Organizations have been setting up wellbeing programs for their employees for a rather long time. Whether these entailed art workshops, massage sessions, tickets to entertaining events, or incentives for a healthier lifestyle, they aimed to make people feel (and be) better. The importance of these programs has not decreased, but the recent global crisis and all the stress and negativity it brought requires taking it up a notch or maybe several.
We are no longer talking about wellness but about wellbeing and specifically about the mental health and hygiene of today’s workforce. Mental Health America (MHA) released its Mind the Workplace 2021 Report offering priceless insights into challenges individuals and companies have recently faced.
Over 5,000 employees across 17 industries were interviewed about topics such as financial insecurity, workplace stress, burnout, and supervisor support. Here are some relevant findings.
There’s a significant financial strain that employees feel due to the pandemic
According to the report, 58 percent of employees worry about affording the cost of living, while two out of three employees cannot put aside money towards an emergency fund. Furthermore, 34 percent of employees can’t afford the cost of healthcare.
Economic insecurity is directly correlated with health for several reasons. First of all, there is the psychological strain that greatly affects physical health. Then, there is the issue of a well-balanced diet and quality nutrients that tend to be significantly more expensive than the less healthy options.
And, of course, the main factor that links economic insecurity to poor health is the failure to participate in screenings and preventive medicine. This aspect needs to be addressed mainly at a legislative level, but it’s also employers’ job to find solutions for alleviating the strain.
Burnout is a serious concern for employees
According to MHA’s report, 83 percent of employees feel emotionally drained from their work, and 25 percent of employees feel reduced professional efficacy and cynicism towards their jobs and coworkers. Of the employees who strongly felt that their work emotionally drained them, 99 percent stated that their workplace stress directly affects their mental health.
If not addressed, burnout can lead to more serious mental health concerns like anxiety or depression. Employers can help prevent or lessen the impact of burnout by raising awareness about the symptoms, having effective workload management procedures, and encouraging people to talk about workplace stressors and take time off when needed.
The time off, however, should be paid. Otherwise, the financial strain felt by so many would prevent them from taking necessary leaves of absence.
Supervisor support is paramount for employee mental health
First of all, it’s essential not to confuse support for control. Employees don’t need somebody breathing down their necks at all times – that would be an even more powerful stressor. They do, however, require somebody who is efficient, fair and can give a sense of purpose and direction.
I’ve often talked about how managers need to take the time to know their team members and show that they are genuinely interested in them. This report once more stresses the need for real connection and honest displays of emotional support.
Furthermore, expectations need to be both realistic and flexible. In such challenging times, deadlines may not always be met, even if people work hard to make that happen. Supervisors themselves need to practice good mental health hygiene to find the internal resources to be there for their team.
Employee engagement has been affected by a change in working environments
The past two years have brought significant changes in the way people work. Some have been sent home, while others had to stay on the frontlines with many novel safety equipment and procedures to follow. Childcare and schooling have also become issues. All of these definitely took a toll on workers’ mental states.
The recent MHA survey results reveal that over 65 percent of employees find it difficult to concentrate because of their work environment, compared to 46 percent of respondents in 2018. Also, over 56 percent of employees reported that they spend time looking for a new position, compared to 40 percent of respondents in 2018.
It’s important for companies to be aware of these trends and show employees that their struggles are acknowledged, and they’re looking for solutions. Failure to do so will result in very high turnover rates.
It was already clear to anyone who paid attention to the global situation that the strain on the workforce has been immense. Concerns about burnout, Zoom fatigue, and anxiety have been raised since the beginning of the pandemic. However, seeing the numbers in this report should give organizations an extra boost to start a well-organized effort of acknowledging and alleviating the factors that have such a detrimental effect on employee wellbeing.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.