collective healing that must occur. I’m guessing the 56% will find one of the latter companies to share the next chapter of their life.
If we get it right, together we can change work, and the world, from the inside out.
Scott Shute is the author of the The Full Body Yes, and Head of Mindfulness and Compassion Programs at LinkedIn. Learn more at www.scottshute.com
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