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The Critical Intersection Between DEI and Mental Health

Pandemic-related mental health is undoubtedly top-of-mind. In addition, there tends to be an uptick in dialog about mental health this time of year because May is Mental Health Month. Yet here’s what I’m thinking a lot about recently that extends all year long: the critical intersection between mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)

While both topics have grown exponentially in discussions among leaders, they have often grown in tandem. However, it’s important to tie the two together. It’s a junction where belonging, health, happiness, and productivity live. But the key is to understand how they intersect and what that means to leaders who want to foster a positive workplace.

The State of Mental Health

The research and stats continue to illustrate that COVID has propelled us into a mental health crisis. In a report by Mental Health America and Surgo Foundation, “The COVID Mental Health Crisis in America’s Most Vulnerable Communities: An Analysis of the US Cities Most Impacted by COVID-19, Poor Mental Health, and Lack of Mental Health Access”, the researchers hit on an important societal issue. A community and workforce’s access to mental health services – especially for underserved populations – is a DEI issue. Period.

“Mental health benefits: A key component of DEI,” a 2021 article in BenefitsPRO, connects the dots by stating that if an organization is going to be committed to DEI, then mental health benefits must be part of the picture. So, ask yourself, are accessible, impactful mental health benefits part of your organization? And even if you say yes, there is still work to do. And it’s interesting to look back a year later and see what mental health needs were unmet before, during the height of the pandemic, and today.

Create Paths to Help

What has become abundantly clear is that organizational management – and HR leaders, especially – must include mental health benefits, resources, and services with a special lens on underserved and high-risk populations. We expect government entities to pave the way, but every company should also take proactive steps to provide its own inclusive, healthy community. (The article was published under different titles to appeal to various HR professionals, including the aptly named DEI That Ignores Mental Health Is Doomed in HRAdvisor.)

The piece states, “Mental ill-health is often a symptom of lackluster DEI within companies, and specifically among minority demographics… Regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, a majority felt that they had experienced barriers to inclusion. McKinsey’s research supports the argument that certain demographics are more likely to feel less included. Among those groups are entry-level employees, women, and ethnic or racial minorities.”

“When someone’s race, identity, and sense of who they are, are repeatedly questioned and used against them, their mental health is affected. When those kinds of questions and attacks happen within the workplace, the individual and the company suffer.”

Foster DEI to Support Mental Well-Being

Let this remind us that the conversation isn’t simply about COVID-related mental health, although that’s the world we live in at this minute. DEI leaders need to ensure that the workplace always fosters inclusivity to support mental well-being proactively.

Other problems that can impact mental health and a feeling of safety at work for marginalized populations include lack of representation/misrepresentation, microaggressions, unconscious bias, and other stressors that can be hard to see. A solid DEI approach ensures that (1) leaders are trained to watch for these issues and (2) employees have access to resources to manage or mitigate these concerns.

According to Forbes, “Managers can be the ‘first responders to address mental health in a crisis. Training, educating, and empowering managers to lead on both mental health and inclusion – and how the two intersect – can speed up needed support to employees from diverse backgrounds. Managers may be in the best position to handle these sensitive issues with individual employees, helping to answer questions, address concerns, and direct people to the best available resources.”

First, Find Your People

The CDC published data about racial inequities that continue to plague our health care system. “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought social and racial injustice and inequity to the forefront of public health. It has highlighted that health equity is still not a reality as COVID-19 has unequally affected many racial and ethnic minority groups, putting them more at risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.”

That information doesn’t require much of a leap to the gap between underrepresented populations and mental health resources. The right DEI strategy should incorporate holistic, proactive approaches to address mental health needs, especially for groups that have never received or considered support.

The Connection Between Mental Health and DEI

So how do we draw this line between mental health and DEI? What’s interesting is that it’s truly about perspective. Reaching rural, LGBTQ, ethnic, religious minorities, youth, and other groups can be challenging. But it can also be extremely fulfilling, allowing a culture of inclusion and a celebration of differences to shape an organization.

You would be well-served to take an audit of your DEI strategy. Where does it address mental health? Is it proactive? Is it realistic? Are there proper communications plans to inform employees about resources?

These questions may reveal what’s next – and I beg you to take more than a quick look. See what’s working and what’s not to take a macro and micro look at how to improve. HOW are WE making mental health a priority for ALL of our people? How can we start at the top and make it actionable throughout the organization?

Tech Innovation Can Help Close the Gap

During the last few years, one noteworthy stride has been an increased capacity by the medical community to interact with patients online. Zoom therapy wasn’t much of a “thing” a few years ago. But improved technologies and a growing savviness for online medical appointments can drastically improve our reach into underserved populations.

A fascinating interview in Forbes addresses the ripe market for a tech disruption in mental health. This points to a promising future for organizations invested in closing the gap between mental health and all kinds of populations. The article covers the importance of how connecting underserved people with the technology they need to stay up-to-date is essential.

Some interesting tech innovations in this area include, “explicit measurement-based care efforts integrated within virtual behavioral health solutions, expansion into other modalities of care such as coaching, and continued consolidation in the space.”

“Additionally, many vendors are expanding their treatment modalities from just teletherapy with a mental health professional to things like virtual coaching. Finally, tons of funding is going into condition-specific startups, including those focused on substance use care, autism, etc.”

Opportunity is Knocking

This topic offers hope. There is a real struggle right now as the fog of uncertainty has not lifted, and mental health aftereffects reverberate like aftershocks. It’s discouraging to know there are underserved populations and people who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles. It’s not an easy task to look at the gaps in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. But we can make positive changes here. Armed with the correct information and a willingness to ask hard questions, organizations can use DEI initiatives to make actual societal change.

10 Ideas To Make Mental Health Support More Accessible For Employees

What are some ideas to make mental health support more accessible to employees? This question was posed to a group of talented professionals for their insights. From offering mental health holidays to flex work schedules, here’s what they had to say.

Offer Mental Health Days

Mental health Days are meant to be used when you have too much on your mind or when are feeling high levels of stress and anxiety. We can’t pre-plan how we will feel, so it’s important to allow employees to take unplanned days off.  Moreover, it is a great way to track the mental health of your employees. If someone is taking too many “mental health days” then you can reach out and support them! It’s easy to apply and simple, yet so few companies do it!

Annie Chopra, She TheQueen

Take Time to Communicate Benefits

In our brand new research on mental health, we found that employers rated themselves a “C” while the workforce rated employer support for mental health as an “F.” When you get into the data, you see that while companies are trying to make changes, these changes aren’t always felt by the workforce. We have to spend as much time communicating the changes and benefits we offer as we do actually selecting those benefits if we want to see real impact.

Ben Eubanks, Lighthouse Research & Advisory

Provide Health Coaching Sessions

Working with a qualified health & wellness coach has the potential to make a big difference in employees’ work and personal lives.  A health coach is NOT a licensed mental health practitioner. A good health coach IS a trained empathetic listener and motivator who works with people in groups or one-on-one. They help to create and work toward solutions to increase the enjoyment of life and work. 

Employers can offer coaching services onsite or remotely, in groups or individually.  The National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) certifies coaches who have completed specialized coaching training, demonstrated coaching skills, have experience working with clients, and passed a rigorous exam.

Ronel Kelmen, Attainable Transformation

Include Inspiring and Regenerating PTO Perks

We all understand that employees need sufficient high-quality PTO experiences in order to stay sharp, satisfied, and healthy at work. But what really makes PTO beneficial for our mental health is when that time is also inspiring. 

For example, we offer our employees three fully paid 24-hour days per year to participate in volunteer activities. Not only do these experiences give our team the chance to step outside their work and breathe, but while doing so they’re also engaging in work that can reignite and reshape their worldviews.

Tina Hawk, GoodHire

Promote a Work-Life Balance

Make sure your employees are taking time away from work on a regular basis. This means encouraging regularly scheduled vacations and not rewarding a burning the midnight oil mentality. You may get short-term results, but this type of schedule will often lead to burnout and far less productivity and motivation. 

A great leader challenges their employees to regularly rest, recharge, and connect with their loved ones. When employees feel valued, they will be much more motivated.

Mark Daoust, Quiet Light

Host Mental Health Fairs

One out-of-the-box way to make mental health more accessible to workers is to hold a mental health fair. These events function like traditional health fairs yet focus on psychological health. Booths can give out information on practices like stress management and avoiding burnout. Additionally, you can do activities like meditation and mindfulness worksheets. Beyond providing at-risk employees with resources, you can also use these fairs as a way to educate the workforce at large about mental health and help professionals to be better allies to psychologically vulnerable peers.

Carly Hill, Virtual Holiday Party

Encourage the Use of Wellness Apps

Employers can provide free resources and access to mental health apps. It can be a way for everyone in your company to get the mental health help they need, especially to prevent burnout amongst your employees. Using an app might feel less intimidating when seeking professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist.

You might not be there to visually recognize when an employee is overworking themselves. But with certain apps, they can get reminders to take breaks and maintain healthy habits during their working hours.

Scott Lieberman, Touchdown Money

Foster a “Life Happens” Culture

A healthy company culture understands that even the highest performing employees will face unideal circumstances that may take them away from work. A culture of ‘life happens’ understands that company needs shouldn’t supersede employee needs but ebb and flow. As we navigate turbulent times as a nation, we’ve all faced the universal truth that life happens, and sometimes things are out of our control.

Amrita Saigal, Kudos

Allow Flexible Work Schedules 

A remote or hybrid work schedule creates more flexibility for employees to take care of their physical and mental health how they see fit. Workers want freedom – time to spend with loved ones, take care of themselves, and travel – promoting one’s mental health on their terms. Allow the space and flexibility for your employees to take care of their mental health at their discretion.

Breanne Millette, BISOULOVELY

Train Leaders to Create Inclusive Environments 

Smaller businesses can make mental health more accessible to employees by equipping leaders with the tools and resources to have open, honest conversations and by creating a safe space for employees to speak openly without fear of judgment. 

Creating inclusive environments for conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia can go a long way in making sure everyone feels supported at work. By educating people about and accepting neurodiversity, you can create an inclusive and supportive workplace where everyone can thrive.

Dan Gissane, Huxo Creative

       

Re-designing Employee Experience Around Well-Being

Amid the unique shockwaves sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, HR tech has found itself at a turning point. Mostly, two major trends have brought on this critical phase in HR technology today. Tangible assets such as human-made codes and patents represent 90 percent of the value of the S&P 500 companies. This has increased the strategic position of Human Resources within companies for the past years now. The smaller trend sprung from the COVID-19 pandemic with 70 percent of employees stating they want hybrid work options to stay in place. The need to offer an online employee experience has given way to major investments in HR technology. Companies heavily count on these investments to support the growing demand in office vs. work-at-home experiences.

With digital taking over, a new approach is emerging in terms of Employee Experience (EX). EX today is transformative in the sense of bringing about sustained cultural change. This purposeful change will empower people to be at their best and foster overall health and well-being. Therefore, as companies are adapting to the new realities of the post-pandemic realm, re-imagining work and well-being experience becomes critical. We need to re-architect well-being experience to bring out human strengths such as creativity, connectivity, and innovation to the fore.

The impact of remote and hybrid work on employee experience

Professionals expect the new working models to stay even in a post-pandemic world. Among many others, Josh Bersin, the president of Bersin & Associates, believes that the future of work is remote. Microsoft researchers point out that “work will likely be a fluid mix of in-person and remote collaboration.” We are yet to see whether the downsides of remote working at scale will come to outweigh the positives. Yet, the tech-enabled wellness solutions will certainly be the lifeblood of the HR Tech market to support employee well-being.

Eighty-nine percent of employees in a February 2021 global Harvard Business Review study said that their work-life was getting worse. More statistics from the same study: 85 percent said that their well-being declined and 56 percent said that their job demands increased. Many people are reporting a range of mental health issues, including stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout. More, 94 percent of workers in the U.S. and the U.K. feel stress at work, while more than 50 percent experience sleep loss. Within such a climate, people are looking for more balance and a life with lower levels of conflict and stress. This necessitates that holistic well-being programs be embedded into employee experience management. With this in mind, by adopting holistic employee well-being programs, organizations make a commitment to helping people lead more fulfilling lives.

Key features of a thriving employee well-being program

There is no “one-size-fits-all” well-being solution because every culture and individual is unique. However, the basis of every good wellness program is behavior change. So, what should organizations look for in well-being tech and projects developed by corporate well-being vendors? Further, how is it possible to redesign well-being into the work itself? There are many practices that organizations can take part in to create an impressive well-being experience. For example:

  • Utilizing solutions designed to provide usability, mobility, and accessibility
  • Using gamification to motivate and engage employees to create positive behavioral change
  • Taking a proactive approach to wellness that inspires action through challenges, micro-content, and smooth integration with wearable technology
  • Harnessing the power of friendly competition to build healthy habits, as collective efforts greatly help well-being behaviors “stick”
  • Asking the employees what their well-being needs today are, and empowering them to take their own unique well-being journey
  • Investing in multiple dimensions of well-being.

Strong cooperation between leadership and HR for holistic employee well-being

The dominant view is that HR is the primary responsible party for well-being within an organization. However, it is up to the contributions of the whole organization to promote a culture of well-being. Such collective efforts will create more engaged employees through a transformative employee experience. Richa Gupta reminds us that paying attention to the types of employees you have on staff is key to ensuring a healthier and engaged workforce. In this sense, organizations must commit to well-being programs as a business priority. Leaders should lead by example by creating awareness in areas including mental health, diversity and inclusion, and hybrid work challenges.

In a pandemic-stricken landscape, we find ourselves in a moment of reflection. Thus, ensuring employees remain safe and well-cared-for is vital to deliver a great employee experience. With this in mind, organizations that acknowledge this fact will navigate hard times and emerge stronger in the future. During COVID-19, we have witnessed that fragmented well-being programs fall short of addressing new circumstances. When treated as band-aids for short-term concerns, they cannot provide a whole-of-life experience. It is essential to implement a holistic well-being program integrated into the fabric of organizational culture.

A New Era of Workplace Safety: Prioritizing Psychosocial Health

For too long, the workplace has been viewed as a mystical place where we bring a version of ourselves that is unbreakable. It’s a version of ourselves that powers through every obstacle, even if it takes a toll on our health. Sadly, it’s a version that is essentially unsustainable. How often have we seen an employee get lauded for “going above and beyond,” even when we know that what we’re saying is just code for working through illness. Or forsaking personal commitment? Or working well beyond reasonable and safe hours?

That attitude–celebrating the workaholic, to put it bluntly–is an example of how the conversation around mental health has been too narrow. It’s especially been too narrow when discussing mental health in the workplace. Also, until now, occupational health and safety management was focused almost exclusively on physical safety rather than psychological health. That changed this past summer. An international standard was issued in June to provide a structural framework to help businesses manage psychological health and well-being in the workplace.

In essence, the ISO 45003 Psychological Health and Safety at Work guidelines have two goals:

  1. Lay out global standards for organizations to create and administer an environment where the psychosocial well-being of employees is as clearly defined and cared for as their physical safety
  2. Offer a helpful baseline for HR professionals across industries to evaluate how effectively their organizations are providing a psychosocially healthy atmosphere, without the need for in-house specialists with deep expertise in mental health

For HR and training leaders, it’s important to recognize:

  • Three common mental health and wellness issues that organizations face
  • How the new standards for workplace safety could lead to a more psychosocially healthy work environment

1. A Stigmatized or Nonexistent Support System

The pandemic highlighted the lack of supportive environments for employee mental health at an organizational level. It also shed light on unsustainable and unfair workloads and untimely or ineffective recognition practices. Because of these issues, employees have very little time during the workday and very few, if any, tools to take care of themselves psychologically or emotionally. In a 2021 survey that covered 46 countries, 89 percent of respondents said their work-life was worsening. Eighty-five percent said their well-being had declined, and 56 percent said their job demands had increased.

A strategy for change: Discussing mental health openly at work starts with a clear organizational strategy. You need to create an environment of psychological safety. That means a workplace where employees feel comfortable being themselves and discussing emotional and mental concerns. The ISO guidelines go a step further. They ask top leaders to remember the important role they play in supporting these conversations. They also ask leadership to set a culture of protection from reprisal or judgment for employees who speak up.

2. A Diverse Workforce Has Diverse Mental Wellness Needs

More than nine out of 10 respondents in a 2021 survey felt that mental health should be a focus within the company culture, up from 86 percent in 2019. The increase shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that between 2019 and 2021, mental health was cited as an increasingly prevalent reason that employees left their jobs. Overall, 84 percent of respondents felt that at least one workplace factor negatively impacted their mental health. Further, the problem is most acute among Millennials and Gen Z.

The numbers were disproportionately higher among younger workers and members of underrepresented groups. Women, minority groups, remote workers (in some organizations), and the younger generation joining the workforce are all prone to feeling excluded from blanket policies and run-of-the-mill pledges of inclusion.

A strategy for change: Sure, companies have increased investment in employee mental health over the last decade. The global mental wellness industry grew nearly twice as fast as the global economy from 2015–2017 alone. But the quality and reach of these programs are what matters. ISO guidelines call out the need for organizations to consider the diversity of the workforce and the needs of particular groups around a psychosocially healthy workplace.

3. Burnout Remains Pervasive and Prevention Is the Best Cure

Meet the new mantra, same as the old mantra: Prevention is the best medicine. Yu Tse Heng, a researcher who uncovers ways to humanize workplaces, puts it this way: “It starts with employers, to protect employees from becoming resource-depleted in the first place. And it’s also on the employer to provide the resources necessary to support employees’ mental health.” The employee’s responsibility, meanwhile, is to try and understand where their burnout stems from and to craft a way to get out of it.

Even pre-pandemic, the results of implementing mental health programs at work spoke for themselves. In a 2019 study conducted by Deloitte and the Australian Institute of Health & Safety, the ROI for workplace mental health programs yielded $1.62 for every dollar invested. That’s just in one year. For companies with programs that had been implemented over three years, the median ROI was $2.18 for every dollar spent.

A strategy for change: Self-reflection and self-care are crucial to recovering from or preventing burnout. But the ISO reiterates the importance of employers implementing and maintaining support systems in the workplace for burnout prevention. For example, having trained personnel on staff who can take charge of these programs further mitigates the risk of psychosocial damage.

A Significant Opportunity for Organizations Ready for Change

As mental health and workplace safety become increasingly important and open subjects, employers are at a crossroads. Traditional solutions just won’t cut it. A vacation does not erase the dread of returning to a draining work environment. In fact, American workers last year left an average of 33 percent of their allocated paid time off on the table. At the same time, they reported a 49-minute increase in the average workday.

Organizations seeking a transformative solution to employee mental well-being should consider activating the new ISO guidelines. They present an opportunity for companies to take a fresh look at:

  • How they view employee mental health
  • The role their leadership is playing to change the company culture around mental health
  • The effectiveness of their mental health strategy for today’s changing workforce

As with everything around workplace safety, you can be superficial with fixes and apply Band-Aids to mask the issues. Or you can choose to step up and transform how you approach workplace mental health.

The Future of Work: 6 Post-COVID HR Trends to Look Out For

The first time COVID-19 made its appearance, a lot of uncertainty, fear, and doubt ruled many people’s lives. Since all of it was new, absolutely no one knew exactly what to do.

Nearly two years have passed, and we have gathered all the information and forces available to fight against it. The good news is that we have done it effectively to a great extent, and the current recovery situation is looking optimistic.

However, there is no guarantee that we are ever going “back to normal” since what is “normal” has been completely redefined.

From now on, HR professionals will need to adjust to the new normal. Here are some post-COVID HR trends to be prepared for.

1. A bigger focus on remote work

If there is one thing that the pandemic changed for most employees, it’s remote work. With all the video-conferencing calls via Zoom and Skype, the business world is steadily making its way to normalizing remote working.

While reports show that remote working was already becoming popular before COVID, especially amongst the self-employed, it sped up its pace.

The Pew Research Center reports that prior to the pandemic, about 20 percent of Americans were working remotely. Right now, this number has gone up to 71 percent. And out of that percentage, 54 percent want to continue working remotely.

That said, we expect to see working practices becoming more flexible in time.

Some businesses may even need to invest in more permanent communication tools or services. These should help them keep in touch with their employees and be able to support them.

2. Embracing technology

Technology is always at the forefront of change and will play a significant role in post-COVID HR trends.

When it comes to recruiting new talent, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and blockchain technology will bring more changes in HR. With the possibility of streamlining the hiring process and improving the quality of the hires, the possibilities are endless.

But that’s not all that technology can do. Recruiting tech-savvy candidates that come with digital and transferable skills is more beneficial. This can help create a modern and ever-changing working environment that is adaptable and ready to face any potential challenge.

If you a looking for a winning HR tool, check out the TalentCulture 2021, HR Tech winners here.

3. Prioritizing employee well-being

More and more companies are putting their employees first.

Not only that, but they are also showing a willingness to address any health and safety issues. The trend of adopting a more people-centric company culture as opposed to business-centric is a positive turn of events. Now employers are being more understanding, aware, and flexible in ensuring the well-being of employees.

One way organizations can do this is by providing employees with better rewards and incentives. Time off or holistic benefit offerings can address both their mental and physical concerns.

Many famous companies are leading the way, showing others how it’s done. During the season of reduced demand, Microsoft continued paying their hourly workers who were offering their support. While Starbucks started offering more mental health benefits and therapy sessions to all its U.S.-based employees and family members starting in April 2020.

4. Rethinking current business practices

HR managers need to adapt to changing times, and to do so, they need to do a thorough re-assessment of company policies and practices. They need to look into what worked and didn’t work for employees during the crisis.

While some industries were lucky enough to survive the pandemic, some had cut down staff, or worse, close down.

Deloitte’s Workforce strategies for post-COVID-19 recovery workbook offers a helping hand to all managers who are rethinking their business practices. The workbook focuses on three key pillars: 1) respond, 2) recover, and 3) thrive. Considering every aspect of the business that needs to change, this guide can help organizations succeed.

5. Changing learning and training methods

When it comes to post-COVID HR trends, moving away from face-to-face learning and making use of e-learning resources is likely to be especially valuable.

Online learning has proven to be an effective and reliable method of providing training. In fact, it has been a lifesaver during the difficult coronavirus days. Given that e-learning is inexpensive and more efficient, more businesses will choose to invest in it and replace old training practices.

Webinars, virtual classrooms, online courses, video training, and mobile learning are trending. Many tools that can offer this type of training like LMSs (learning management systems), onboarding tools, and course platforms can improve employee training programs.

6. Relying on data to make decisions

When the financial situation of a business is unsteady, the need to forecast workforce requirements and reduce costs becomes paramount.

In order for HR managers to make well-informed decisions that will help sustain a business, they need to focus on data analytics.

Data analytics will provide the most reliable source of information, helping organizations successfully recruit candidates, as well as measure and monitor employee performance, engagement, and productivity.

A Look Into the Future

All these post-COVID HR trends pave the way for a new direction for the HR industry. New HR practices will soon replace the old, and companies will adopt the ones that will help them grow.

Pay attention to employees’ well-being, exploit all the tools available to you, and make data-driven decisions. Help your company survive through these troubled times and thrive in the future.

How Positively Energizing Leadership Can Transform Employee Well-being

We live at a time when political correctness captures headlines. Accusations of injustice, privilege, unconscious bias, and systemic racism happen daily. Between 50 and 75 percent of people admit to self-censoring for fear of being seen as politically incorrect. Therefore, it is not surprising that employee disengagement and disaffection in the workforce hover at around 70 percent. Contradicting the dominant ideology often costs employees their reputations. In some cases, their employment–and the emphasis on political correctness–is not diminishing, even though most employees dislike it.

Attributes of a Culture of Political Correctness

In corporate cultures where political correctness dominates, taking offense and being on the lookout for transgressions are typical. Pressure toward conformity to an acceptable point of view is common. People tend to pass judgment on others, level accusations, and hold grudges. Negative energy predominates. Couple this with today’s high employee burnout, and the need for a positive culture is greater than ever.

Attributes of a Culture of Virtuousness

As highlighted in Positively Energizing Leadership, there is extensive research on what drives positive cultures. Organizations that exceed industry averages in performance and employee well-being prioritize a culture of virtuousness instead of political conformity.

Virtuousness refers to the highest aspirations to which human beings aspire—the best of the human condition. For example, in these organizations, people seek opportunities to contribute to, uplift, and positively energize others. The culture prioritizes the demonstration of compassion and charity, humility and gratitude, unconditional love and acceptance, and trustworthiness. Forgiveness is a daily occurrence. These organizations emphasize helping each employee flourish and contributing to the welfare of the whole. Positive energy predominates. The result is bottom-line performance that almost always exceeds industry averages.

The Role of Leaders

Empirical evidence confirms that the most important factor in creating such a culture is the organization’s leader. However, not just any leader can create this kind of culture. The extent to which the leader is a positive energizer helps determine if there is a culture of virtuousness and extraordinary bottom-line performance.

Positive energy is inherently life-giving and vitality-producing. For instance, in nature, the most common source of positive energy is the Sun, which is a life-giving force. All species, including human beings, are inclined toward life-giving energy and light. They languish in the presence of life-depleting or life-endangering negative energy. This phenomenon is called the heliotropic effect.

Forms of Energy

A variety of forms of energy exist including physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, and relational energy. Each of the first three forms of energy diminishes with use. They require recuperation when expended. Relational energy is the only form of energy that elevates with use. We seldom get exhausted, for example, by being around a person with whom we have a loving, supportive relationship. Positively energizing leaders exude positive relational energy and cultivate elevating, replenishing, and life-giving cultures for all employees.

Positively Energizing Leadership

Positive relational energy is based on demonstrating virtuousness. Research in children as young as three months old confirms that human beings thrive in the presence of, virtuousness—gratitude, fairness, generosity, compassion, and forgiveness. When leaders demonstrate virtuousness, the well-being and engagement of employees improves. Their organizations produce significantly higher levels of productivity, quality, customer loyalty, innovation, and profitability compared to industry averages.

Also, demonstrating virtuousness unleashes the inherent potential of all human beings toward positive, life-giving energy. Multiple studies show that experiencing and observing virtuousness is heliotropic. It leads to employee and organizational thriving, especially in difficult times.

Practices of Positive Energizing Leaders

Leaders can change an organization’s culture from one mired in fear, disengagement, and political incorrectness accusations. To move into a culture full of positive energy, flourishing, and above-average performance, positively energizing leader activities include:

  • All employees receive a gratitude journal for recording the best things that happened during the day or the things for which they are grateful.
  • In addition to recognizing outstanding performance with awards, top performers receive chances to contribute by teaching, coaching, or mentoring others.
  • Leaders create a publicly available gratitude or good news wall where employees record what or who they wish to celebrate.
  • Mistakes and errors are redefined as learning opportunities by publicizing what was learned from the incident.
  • Managers write letters to the families of employees describing the contributions the employee is making to the organization.
  • A team of positive energizers in the organization mobilize to “infect” their colleagues with a positive, virtuous culture. Infect means that others can explain or illustrate virtuous cultural attributes. They also attempt to achieve a one percent improvement themselves.

John Quincy Adams captured the essence of positively energizing leadership. He said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a positively energizing leader.”

Employee Mental Health: It’s Not an “Either-Or” Proposition

In a bittersweet lesson, the pandemic has shone a bright light on the inequalities that we’ve lived with for far too long. These inequalities continue to affect the engagement, productivity, happiness, and mental health of so many unique groups within the world’s workforce. People are sidelined because of their gender or gender choice every day, or their cultural, societal, or ethnic background or beliefs. The cumulative impact of being minimized or overlooked because of one’s perceived differences builds barriers to a healthy mind. It also prevents equitable access to resources for mental well-being. Finally, the damage occurs even when the offending behavior is subtle, indirect, or unintentional. As a result, we all suffer.

What can employers do to change the story? The sources range from an employee’s personal life experiences to underfunded healthcare systems. They include poor leadership, overt discrimination, and stigma. The consequences are real, and they’re measurable.

A Sad New Triad: The Pandemic, Workplace Discrimination, and Employee Mental Health

Research in the last 15 years has demonstrated that when someone is mistreated because of their personal characteristics, it can have wide-ranging negative impacts on their mental and physical health. Discrimination can lead to anxiety, psychological distress, cardiovascular effects, and poor self-reported health status. Evidence also shows that mothers who experience racial discrimination are more likely to have babies with low birth weight (which in itself predisposes that child to more inequality). Workplace discrimination can also cause:

The pandemic exposed yet more discrimination in the workplace, adding new challenges to employee mental health:

  • Socially, culturally, or sexually diverse employees in the U.S. have experienced an average of 1.6 “acute challenges” during the pandemic. This compares with only one for incidents among their non-minoritized colleagues, according to McKinsey.
  • The same McKinsey investigation highlighted that two out of three self-identified LGBTQ+ employees report either acute or moderate challenges with mental health. They are also 1.4 times more likely than heterosexual and cisgender employees to cite challenges with fair performance reviews, workload increases, and losing workplace connectivity and belonging.
  • One in 10 women with young children quit their jobs because of the pandemic. The rate is nearly double (17 percent) for single mothers, according to KFF research.
  • The Latino community represents only 18 percent of the U.S. population but accounts for 29 percent of the COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC.
  • COVID-19 also disproportionately affected Black workers. According to McKinsey, 39 percent of jobs held by Black workers in the U.S. were defined as “vulnerable” because of the pandemic. Comparatively, three percent of white workers holding similar jobs were subject to furloughs, layoffs, or being rendered unproductive during periods of high physical distancing.

Workplace Discrimination Has a Broader Impact

Discrimination affects each person’s mental health. It also inhibits their ability to access support for their challenges and stifles their capacity to remedy the root cause of their injuries.

Obviously, employer-sponsored mental health solutions are more important than ever–and for everyone in the workforce. It’s critical to ensure the solution you choose is accessible and suitable for your entire population. But it’s equally important to realize the limitations of the traditional “either-or” model of mental well-being–that we’re either mentally well or mentally unwell.

Fortunately, psychology is embracing a model of mental well-being that draws a wider net. It will also help remove the barriers built by social and cultural stereotypes. Finally, and over all else, it will more readily enhance employee mental health and well-being and company success.

Employee Mental Health Is Not A Yes-No Question

Since the 1950s, mental health has been guided by what’s called the “single-spectrum model.” It’s a paradigm that says mental health and mental illness are opposite ends of the same spectrum. In other words, it says mental health is the absence of mental illness. This model has been useful in helping people understand that everyone’s mental health fluctuates. But the either-or picture it paints can also be too simplistic and potentially stigmatizing.

This model automatically implies that someone cannot experience positive well-being if they are mentally ill. The evidence tells us otherwise. Today, we more fully appreciate that the single-spectrum model of mental health:

  1. Inhibits employees from getting help with mental health conditions (because of its either-or mindset toward mental illness)
  2. Doesn’t foster the potential of nurturing a healthy mind (but focuses instead on “fixing” mental health problems)
  3. Creates discrimination (by continuing the stigma around mental health)

The reality is that:

  • Every single employee is unique
  • Everyone’s mental well-being picture is different from anyone else’s
  • Everyone lives in a vast landscape of mental well-being. A yes-or-no response isn’t always appropriate when it comes to whether they’re mentally healthy.

So, it’s time to look at employee mental well-being from a perspective of whether someone is flourishing at work and home (that is, they feel good about their life and are functioning very well) or if they are struggling and languishing in life. This is a much more equitable and inclusive view of mental health and how it affects employees.

This Mental Well-being Model Help Remove Discrimination

With the right treatment and tools, someone experiencing chronic depression can feel purposeful in life. They can make valuable contributions to their team and the wider community. On the other hand, consider someone with no mental health diagnosis–or someone who has no symptoms they associate directly with mental illness. They can be ungrounded and disconnected from their work and family, and perform well below their norm.

This dual-spectrum model is underpinned by years of research and is about 20-years-old. It can help us stop pigeon-holing employees as being either mentally ill or mentally healthy. Instead, we have the opportunity to look at someone’s entire employee experience as a field on which those two areas play out. It makes us realize that positive mental health and mental illness are not necessarily polar opposites.

The dual-spectrum concept of mental well-being means having positive feelings and functioning. This needs to happen at home and at work, in personal relationships, and in colleague interactions. It also acknowledges that we can experience positive well-being regardless of any mental health condition. In other words, employees with mental illness aren’t always struggling. And those with no defined mental condition aren’t always doing well.

But in almost every case, and regardless of the model you subscribe to, the solution to discrimination’s harsh impact on mental health begins in the same place: with awareness and understanding. By appreciating that each individual carries their own experiences, identities, cultural and social richness, and viewpoints, we realize we have more that unites us than what separates us. With understanding, we can create empathy. From there, we can begin to overcome barriers, break stigmas, and smash glass ceilings.

There is no such thing as normal. We’re all unique. Everyone has the right to a healthy mind.

How Coworking Spaces Are Changing The Future Of Work

There is a lot of buzz in the business world about coworking spaces because of their quick rise to fame. The first official coworking space was opened in 2005, and now an estimated 35.000 are spread worldwide. These spaces are widely popular for their unique designs that usually consist of wide-open office plans accompanied by various other rooms where people from different work fields can work and relax.

With COVID infection rates getting lower as vaccination rates get higher, people are gathering and working together again freely. Statistics show that in 2021 the number of people occupying coworking spaces in the United States is close to a million.

The future of work seems uncertain because of the many changes brought into the workplace due to the pandemic. However, one thing we can predict is that coworking spaces will play a big part in the future of work, as these spaces can offer a lot of benefits to employees everywhere.

The Opportunity to Connect With Others

There’s a saying: “Experience is the best teacher.” While this can be true, learning from the experience of others can be equally fruitful. Our ability as humans to connect with others and collaborate with them is a big reason for our success as a species.

According to a study, for workers to bond, they must interact in a place that offers them the opportunity to be in close proximity to each other regardless of the differences in career fields. Coworking spaces provide their members with such proximity through areas specifically designed for socializing. Imagine a lounge area where professionals from different fields can sit, drink coffee, and discuss their latest projects with one another. The atmosphere enables members to connect with each other without having to organize special events for networking.

Therefore, coworking spaces represent the future of work because, in addition to the basic business infrastructure, they offer their members the opportunity for social interaction, work collaboration, and networking. Workers in coworking spaces can connect with other professionals, businesses, freelancers, and entrepreneurs. Through this connection, they trade information with each other, as well as create relationships with mutual benefits where everyone learns from the mistakes and successes of others.

Productivity

Another reason why coworking spaces are shaping the future of work is their effect on the workers’ productivity. According to research by the companies Deskmag and Deskwanted, 74 percent of their employees were more productive in coworking spaces.

Office employees spend a lot of time inside the building they work in, and numerous studies have demonstrated that environment plays a big role in determining work performance and productivity.

The average coworking space is designed with the members’ comfort in mind. The organizers of the space pay close attention to the seating, lighting, temperature, air quality, and noise conditions. This ensures that their members have what they need to feel motivated and work.

Creativity

Creativity in the workplace is essential for problem-solving, being more open-minded, and adding unique perspectives. Coworking spaces offer these things and boost workers’ creativity.

For one thing, coworking spaces provide a stimulating atmosphere through unique room designs, colors, and natural light. Inside some of these rooms, there are whiteboards and markers, which make them perfect spots for brainstorming. The diverse community that can frequent these spaces also contributes to creativity through sharing different ideas and knowledge.

Greater Flexibility

Coworking spaces offer their members great flexibility in regards to place and time. According to a study, the flexibility given to workers in regards to the choice of workspace and schedule is very important for well-being.

To begin, employees are offered flexibility through the design of the space. Workers have access to different working stations depending on what they need. They can work by themselves in private areas with other people around in the open offices. They can hold meetings in their designated rooms, as well as relax and socialize in the special lounges.

Also, these spaces offer flexibility for people’s schedules. Generally, workers can set their own hours and work when they feel most motivated.

Success

Last but not least, coworking spaces help individuals and businesses succeed. From the beginning, they ensure that workers have everything they need—including office supplies, space, and flexibility. When members join coworking spaces, they do not need to worry about creating a proper physical working environment. They can focus all their energy on doing their jobs, as the rest is provided to them.

Coworking spaces have a lot of potential to be part of the future of work. Through these spaces, freelancers, employees, and business owners are promoting collaboration by working together, sharing knowledge, and supporting one another. The many benefits coworking spaces provide have rightfully earned them a place in the future of work.

Taking Time Off Won’t Fix Employee Mental Health

For too long, employers have leveraged time off to support employee mental health. We’ve all heard managers or supervisors respond like this to a stressed and weary employee: “You’re feeling tired? Take some time off and recharge your batteries!” or, “You’re feeling overwhelmed? Use your PTO and step away for a bit.”

Unfortunately, anxiety and depression are worse for employees during the pandemic. But employers continue to rely primarily on time off as the solution. In fact, some companies are actually increasing the amount of paid time off they’re providing.

More than one in five companies are offering employees more vacation time this year, according to a survey from the executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Some employers have gone a little further by encouraging employees to unplug, and they’ve designated time during the week or month for employees to do just that.

  • One technology startup declared the last Friday of every month as an office holiday.
  • A 50-person business-to-business marketing agency in Texas permanently revised its office hours to be based on what it calls a “three-day weekend” calendar.
  • Technology giant Cisco last year introduced “unplug” days.

Other companies have gone even further to encourage employees to take time off. PricewaterhouseCoopers started paying employees to use their PTO—offering $250 for taking a full week off.

Yes, taking time off helps. But it isn’t helpful when it’s mandated as a preventive measure or treatment for burnout, stress, and other symptoms of mental ill-health.

Time Off Is a Double-edged Sword

As Erin L. Kelly, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, told Forbes, a vacation declaration essentially pushes some people to take unpaid leave when their families might be under great financial stress. And with the continuing high unemployment rate, people who feel lucky to be employed may think they’re taking a risk if they take vacation days.

Employees also may feel legitimate anxiety around taking time off, according to Kelly. In their minds, admitting they need a break will mark them as less committed and make them vulnerable to poor performance reviews. It can also result in missed opportunities for good assignments or shifts, or they may be targeted in the next round of layoffs.

So, will employees really take advantage of permanent three-day weekends and Friday afternoons without meetings? Will they really unplug when they’re scheduled to? Statistics say they won’t, and especially not workers in the U.S. American workers left an average of 33 percent of their paid time off on the table last year.

Better: Supporting Mental Health Every Day, for Everyone

Every mind is unique, and every person’s situation is different. And just as we all exist somewhere on a very wide spectrum of physical health, we are every day somewhere on a very broad spectrum of mental health: from barely coping to abundantly thriving, from totally disengaged to fully and productively engaged, from struggling to stay focused minute-to-minute to sustaining razor-sharp attentiveness.

And it’s not just about how we feel when we’re at work. What happens at work doesn’t stay at work, and what happens at home doesn’t stay at home. This is even more true as we continue to navigate the uncertain and constantly stressful impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Research has already proved the importance of focusing on a healthy work/life balance, of supporting employees to be more mentally fit in every area of their lives, personal and professional. Giving employees more time off is only a first step in preventing more frequent and more serious incidents of poor mental health in our workforces.

9 Steps Toward Greater Employee Mental Health

To be as effective as possible, consider these nine aspects of a proactive and preventative mental well-being strategy.

Accessibility

Ensure every employee has access to all of the mental health services and programs you offer— anytime, anywhere. A digital approach, for example, allows all employees to engage with resources however and whenever they want.

Data

Use data and insights to influence your wider strategy. Data on uptake, engagement, outcomes, improvement, and the collective well-being of your organization will help you track and understand the impact of your initiatives.

Training

Empower your managers to support mental health. Four in five managers believe it is part of their job to intervene when an employee shows signs of depression—but only one in three managers report having appropriate training to intervene.

Measurement

Empower employees to measure and manage their mental health and well-being. Online tools are available to help employees track changes in their moods and emotions, to better identify triggers, and ultimately be able to make better-informed choices about how best to respond.

Variety

Cater to a diverse range of needs and preferences. Everyone’s mental health and well-being are diverse, vibrant, and ever-changing. It’s also essential to consider how a diverse population will have different preferences, requirements, and outcomes.

Credibility

Have experts in their respective fields design your initiatives. Research has shown that only a small proportion of the thousands of mental health applications on the market are backed by clinical evidence.

Tone

Make your employee communication aspirational and engaging; talk about mental health as something to aspire to rather than hide from. The terminology and tone you use can have a significant impact on employee perceptions of your program.

Visibility

Combine a top-down and bottom-up approach to communication. Success demands an always-on communication strategy that continually reminds employees of the support, tools, and networks available to them.

Signposting

Direct employees to reactive support when necessary. Ideally, treatment-based support strategies need to be timely and offer a sense of choice in available treatment. One example: instant access 24/7 to your employee assistance program (EAP) with the touch of a button.

Key Takeaways

A proactive, whole-person approach to supporting employee mental health will create a culture of caring and support, an environment in which employees can express their emotional and mental challenges, and a workplace where mental health is understood, nurtured, and celebrated day in and day out.

Retaining Employees During the ‘Great Resignation’

According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary released in June 2021, approximately four million people quit their jobs in April. What are these people looking for? Many are rethinking what work means and are in search of greater work-life balance and flexibility. They’re taking stock of how they’re valued by companies and the ways they spend their time. This massive exodus of people leaving jobs is now known as “The Great Resignation.” It reflects not just numbers, but a broader change in the ways people take ownership of their careers.

Whether this is a temporary trend or a paradigm shift, executives and HR leaders need to assess the attractiveness of their businesses to the workforce. They need to determine if their policies and cultures will enhance employee retention or will spur employees to stampede for the door seeking greener pastures.

Recognizing employee preferences

Due to the pandemic, millions of workers have experienced remote work for an extended period. Despite its challenges, they have grown used to the increased flexibility, work-life balance, time, and savings it affords. In recent research from Prudential, the Pulse of the American Worker Survey finds that 42 percent of current remote workers say they will look for another job if their employer discontinues work-from-home as an option.

HR teams and managers need to recognize the evolving employee preferences that remote work has inspired. They should adjust their strategies accordingly if their business plans call for a return to the office. Leaders also need to evaluate the expectations placed on remote workers to avoid falling victim to the “Great Resignation.” While job expectations depend on the employee’s position, in most cases, employees shouldn’t have to respond to emails or messages outside of established work hours. Clear communication from management about remote work expectations streamlines the parameters and efficiencies of remote and hybrid work models. It also helps avoid misunderstandings and reduces frustrations or friction that might lead to resignations or poor performance.

Business and HR leaders need to determine whether utilizing a hybrid model is a better strategy than an “all-or-nothing” approach. The former incorporates the employee’s desire for flexibility with the need for in-office interaction and collaboration. The Prudential survey notes that 68 percent of surveyed workers (working remote and in-office) feel the hybrid workplace model is optimal. Large companies like Cisco are taking notice, recently announcing plans to implement a long-term hybrid work model. The flexibility of the hybrid model satisfies different work styles and job functions. For example, it gives a product manager in-person access to the design and sales teams while an accountant has the option to work most days from a quiet home office.

How the right culture attracts and retains talent

Businesses that stand out over the long term are those that have established employee-centric cultures. The pandemic has put an enormous financial and mental strain on the workforce. So as part of the “Great Resignation,” many workers are flocking towards firms built on strong cultures of fairness and empathy.

Returning to an office may be a shock to many workers that spent the last 18 months at home. It necessitates a shift in their schedules and adds worries about exposure to infection. Organizations mandating a return to in-office arrangements have a tough road ahead. It will be difficult to convince their workforces that they are factoring in employees’ health and lives outside the workplace. To ease employees back into it, businesses can start by adding flexible scheduling. This is valuable even for in-office workers and was becoming more common even before the pandemic. For example, if someone needs to care for a sick child, their employer can allow them to work from home without penalty. Companies can also revisit their vacation policies to retain workers, promoting more generous time-off packages to help employees recharge.

Redefining productivity

Another cultural shift companies are grappling with is whether to move towards a more productivity-centric model. Organizations are realizing that productivity is not simply about the hours workers spend at their computers or workstations.

While hard work remains essential and merits accolades and compensation, businesses need to make productivity and task completion the metric. Many workers complete tasks in the time they’re given, whether it’s 45 minutes or a full day. Afterward, they sometimes worry if they’ve finished the assignment too fast or too slow. This contributes to a sense of complacency, doubt, and even fear. Instead, organizations should aim for a positive, task-oriented culture where employees receive positive feedback based on contributions and ingenuity.

Many of the most attractive companies offer top-tier benefits packages to promote physical and mental health. They drive positive workplace connections, not through constant Zoom meetings, but through recognition, and open communication. To avoid the “Great Resignation,” managers and HR professionals need to reaffirm that they value their employees. Also, they need to remember that their opinions and suggestions carry weight and can produce impactful change.

Firms can implement innovative practices such as “demo days.” These allow employees to showcase their work in informal settings and openly discuss challenges in their roles. Employee surveys and executive mentorship are also effective. These efforts provide employees with an actionable sounding board, combined with senior-level guidance. This lowers the chances that management will make decisions based on their own assumptions instead of actual data, feedback, and interactions with employees.

Navigating a business through the “Great Resignation” requires patience and understanding of employee needs. Organizations need to create employee-focused cultures built on open discussion and empathy. They should also offer attractive benefits and time-off packages, emphasize quality over quantity, and promote creativity and productivity over drudgery.

Managing Employee Uncertainty to Help Them Thrive [Podcast]

Employee uncertainty is bad for business. When people don’t feel their work situations are stable, they get anxiety, depression, and have a tendency to catastrophize. They also become disengaged with their work. Because of this, productivity wanes, and so does financial success. Gallup estimates that 22 million employees are disengaged, resulting in $350 billion lost each year due to absences, illness, and other unhappiness-related issues.

It’s up to leadership and HR professionals to manage employee uncertainty before things get out of control, especially in these unprecedented times spurred by the pandemic. It is up to managers to get ahead of uncertainty and find ways to communicate with employees, reassure them, and have structures in place to manage uncertainty should it arise.

Our Guest: Sandy Scholes, Chief People Officer at Flipp Corporation

On the latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Sandy Scholes, chief people officer at Flipp Corporation. She has over two decades of diverse HR experience, having held several executive HR leadership roles at organizations like Entertainment One, Becton, Dickinson, GlaxoSmithKline, and CARA. Sandy has long sustained a passion for working with people and focuses on growth empowerment. She aims to help create work cultures of learning at organizations and provides strategies to manage employee uncertainty during times of organizational change.

Because employee uncertainty is especially prevalent thanks to the pandemic, I was eager to get her insight into how to work with such uncertainties. I wanted to know: What can organizations do to combat this? The first thing is to equip leaders and managers with the ability to spot uncertainty in the first place.

“It starts with all of your leaders and coaches. You need to pull people in a room and equip leaders and managers with the right kind of skills to try to notice that. You have to double your communication,” Sandy says. “At Flipp, we’ve asked all of our leaders to be deliberate and spend one-on-one time checking in on employees to see how they’re doing.”

The second thing to realize is that everyone reacts differently to uncertainty, and will need different accommodations. What one employee needs to feel more secure may be wildly different than another.

“You can’t treat everyone the same. For example, at Flipp, for parents, we’re trying to manage uncertainty by providing more flexibility. How do we create a schedule where they don’t feel overwhelmed?” Sandy says. “Managers and coaches need to understand that they have to provide this level of flexibility so that people can work differently now.” 

Don’t just survive. Thrive.

Of course, managing uncertainty isn’t enough. Once you help people get to a baseline of comfort, you want to make sure they’re able to get to the next level. Employees don’t just want to survive; they want to thrive.

“Make sure employees have a growth and development plan. You have to sit down with them monthly, even if they’re remote. Talk about career aspirations. Because if they don’t feel like they’re going to develop, then they’re going to feel stagnant,” Sandy says.

And engagement will suffer. With the surge of the “Great Resignation,” this isn’t a risk you can take. Offer employees options to grow. Give them stipends to allow for creativity and learning–even if it doesn’t directly correlate to work.

“If employees want to take music lessons or guitar or they want to sign up for a wine course, they can take some of that money and spend it on a personal thing. It’s all about feeding your soul,” Sandy says. “Stay invested, grow people, help challenge them, and make sure they’re learning and they feel like they’re making a difference.”

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends. You can learn more about managing employee uncertainty by reaching out to Sandy Scholes on LinkedIn.

How to Build Employment Value with Better Benefits [Podcast]

Salary isn’t everything. As a matter of fact, eighty percent of employees say that they’d choose additional benefits over a raise. Sixty percent say that benefits are a huge deciding factor in whether candidates take a job at all. And HR professionals report that the benefits are what’s leveraged most often to retain top talent.

To put it another way: Employees are vocal about the swaying power of offering better benefits. And employers will want to listen.

With this in mind, to stay competitive, organizations need to know how to tailor benefits to both the employees they have and the candidates they want to attract.

Our Guest: Alexa Baggio, Employee Experience Expert 

On the latest episode of #WorkTrends, I had the pleasure of speaking with employee experience expert Alexa Baggio. She’s devoted to creating immersive experiences and encouraging thought-provoking interactions between employers and employees–with the aim of improving upon “traditional” HR practices.

For example, Alexa founded The PERKS Conventions (PERKS) to make employee-focused services easier to discover, access, and afford. Currently, PERKS has expanded to six cities across the U.S. and is the largest employee experience expo on Earth. This past year, PERKS also created Showcase™, an innovative virtual benefits fair platform that empowers employers to host live info sessions, eliminate hours of work wrangling vendors, and improve employee experience communications all year round.

With so many employees reporting that better benefits are extremely valuable to them, I asked Alexa how employers can use benefits to build and enhance their employee value proposition. Her answer? Offer personalized benefits to suit specific employees.

“You’ve got four generations in the workforce. Some people care about fertility. Others care about loans,” Alexa says. “Some people also care about debt. How are you going to make everybody happy? You personalize.” 

Employee “Experience” vs. Employee “Lifestyle”

So how do you personalize benefits to optimize for a better employee experience? Basically, says Alexa: You choose the lifestyle benefits that suit the employees you hired. In other words, don’t just get a foosball table as a perk because the rumor is that foosball is cool.

“Everybody heard that [foosball] was trendy, so they did it,” Alexa says. “That may be the right culture for the 75-person sales team with an average age of 23 in your office, but what if your culture isn’t that? What if you have a bunch of engineers, or researchers, or lab technicians?” 

After figuring out what core benefits fit the employee population, employers need to understand that perks offered also are a reflection of company culture. For example, if your organization values health and wellness, that needs to be articulated in the benefits. Communicate this by offering a gym membership or nutrition program.

“As an employer, you have to decide: What are the cultural benefits you want to signal? Is it fitness? Wellness? Timeliness? Cost reduction? Financial education? Community giving?” Alexa says. “Give people the experience to get in there, and to explore, and show that you’ve got great systems set up to be a person that works there.”

Basically, to stay competitive as an employer, get to know the people you hire. Learn what’s important to them and offer better benefits to reflect that. It could increase the longevity of your hires and foster the company culture you desire.

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by PERKS. You can learn more about how to optimize benefits for employee experience and lifestyle by connecting with our guest, Alexa Baggio, on LinkedIn.

The 3 Pillars of Hybrid Workplaces [Podcast]

It’s irrefutable: Hybrid workplaces are in, and inflexible employers are out.

The data is astounding. In some studies, 80 to 90 percent of employees report wanting to stay remote after the pandemic. And 84 percent of working parents with children under 18 find that the benefits of hybrid workplaces outweigh the cons.

We know now that overall job satisfaction is tied to flexible working models. And we’ve seen that many people are jumping off the “talent cliff” in search of greener pastures that offer full- or partially-remote work options.

The future of hybrid workplaces is now, especially as we all transition back to in-office roles. When it comes to developing a strong hybrid work culture, there’s no time to waste if employers want to stay competitive and prioritize employee satisfaction.

Our Guest: Rhiannon Staples, B2B Marketing Leader and CMO at Hibob

On the latest episode of #WorkTrends, I talked with Rhiannon Staples. She is a global marketing leader who has been architecting expert business strategies and leading start-up teams for over 15 years. Before taking on her current role as Hibob CMO, she was the Global VP of Marketing at NICE Actimize and Global Head of Brand Marketing at Sisense. She’s an expert in brand-to-market strategy, lead generation, and account-based marketing programs. She also specializes in spearheading global growth for companies.

Rhiannon had some great advice for harnessing hybrid work for global growth and business strategy. She said that there are three pillars of hybrid work that companies need to consider in order to design a successful hybrid work model.

“The first is productivity, the second is communication, and the third is culture and connection,” Rhiannon says. 

For the first pillar of productivity, employers need to show workers their willingness to be flexible. This will give employees the feeling that employers are dedicated to their success. For the second pillar, they need to adopt an inclusive business model that prioritizes employee communication–whether employees are working remotely or in person. Finally, employers need to empower their HR leaders to create a culture of connection with employees. They need to offer tools and resources that can make the employee experience better.

Leaders also need to approach hybrid work with the point of view that there may be different rules than with traditional remote work.

“Hybrid work is less about letting employees go remote as it is about the work model, type of employment, hours worked, and work location,” Rhiannon says. “So first and foremost, know that ‘hybrid’ is not ‘remote.’ It’s something new that we need to tackle.”

The Benefits of Hybrid Workplaces

I asked Rhiannon how important it is that companies take hybrid work models seriously. Her answer? VERY. Notably, only 13 percent of people said they wanted to go back to the office full-time, five days a week, according to a Hibob study.

“I don’t want to create an impression that employees don’t want to be in the office. Because that’s not the case at all. Basically, our data has shown that employees and managers aspire to have a flexible work environment,” Rhiannon says. “Companies that are bringing employees back full-stop, in-office, five days a week … they’re going to feel the backlash of this. Employees will leave for companies that are offering greater flexibility.”

Data shows that hybrid work is beneficial for everyone, including underrepresented populations. These groups include those with disabilities or those who are neurodivergent. Also, women across the world have greatly benefited from hybrid remote work options, particularly those caring for children or elders.

“We’ve proven over the course of the past year that those companies that have offered flexibility to working mothers have seen great success with that population,” says Rhiannon. “Women having access to flexible work hours and having the option to work from home will open the door for many women to get back to work.”

Embracing a hybrid work model can help organizations retain employees. Also, it can encourage a more diverse workforce. If you ask me, there’s really no downside.

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by Hibob. You can learn more useful information on adapting to a hybrid work style by connecting with Rhiannon Staples on LinkedIn.

For more information on this topic, read more here.

 

New CDC Vaccine Guidelines: What They Legally Mean for Employers

According to new CDC vaccine guidelines, vaccinated individuals can now safely gather indoors without a face covering. This is an exciting development after more than a year spent at home. Employers and employees alike are sorting through the implications. What does it mean for employees who are unable to get vaccinated or choose not to get vaccinated? Or those who feel uncomfortable gathering without masks, regardless of their vaccine status? What does it mean for employers when employees decline vaccination or push back against health and safety measures?

The CDC vaccine guidelines are the beginning of a much anticipated, albeit slow, reopening of the country. However, they also present employers and HR departments with more complicated scenarios to navigate. The legal and scientific landscapes continue to evolve. Because of this, employers find themselves hitting a gray area regarding how to handle these new guidelines in tandem with the needs, beliefs, objections, and safety of their workforce.

Companies around the country are eager to open their doors and welcome employees back in. But as more organizations consider lifting mask mandates and implementing vaccine passports and COVID-19 tracking programs, there are several key issues for employers to keep in mind.

Encourage or mandate COVID-19 vaccines

Business leaders and HR departments must determine if and how to mandate vaccination. The CDC vaccine guidelines encompass only those who have been fully vaccinated as safe to congregate. While most experts agree that employer vaccine mandates and subsequent potential passport programs are lawful absent state or local bans, there are specific employee rights to consider. For example, employers must make necessary accommodations for those unable to get a vaccine for reasons such as disability or a sincerely held religious belief. Any employer vaccine program up for consideration must fully comply with anti-discrimination laws. This is to ensure that accommodations are provided to those who need them under federal, state, and sometimes even local law.

In addition, we are starting to see more legal challenges to vaccine mandates. As of this writing, none have been successful. Many of them cite the emergency use authorization status of the vaccines available in the U.S. They also cite a portion of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that requires that recipients be informed about benefits/risks/unknowns, their right to refuse, and the consequences of refusal. However, there is no private right of action authorizing employees to sue employers under that statute. Also, there is no specific provision that prohibits termination as a consequence for those who refuse.

Although the litigation challenging vaccine mandates seems likely to fail, a successful legal defense is costly all the same. Moreover, even without litigation, vaccine mandates present legal complications in wage and hour, workers’ compensation, and other areas. As a result, most employers are strongly encouraging vaccination rather than imposing a mandate.

Know your audience and communicate properly

Whatever approach an employer takes, considering where employees are based––including remote workers––is critical. Because federal law and regulations concerning the pandemic provide limited guidance, state and local law may have a major impact on specific employer obligations and employee rights. Moreover, because some states and cities have been more successful than others at curbing the infection rate, a uniform solution across state lines may not be the best tactic.

Employers must recognize that jurisdictions have varied in their approach to vaccine mandates. For example, Montana now recognizes vaccination status as a protected class under its anti-discrimination laws. Employers cannot refuse to employ or otherwise discriminate against employees or applicants on the basis of vaccination status or possession of a vaccine passport. In addition, employers cannot mandate vaccines that have only obtained emergency authorization status or are subject to ongoing safety trials. In other words, mandatory vaccination policies are unlawful in Montana. Conversely, Santa Clara County, California has issued an order under which all businesses and governmental bodies must determine the vaccination status of all personnel as of June 2, 2021, and maintain relevant records. Those who are unvaccinated or who refuse to provide proof of vaccination must wear masks and remove themselves from the work location in the wake of COVID-19 exposure.

Having determined the best approach in light of legal risks, employers should focus their attention on getting the word out in a way that works for the corporate culture. There is no escaping the fact that the issue is sensitive and highly politicized. For some, continuing to require masks for vaccinated individuals despite CDC vaccine guidelines runs the risk of negatively impacting the way employees view their employers. This is especially true in states that may have opened up more than others.

Ensuring ultimate safety and success

HR managers should develop an intimate understanding of how different populations may respond to certain regulations and effectively communicate down the line. They should offer opportunities to ask questions and obtain additional information. Thoughtful, accessible, and regular communication about vaccine requirements and health and safety protocols can be helpful. Employees will be able to better understand why decisions are being made and have greater confidence in the company overall.

Obviously, employers are faced with unique and complicated questions about vaccination and health and safety measures as we navigate out of the pandemic. Whatever strategy an employer adopts, they must consider state and federal law, possible risk, and employee morale. Employers should consider their reopening goals and ask the following:

  1. What am I hoping to achieve as employees come back into the workplace?
  2. Is the best approach to get to 100 percent in-person operations as soon as possible?
  3. Is my aim to continue some portion of a remote workforce for a more staggered and safer return to work?
  4. Am I ready to completely reimagine expectations for a hybrid remote/in-person workforce?

Employers need to determine what the goals are upfront and include stakeholders from across the business. From there, they need to familiarize themselves with legal requirements. Then create a comprehensive program to achieve those objectives. Also, they need to adopt a functional and sensible means to communicate it to all relevant parties. Employers are excited to safely reopen their doors and welcome their workforce back in. But as they do so, it’s essential to understand possible risks and adjust to a changing legal landscape. They also need to take steps to ensure that the employer’s approach protects the business and employees alike.

 

The Real Girl in Red and What It Means for Employee Mental Health

“Do you listen to the girl in red?”

It’s a good question for anyone whose job it is to understand workplace culture and employee mental health. The question has become a coded way for women on social media to ask each other if they’re queer. But for HR and talent leaders, the question carries significance beyond gender identity.

The hashtag #doyoulistentogirlinred was created in April 2020. The tag was the outgrowth of Girl in Red, a pop music project of Marie Ulven. She is a 22-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter and record producer. Ulven shot to prominence between 2018 and 2019 with homemade bedroom-pop songs about queer romance and (here’s the connection for employers everywhere) mental health.

In a recent interview with NPR’s Weekend Edition, Ulven discussed fame, sexuality, her new album, and her battles with mental ill-health.

She specifically talked about the continuing stigma that prevents so many people from speaking out or seeking support for their mental health challenges. Even the name of her new album, “If I Could Make It Go Quiet,” speaks to a challenge that many people face: undesired intrusive thoughts they can’t control.

The stigma is real. Are you listening?

Another song on Ulven’s album called “Serotonin” is even more direct about Ulven’s struggle with mental illness.

“I’ve been struggling with intrusive thoughts my entire life, and I’m just mentioning a couple in this song,” Ulven told NPR host Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

When asked what she hoped people would take away from this song and her experiences with mental ill-health, Ulven replied, “I really hope that people feel less crazy.”

“I think it’s so important to just hear that a lot of people have these thoughts,“ Ulven continued. “I’ve been scared about jumping in front of trains, been really scared of being at train stations. And I’ve had so many people message me about that, like ‘I relate so much to this song.’”

Her audience is your workforce

In general, Ulven might just as well be speaking on behalf of a huge percentage of today’s workforce. For example, one estimate says more than six million people in the United States may experience intrusive, worrying thoughts. Amid the stress and upheaval caused by COVID-19 and so many social and political events in the last year, a growing number of employees are:

  • Urging employers to be proactive and provide preventive programs and tools to help them navigate their mental health
  • Increasingly saying they want to work for companies that have a culture of caring for the whole employee—including physical, social, and mental aspects

Even before the pandemic, in 2019, one study investigating the attitudes of employee mental health found that:

  • 86 percent of survey participants thought a company’s culture should support mental health.
  • 75 percent of Gen Z employees (like Ulven, currently between the ages of six and 24) and half of millennials left roles in the past for mental health reasons (voluntarily and involuntarily), compared with 34 percent of respondents overall.

Unfortunately, too many employers aren’t getting the message. A recent study by Unmind and WELCOA found that:

  • Barely one in three employers (37 percent) feel they have a strong understanding of the mental health and well-being of their people.
  • Only 64 percent of employers have a strategy in place for specifically managing employee mental health and well-being.

The light at the end of the tunnel: the mental health train headed in your direction

Yes, Americans are starting to return to the workplace, returning to the rituals of after-work drinks and lunching together at nearby restaurants. But the fallout of COVID-19 will be felt in the workplace for quite a long while. With this in mind, a year of living in fear, isolation, and sorrow may have taken a toll on the mental and emotional health of your employees.

“We’re seeing pretty alarming numbers,” says Vaile Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association (APA), who oversees its Stress in America survey. “People’s bodies and minds just aren’t in quite the fit place they were in a year ago.”

At the same time, most employees are afraid to talk about being stressed out and possibly burned out. According to a recent survey by Joblist, almost 48 percent of employees fear negative consequences. Namely, they’re concerned they may be denied a raise or promotion if they talk about work stress.

What can you do? Chiefly, Unmind argues that the answer lies in embracing the new vision of workplace mental health. The first step is to understand the four foundational elements needed to help manifest a  proactive, prevention-based approach to employee mental health.

Those four pillars are:

1. The whole-person, whole-organization mindset

Basically, this should be the north star for any employee mental health solution. It aims to do more than respond with a treatment to mental health issues. Or simply ease employee stress and anxiety.

2. No employee left behind 

Too many mental well-being platforms and apps simply fail to empower everyone to navigate their own situation. With this in mind, instead of offering treatment options only for the one in five U.S. employees who report having mental health concerns, solutions should offer programs and tools for everyone.

3. Empowerment for employees and insight for HR and well-being leaders

An optimal mental health platform will only succeed if it can deliver on three critical drivers of its value. These include 1) measurement of outcomes, 2) variety of programs and tools, and 3) accessibility for everyone. It will empower employees with a variety of tools. These can include self-guided programs, in-the-moment exercises, daily diaries, and the receiving of gratitude and praise.

4. Human touch and solid science

The new vision of workplace mental health demands the right support for you and your employees. The science and software behind even the best-planned solution will be next to useless without proper vendor support.

With those pillars to build upon, you would have a proactive workplace mental health platform. Also, you would have an authoritative and trusted partner to help deliver better well-being, improved employee performance, and enriched company culture, and a stronger brand.

In addition, far fewer of your employees would feel alone and disenfranchised. As you create a new beginning for workplace mental health, you’ll be offering your employees something positive as they enter a  post-pandemic world.

 

Navigating Your HR Career Across Multiple Industries [Podcast]

The landscape of HR is rapidly changing, especially due to the pandemic. With WFH culture escalating and employee needs constantly shifting, HR professionals need to be ready to adapt to the times at a moment’s notice.

Now more than ever, organizations are turning to HR to create a culture of flexibility and adaptability. They recognize that company culture needs to not just welcome change, but thrive in it. Thus, employers need HR departments with individuals who seek to fully understand the industries they work in and make them shine.

Because of the recognition of HR’s value, especially over the past year, more roles are popping up for HR professionals. Many are seriously considering seizing an HR career, but aren’t sure where to start. Turns out, a key aspect of breaking into the HR profession is a desire to know the industry you want to work in, and a willingness to adapt to whatever challenges that industry presents.

Our Guest: Alex Smith, Chief HR Officer for the City of Memphis

It was a delight to talk to Alex Smith, CHRO to the City of Memphis, on this week’s episode of #WorkTrends. Reporting directly to Mayor Jim Strickland, Alex is known for architecting and updating the city’s labor relations. Also, she’s known for being adept at talent management, training, employee engagement, compensation, managing diversity and safety initiatives, and more. She was named the 2021 Leadership Memphis Changemaker and was a nominee for HRO Today magazine’s CHRO of the Year 2020 Award.

The unique aspect of Alex’s career is that she’s worked across multiple industries–working for organizations like Microsoft, Brightstar, Target, and more. I was dying to know what advice she has for anyone trying to break into an HR career, and what she recommends people do to be successful in HR roles.

“Whether it’s starting off in recruiting, manufacturing, government, or any industry, I think just getting into a function and seeing how HR works is a very important step. And ultimately all of the experience that you gain over the years, it all builds up,” Alex says.

Once you land the job, to truly stand out over the course of your HR career, you have to have an open mind. Be flexible in the face of difficult decisions and shifting employee needs.

“Most of the time, and truly the pandemic has shown this, the issues you face in HR are not black and white. They’re usually very gray,” says Alex. “So having multiple experiences from different industries helps you to have a comprehensive view and approach to solving certain problems for the organizations that you work for.”

If You Want to Work in HR, You Must Seek to Understand

As you grow in your HR career and attain new roles across industries, Alex says it’s vital to show an interest in the ins-and-outs of each industry you pursue. Recognizing that employee needs vary and that HR decisions will fluctuate based on context is crucial to success.

“‘Seek to understand’ is a phrase that I learned really early in my career. And I’ve found it to be true in a number of different circumstances. When you’re transitioning into a new industry, seek to understand the historical perspective of how the industry has evolved. Also, learn why certain rules, policies, and procedures are in place,” Alex says. “Not rushing to judgment, and not rushing to change things, I think is important.”

Basically, seeking to understand will help any HR professional adapt to what’s coming. The changes incited by the pandemic are just one example of how HR roles and responsibilities change. It’s a never-ending process, and it requires flexibility.

“I think the name of the game for every organization in the future is going to be flexibility. For instance, they can be flexible with their work environments, with their working arrangements. With how they think about who’s going to be doing work. Whether it’s full-time, part-time, flexible around work hours,” Alex explains. “The pandemic showed us that people can be very effective working remotely, working from different places, and using different technology.”

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends. If you’re thinking about an HR career or want to level up the one you have, consider Alex’s perspective. Are you flexible? Do you seek to understand? Also, how can you make changes to do so? Learn more about this topic by connecting with our guest, Alex Smith, on LinkedIn.

Lessons in Leadership Style: Empathy Works [Podcast]

While in a position of power in an organization, it can be difficult to gauge how effective a person’s leadership style may be. Oftentimes employees are nervous to address issues with their supervisors, especially if they think their managers won’t listen to their perspectives.

While there isn’t one right way to lead, more and more research reveals that leaders who practice empathy have better relationships with their teams

A person who can adapt their communication and leadership style to meet the needs of different individuals are liked more and seen as friendlier. This type of leader knows that there isn’t just one way to do things. They can change how they manage their employees based on context and situation. They welcome meaningful feedback and apply it effectively.

Our Guest: Gary DePaul, Ph.D., HR and Leadership Expert

 

The special guest on this week’s episode of #WorkTrends is entrepreneur, author, researcher, and performance consultant Gary DePaul, Ph. D. Books he’s written include Nine Practices of 21st Century Leadership, The Most Effective and Responsible Clinical Training Techniques in Medicine, and his most recent work, What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?

When talking with Gary about effective leadership style, he said one of the major things to avoid as a leader is fake collaboration. This happens when a boss creates the illusion of collaborating with their team–but in reality, they’re not listening to others, making all the decisions themselves, and having a one-way conversation. 

Real collaboration, Gary says, can only occur when a supervisor listens and guides their team based on the exchange of ideas. There is no hidden ego or agenda on the boss’s part.

“If we’re going to have real collaboration, you have it so that one person is leading, and everyone else’s role is to inquire. The boss should consider: What is this person saying? Why is it important? Am I understanding it right?” Gary says. “That’s what real collaboration is. When you have that synergy, when you’re focused on what the other person is saying, and you sincerely are listening, using empathy.”

Empathy is Crucial (Whether You’re a Boss or Not)

 

A great way to make your team feel comfortable sharing ideas, Gary says, is to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Admitting to things you can improve on shows self-awareness. Also, it shows your team that you’re empathetic to any concerns they may have regarding your present leadership style.

For example, Gary says, “If you’re new to being a supervisor, acknowledge it. Recognize you’re going to make mistakes and ask for feedback, informally. Say, ‘How am I doing? I know I’m new at this. What can I do to do this better?’ Do things like thank people and acknowledge them for what they do. And then hold people accountable with the team and hold yourself accountable for what your team does.”

Of course, leaders aren’t the only ones who can benefit from practicing empathy. The best way to get good results at work, whether you’re a CEO or hourly employee,  is to outright ask people for feedback and provide it to others voluntarily. As an employee, you can improve relationships and overall output at work by taking the initiative to interact.

“If you’re not a leader, but you want to connect with your teammates, simply ask your peers how they’re doing!” Gary says. “Check in with them, especially if you’re working in a virtual, remote environment. And give your boss upward feedback!”

Developing a leadership style that works can be difficult. But if you’re empathetic and open to your employees, you’re setting everyone up to improve not just their work output, but their human experience at work!

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends. You can learn more useful information on how to develop an empathetic leadership style by connecting with our guest, Gary DePaul, on LinkedIn.

Image by Andrea Piacquadio

The Languishing Issue: Help Employees Move from Stuck to Strong [Podcast]

Ever get that blah feeling? That surge of listlessness you can’t explain? The thing that keeps you in bed watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer until 8:13 am when you have a work Zoom meeting at 8:15? Well, that blah feeling is called languishing, and it’s what some are calling the dominant feeling of 2021.

Languishing is a newly discovered mental health state that encompasses a sensation characterized by apathy, dissatisfaction, and loss of interest in most things. And it can dramatically affect your success at work.

With 85 percent of employees reporting that they’d take a $5,000 pay cut to feel happier at work, and with so many employees leaving companies at a rapid rate–employers and employees both need to take languishing seriously.

Our Guest: Maya Garza, VP of Solution Consulting and Behavioral Science at BetterUp

On this week’s episode of #WorkTrends I was excited to talk to Maya Garza, vice president of solution consulting and behavioral science at BetterUp, about the languishing phenomenon. Maya leads the team of behavioral scientists who serve as executive advisors to our partners. With over 15 years of experience working with Fortune 500 organizations to implement human-capital solutions, she’s an expert at maximizing human potential.

I asked Maya what she thinks the most overlooked employee issue is to date. Unequivocally, she said, it’s mental health and well-being. And that is due in part to a widespread misunderstanding of mental health issues.

This lack of understanding can hurt the company, Maya explained, because BetterUp research shows that 55 percent of employees are languishing.

“Those who are languishing experience heightened stress and physical and mental exhaustion,” Maya said. “Employees at work might feel overwhelmed, down on themselves, or uninspired … They might even put off what used to be a challenging or an exciting task. That turns into a snowball effect that then leads to stress and burnout and lack of innovation.”

How can everyone deal with the experience of languishing?

The first step to managing the experience is to admit that you’re languishing. 

“Simply asking yourself where you are mentally is actually a helpful diagnostic tool. And next you might want to think about, well, gosh, how do I get myself out of that?”

Maya suggests celebrating small wins and reminding yourself what you’re grateful for. Research shows that these practices help improve mental health. Of course, Maya says, it will take more than individual employee actions to help with organization-wide mental health issues.

“Moving yourself from stuck or languishing to truly flourishing is really hard to do. You don’t solve it by one walk or one talk with yourself. You really do need systemic intervention. And I think this is where HR can really be that thought partner for managers and for leaders,” Maya says.

“What it really comes down to is: Is the leadership at your organization being intentional? Are they really deeply thinking about aligning their words and their actions? So remember, we are humans first, we are employees second … Change is accelerated from the bottom up and we need to invest in the potential for every employee to really be at their best.”

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends sponsored by BetterUp. I think we could all benefit from imagining what our teams can do if they’re feeling their best, and how we can make that so. You can learn more about this topic by connecting with our guest, Maya Garza, on LinkedIn.

Image by Austin Distel

Avoid the Workplace Talent Cliff [Podcast]

The talent cliff is a phenomenon where businesses lose employees at a rapid rate. It isn’t a new problem, but it regularly appears in times of crisis, such as the 2008 stock market crash, and of course, the 2020-2021 pandemic. Because of the present WFH lifestyle, people are reconsidering their options, keeping their eyes open for new and better career opportunities.

Meaning the talent cliff is a constant threat to business success, especially right now.

Many organizations are in a position to suffer losses of key people who fill critical roles aligned with the organization’s overall business strategy. Finding and filling these roles quickly is essential but not always possible, especially when it’s a job candidate’s market. That’s why it’s important to stay ahead of the game and focus on preventing employees from leaving, rather than scrambling to hire talent later.

Our Guest: Jennifer Thornton, Talent Strategy and Leadership Expert 

 

The special guest on this week’s episode of #WorkTrends is Jennifer Thornton, a sought-after business strategist who has clocked over two decades as an HR professional. She takes an unconventional approach to building workforce development solutions for companies, and her impressive expertise in talent strategy and leadership helped drive the rapid growth of her consulting firm, 304 Coaching.

I asked Jennifer why some businesses wind up staring over the edge of the talent cliff, while others don’t. And the heart of the matter is: Businesses who don’t value employee satisfaction will likely suffer the most.

“When a business starts to take off, they start throwing all their resources into increasing their revenue, opening up new markets,” Jennifer explains. “But what they don’t say at the same time is: What do we need to do for our talent to ensure that they can keep up the pace with our growth?”

“After a company continues to grow, the leaders usually get super directive, and the good people don’t want to work for someone highly directive. So they leave. Then the people you’re left with are the, ‘Yes sir,’ ‘Yes ma’am’ kind of folks. And they’re not telling you the truth. And then all of a sudden the productivity–it just goes straight down–off the cliff!”

How Can Businesses Avoid the Dreaded Talent Cliff?

I asked Jennifer about what leaders can do to avoid the talent cliff, or at least curb more employee losses. She explained that leaders need to provide psychological safety. They need to give employees space to honestly express ideas, and leaders need to be prepared to respond in a supportive manner.

“Psychological safety allows people in the workplace to be honest, to be truthful, to fully embrace who they are without judgment, which creates productivity and innovation,” Jennifer says. “When you open up the conversation, people feel valued … They feel like it’s safe to bring ideas to you because you don’t just shut them down.”

“I would encourage your listeners to think: How do you think about opening up that conversation so there is psychological safety and so that the business can move forward with the truth?”

The talent cliff is a threat to all businesses. But if you prioritize team needs, it will help you to retain valuable employees and amplify overall business growth.

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends. And I hope it communicates that the key to a successful business strategy is valuing the people who are helping you to achieve it. You can learn more about this topic by connecting with our guest, Jennifer Thornton, on LinkedIn.

Image from Stokkete

Loneliness and Isolation: Fighting New Forms of Employee Burnout

Employee burnout is real. According to a Gallup poll, a staggering 76% of employees experience some form of burnout in their careers. In a survey conducted here at TalentCulture, only 5% said they had not experienced any feelings of burnout since the pandemic began.

So, what’s causing this? The usual suspects like heavy workloads are, unreasonable deadlines exist, of course. The absence of direction and feedback from supervisors and lack of upward mobility remain near the top of the list.  But two other reasons for employee burnout surfaced during the pandemic: Isolation and loneliness. And here’s the thing: Feelings of loneliness and isolation can affect one’s health in the same way that smoking 15 cigarettes a day can. In a separate study, researcher Juliane Holt-Lundstad found that loneliness is worse for you than obesity.

It doesn’t get any more real than that. Let’s discuss…

Our Guest: Amy Durham, Certified Executive Coach and Corporate Mystic

This week, Amy Durham joined me on the #WorkTrends podcast. Amy is a U.C. Berkeley Certified Executive Coach, an Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, and is the author of Create Magic at Work. Amy has been studying the impact of loneliness and isolation in the pandemic workplace, and she’s here to understand how leadership and employees can work together towards a plan to overcome the overwhelming effects these factors have on the body and mind. When I asked Amy what is causing burnout today, she got right to the root cause and the solution:

“Harvard Business Review came out with an article about ‘America’s loneliest workers.’ What they found was that the lack of workplace social support had negative business outcomes. And what’s cool is that if you bring people together, even on Zoom, it increases job satisfaction and reduces burnout.”

“Bringing people together providing social support is so important. And it’s a win-win because it improves profitability and productivity, keeps retention high and helps employees stay engaged.”

Combating Employee Burnout Through Connections

I asked Amy what leaders can do to help eliminate the feelings of loneliness and isolation as they worked from home — or anywhere else — where social support wasn’t readily available or apparent. 

“I encourage every leader to take responsibility — to have the courage to facilitate a connecting activity. For example, ask a meaningful question to kick off a meeting like ‘When was the last time something gave you goosebumps?’ and then listen, really listen, to the answer.”

“People never forget that because you actually connect with someone,” Amy added as she stressed how important that social connection is to preventing, or defeating, loneliness and isolation.

Yes, employee burnout is real. And as we identify new forms and new causes, we must pay attention. As Amy says, we must have the courage to take responsibility. And we, as business leaders and HR professionals, must act. 

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends and I hope it inspires you to make meaningful connections and provide the social support that helps combat this new form of employee burnout. I also hope you’ll learn more about this issue by connecting with our guest, Amy Durham, on LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

 

An Unexpected COVID-19 Side Effect: Survivor Guilt for the Employed

The pandemic has brought significant physical and mental health concerns to people around the world. With business closings, reductions in force, and forced isolation for those who kept their jobs and careers uninterrupted, the pandemic has also brought an unexpected side effect — survivor guilt.

Traditionally, survivor guilt occurs when a person has survived something traumatic that others have not made it through. In the recent workplace, we have used this term to describe co-workers being laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic’s impact and adverse effects on the economy. The employees who still have their jobs may now feel guilty that they survived the layoffs, whereas their co-workers did not.

This feeling comes alongside the general anxiety that comes from everyday life and the pandemic. It’s a stressful time, with negativity and frustration felt across many industries. Seeing co-workers lose their jobs can add to those mental health concerns. At work, sharing these feelings with people who have similar experiences has been a resource for some.

According to a survey, 61% of respondents feel comfortable discussing mental health with their co-workers. As trusted co-workers get laid-off, employees may, in turn, bottle their anxiety or depression along with the new survivor guilt. This cycle creates an ongoing mental health crisis in the workplace.

Mental Health During the Pandemic

Survivor guilt speaks to the overall mental health crisis during the pandemic. With isolation and social distancing comes loneliness, depression and anxiety. These feelings can affect how people handle everyday tasks and their jobs. If an employer sees an individual’s performance dwindling, there’s a chance it’s due to a mental health concern.

In fact, 41% of adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders during the pandemic. Since it’s unclear how long the pandemic will ultimately last, bringing up the conversation is the best way to move forward.

Thus, to best help their employees, it’s now critical for the workplace to acknowledge these concerns. Through the support and discussions enabled by an effective mental health program, employees can obtain the tools they need to cope with survivor guilt and other existing mental health issues.

According to a study, 91% of employees believe the workplace should assist with mental health issues. However, in that same study, 73% of respondents stated that their job does not discuss mental health. As stress, guilt, grief, anxiety, and depression fluctuate through the pandemic, workplaces must incorporate these discussions into their culture. After all, if employees hold on to negative feelings with no outlet or resources, their mental health will continue to deteriorate, as will their performance at work.

Plus, destigmatizing mental health conversations at work fosters a more efficient, healthier environment for everyone.

Solutions for Survivor Guilt

To move forward within the workplace in a healthy way, communication is going to be critical. Feedback and dialogue are tools for bringing up what concerns people have been suppressing, like survivor guilt. Along the way, employers must be in tune with what their employees feel, then listen fully before acting or responding.

Supervisors can open up the dialogue about why the layoffs were necessary and encourage employees to voice how the firings themselves, and the departure of colleagues, has affected them. They should also discuss their needs from the work and company perspective. For instance, employers often ask survivors to work longer hours, yet they have to balance caregiving and home responsibilities on top of their professional lives.

It’s likely best to avoid congratulating anyone for keeping their job while others have lost theirs. Even as a response to their endurance and dedication to the company, employees may focus on the emotional aspect rather than the business side should any form of “congratulations” (let alone “your lucky to still have your job) come into a conversation.

Finally, consider feedback an ongoing conversation – not a one-time thing. Feedback can be as open or as anonymous as people want; regardless of the format, it facilitates more open discussions and, ultimately, more change. With the information collected during feedback sessions, the employer can provide a more transparent plan on the post-layoff direction the company is taking. Simultaneously, employees can voice their opinions on the layoffs and receive resources for mental health counseling. Through effective dialogue, they can also feel secure in their own jobs and benefits.

Making It Through the Pandemic

The pandemic poses countless challenges for people in and out of the workplace.

For those experiencing survivor guilt, it’s essential to speak up and reach out to helpful resources. Don’t go it alone. As many have already learned, issues that affect mental wellness don’t often just go away. Time does not heal all wounds.

For HR professionals, it’s critical to shift the company culture to be more open. We must be honest about the wide range of feelings that come with layoffs and the pandemic in general. Only then can employees move forward and overcome survivor guilt and other obstacles that negatively impact their mental well-being.

 

Image from Lightspring

The Deeper Benefits of Employee Mental Health Programs

Rewind for a minute to the pre-pandemic state of your company culture. How did you measure up in terms of morale? Recruiting? Retention? How about employee engagement, productivity, presenteeism, and positivity? These are all critical attributes companies increasingly evaluate for their value on investment (VOI), a progressive alternative to ROI. In many organizations, the use of VOI is gradually changing the way employers assess the impact of their people programs, including employee mental health programs.

Of course, companies had begun to rethink their approach to employee mental health and well-being before COVID-19. Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly life was more about surviving than thriving.

There hadn’t been time (or much interest) before we all went into sheltering in place to call the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). And there certainly wasn’t time during, what with homeschooling and back-to-back Zoom meetings. We all seemed awash instead in apps for meditation and calmness.

Measuring Employee Mental Health Programs: ROI or VOI?

But as the dust settles and work life finds its new sense of normal, HR, talent leaders, and the C-suite are all certain to return to putting a finer pencil to the cost of these programs and well-being initiatives. This begs the traditional question: Where is the ROI?

What HR and benefits will quickly learn is that the ROI of mental health programs is at best an elusive target. At worst, ROI is an impossible metric to nail down. But this is not the first time category leaders in a company have faced this quandary.

For example, learning and development has been buzzing with the need to hire and train for “soft skills” for at least two decades. But as important as those skills are for the way work gets done today, L&D leaders still struggle to prove the ROI of those traits. They also struggle to quantify the programs intended to build soft skills. Yes, learning has found ways to produce data that draws a line (if often indirect) from soft skills development to changes in productivity and ROI. But the objectivity of the data, and the authenticity of the reports based on that data, are often questioned.

Of course, connecting the dots and measuring the true ROI of employee benefits and programs that offer financial planning, better nutrition, mindfulness, and improved mental health faces similar challenges. So what if, instead of ROI, you shift your focus to a whole-person, whole-organization approach of employee mental health – and consider its value on investment (VOI).

Defining Employee Well-being and VOI

Consider a clinically-based approach that addresses mental health proactively from the standpoint of physical, social, and psychological well-being — the three spheres that psychologists and healthcare providers agree make up the whole person. It isn’t just about treating the 1 in 5 Americans who have mental health issues. It’s about proactively reaching and educating every employee about mental health. Because just as everyone is somewhere on the yardstick of physical health, we are all also somewhere on the continuum of mental health.

And what supports our mental, physical, and social well-being? What — speaking of VOI — can add value to our mental health?

Science says there are seven aspects of daily life to consider: happiness, sleep, fulfillment, coping, calmness, health, and connection all influence employee mental health. When one area is off-balance, an employee — and ultimately their coworkers and the company — are directly affected. Your company’s performance, culture, and reputation are all on the line. At the same time, studies show current programs to support mental health are under-utilized. EAPs, for example, are hugely underutilized with an average 3% to 4% engagement rate.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one size fits all” mental health solution that can add value to your organization by optimizing the use of well-being programs you’re already paying for, improving employee performance, and positively affecting your company culture and brand.

Four Benefit Areas with Measurable Outcomes

You need a platform with expert guidance, scientifically-backed tools, and data-driven outcomes. And, you must take a proactive approach that inspires and empowers your employees to take matters into their own hands. You need a platform that speaks to the employee experience and adds value to the organization. You can prove that value by focusing on these four areas critical to any organization — and have measurable outcomes.

1. Strengthen existing well-being payout

Our first goal: Close the gap between an employee having a problem and the employee going to the EAP to solve that problem. For example, trouble sleeping doesn’t lead employees directly to their EAP. But with a better understanding of what mental health truly means, how a sleepless night might indicate a more significant issue exists, and with support to navigate them to existing programs and services — employees feel knowledgeable and safe. They’ll reach out to their EAP — and get the right care at the right time.

2. Improve performance

It’s no secret that a thriving workforce leads to better performance. Providing employees with the tools to manage their individual challenges equips them to make incremental changes in their well-being and job performance. With that comes fewer sick days, less presenteeism, and fewer accidents on the job. Once you empower employees to take mental health matters into their hands, understanding and measuring progress becomes natural.

3. Strengthen company culture

Mental health is not binary; it’s more than being OK or not OK. Move away from mental well-being programs that offer checklist or check-the-box approaches. Shift the mindset to where everyone’s on the spectrum — because we all have mental health. Forget “show up, be your best, and get rewarded.” It contradicts the culture of well-being and taking care of oneself. And it certainly isn’t a culture that supports openness about mental health (or much of anything else, for that matter).

4.    Enhance company reputation and brand

When it comes to the most in-demand traits of employers, a company’s mission, sense of values, and providing support for total well-being have surpassed compensation. Job seekers now look for companies ready to protect and care for people — including offering programs to support their mental health. Enhance your company’s reputation and brand by taking a proactive approach to  — and a vocal stand on — mental health.

Employee Mental Health Programs: Next Steps

Advocate for what matters. VOI does that and will help sell a whole-person, whole-organization approach to employee mental health up the ladder. Choose a vendor you trust. Invest in technology that delivers or optimizes what you have. Research, research, research. Then, ultimately, prioritize what truly matters.

 

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How Your Approach to Employee Well-being Impacts Business [Podcast]

Thus far into the COVID-19 crisis, mental health and well-being have dropped a staggering 33 percent. As a result, many employees are no longer content with basic health benefits as a perk. Instead, now more than ever, they think of wellness as a critical element of their overall compensation package. As many employers are learning: The pandemic didn’t just revolutionize remote work. It is also driving a pivot in how organizations approach employee well-being.

So in this week’s episode of #WorkTrends, we’re discussing how an organization’s post-pandemic approach to employee well-being impacts so much more than just performance. Let’s get started!

Our Guest: David Osborne, CEO of Virgin Pulse

David Osborne, the CEO of Virgin Pulse the world’s largest digital health and well-being company joins us on this week’s podcast. Given his company’s focus on bringing employee well-being into the DNA of corporate culture, David is uniquely qualified to help us take on this timely topic.

I started this episode by asking David the difference between “basic health benefits” and a more human approach to employee well-being. David framed our entire conversation with his response:

“Well-being prioritizes the whole person. It takes everything into account. Physical activity, nutrition, sleep, financial wellness, mental health, and more.” 

David quickly added that today’s best employers realize that “wellness” is a much different approach than just offering healthcare benefits and provide a human-focused level of care to their people.

Employee Well-being: The Right Approach

“People are going to come out of the pandemic relatively broken. A lack of activity, gaining weight, mental health, the financial impact, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc. So well-being should be the number one area employers focus on right now. As more people get the vaccination and the world opens up, employers must meet employees where they are. They must recognize that life and work are not going to go back to just the status quo.”

“We’re not going to flick a switch and be perfectly fine all over again. We must be prepared.”

David and I went on to talk about how the approach employers take to wellness — starting right now — can make or break their businesses. Grab a cup of caffeination or a healthy drink of water, and listen to the entire episode!

We thank Virgin Pulse for sponsoring this week’s episode of #WorkTrends, and we thank David for joining us! Be sure to connect with David on LinkedIn and follow Virgin Pulse on Twitter. 

And, as always, thank you for being a member of the TalentCulture community!

 

Image by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

How to Best Support Employee Health and Well-being in 2021 and Beyond

Over one year into the pandemic, nearly everything about the workforce has changed — from when and where we work to how employees interact with each other and clients. How employers have adapted their benefits design and their employee well-being and support strategies have also been affected. It has become increasingly clear that this crisis has accelerated significant shifts in many dimensions of our life and work.

The pandemic has also underscored the many complexities of navigating and accessing quality healthcare and how every aspect of their well-being impacts an employee’s work performance — not just physical health.  As a result, many employers are placing health benefits at the center of their overall workforce strategy. As I’ve seen first-hand in my role as Chief People Officer at Castlight, this mindset change has created a shift in the roles of HR and benefits leaders. Specifically, C-suite leaders have become more actively involved in their employees’ benefits experience.

For the workplace of the future and the employees of today, this change is essential. Nearly half of Americans receive health insurance through their company. And a recent trust survey showed that most Americans trust their company leadership more than governmental media. That means employers are in a unique position to impact their employees’ health journeys positively.

Top Priorities for Employers in 2021

The pandemic has given employers an inside look into employees’ daily lives. Now, many organizations have an opportunity to transform how they decide to support their workforce. When it comes to supporting employee health in 2021 (and beyond), employers must pay attention to what employees consider their top priorities. These include navigating the COVID-19 vaccination process and engaging employees in a whole-person approach to their health.

Supporting Employee Well-being Through the Pandemic and Beyond

As vaccine eligibility opens up for more of the population, employers can leverage their position as a trusted resource to improve vaccine literacy. They can also help facilitate more seamless distribution among their workforce.

Employees have many questions about the vaccine, and there’s a great deal of misinformation circulating. Almost a third of the public is still hesitant about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine — many are worried about side effects. Others are concerned the vaccine is too new or that it could give them the virus. Employers must step up and provide their workforce with comprehensive vaccine education materials backed by science, yet easy to understand.

Additionally, by providing ongoing targeted communications, HR leaders can ensure that all employees get the specific care and information they need. For example — essential employees need to know about on-the-job safety protocols and whether or not they’re eligible to receive a vaccine within their state. In contrast, non-essential employees may want to know when they’ll be eligible, where they can get a vaccine, and how to make an appointment.

A Whole-Person Approach to Sustained Employee Well-being

COVID-19 has emphasized just how foundational an employee’s health and sustained well-being is to their happiness, engagement, productivity, and success. So beyond vaccine distribution, employers need to be thinking about keeping their employees engaged in their healthcare long after the pandemic ends. Many leadership teams have started reimagining how they think about benefits as a whole.

After all, remote work has offered a glimpse into everything their employees are juggling each day. Now, it is clear that employees routinely deal with issues all on top of a full-time job. These real-world demands include childcare and homeschooling, taking care of a loved one, and more. This perspective has helped employers learn more about what their teams are dealing with outside of the office. And they’re finally starting to understand the importance of flexibility.

On top of that, COVID-19 highlighted other aspects of well-being, such as mental health. For example, from before the pandemic to January 2021 symptoms of anxiety or depression among U.S. adults jumped from 11% to 41%. Now, employers must look holistically at their employee populations. They must consider all facets of health — physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial. Then they must develop a personalized, equitable benefits design that meets the health goals and needs of every employee.

The Role of the C-suite: Leading Through Complex Times

Moving forward, critical benefits conversations are no longer the priority of just the benefits manager. Members of the C-suite must become intimately involved in employee well-being as well. CHROs, in particular, need to understand their employee segments more deeply. Ensuring a healthier, productive workforce starts with understanding who you have.  Then catering to their specific needs by offering benefits in a personalized way.

Employers can (and should) play a vital role in employee well-being in 2021 — and beyond.

Specifically, given their unique and significant reach into the workforce, mid-size and large employers can be critical leaders in health advocacy. Compassion, communication, courage, and a strong community focus will continue to be imperative leadership traits throughout these difficult times. The way employers care for their employees — and the health and holistic well-being of the employees’ families — will determine their employer brand for years to come.

 

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WFH Burnout and Zoom Fatigue: Much More Complex Than We Think

Have you or your employees been feeling WFH burnout and Zoom fatigue these past months? It’s too common, despite the supposed convenience of working from home and using videoconferences to meet.

Due to the computer-based nature of their work, the large majority of HR professionals have been in the privileged position of working from home throughout the pandemic. Yet, despite the safety benefits of doing so, burnout has been an increasingly problematic issue — the result: lower retention rates, morale, engagement, and a decrease in quality decision-making.

Still, most appreciate the benefits of working from home. Most employees, in fact, have stated a preference to work remotely more than half the time or even permanently even after the pandemic. And most employers support their employees’ desire and have integrated remote working at some level into their post-pandemic operations. They find that employees working from home improves productivity and also allows companies to downsize office space, saving serious money. Yet to do so requires addressing work-from-home burnout.

Fix the Problem (Don’t Treat the Symptoms)

Unfortunately, the vast majority of efforts to address WFH burnout try to treat the symptoms without addressing the root causes. The problem stems from companies failing to adapt internally to the impact of COVID and the post-COVID recovery.

The vast majority had to make an abrupt shift to their employees working remotely. Everyone was in emergency mode and adapted their existing ways of interacting in “office culture” to remote work. That’s fine for an emergency, perhaps a month or two. But COVID is not a short-term emergency. Instead, it is a major, long-term disruptor.

Companies need to recognize that the fundamental root cause of WFH burnout stems from organizations adapting their existing ways of interacting in “office culture” to remote work. To address this problem requires a strategic re-evaluation of their internal structure, culture, and norms. They must plan for a much more virtual environment for the foreseeable future.

Using office-style culture to conduct virtual work is simply forcing a square peg into a round hole. You can do it if you push hard enough, but you’ll break off the corners. In this case, those “corners” are the social and emotional glue that bonds your employees to company culture. As was proven over the last several months, that peg will do in an emergency. But in the long run, those misused pegs will eventually start to crumble – just like your company culture.

So the first step toward fixing WFH burnout and Zoom Fatigue is to deal with the real problems. Twelve problems, to be exact.

The 12 Problems Leading to Work-From-Home Burnout and Zoom Fatigue

Combining expertise in emotional and social intelligence with research on the specific problems of working from home during COVID, I’ve untangled these two concepts into a series of factors:

1. Lack of meaning and purpose.

The vast majority of us don’t realize we aren’t simply experiencing work-from-home burnout. Instead, we’re deprived of the basic human needs of fulfillment, meaning and purpose that we get from work and our colleagues. After all, we tie much of our sense of self and identity, narratives, and sense of meaning-making to our work. That’s all severely disrupted by shifting to remote work.

2. A failure to meet our need for connection.

Our work community offers a key source of connection for many of us. Work-from-home cuts us off from much of our ability to connect effectively to our colleagues as human beings, rather than little squares on a screen. This lack of connection leaves many feeling out of touch, perhaps even isolated.

3. Little opportunity to build trust.

In an office setting, there is ample opportunity to build trust through informal interactions. This building of trust doesn’t happen naturally in virtual environments. Data shows teams that start off virtual work together substantially better after meeting in person. By contrast, teams that shift from in-person settings to virtual ones gradually lose that sense of shared humanity and trust.

4. Absence of mentorship and informal professional development.

A critical part of on-the-job learning stems from informal mentoring by senior colleagues. It also comes from the observational professional development you get from seeing how your colleagues do their jobs. Losing these opportunities for mentorship and moments of observation has proven incredibly challenging, especially for less-experienced employees.

5. Confusing “Zoom fatigue” with more significant human issues.

The “fatigue” people feel is a real experience, but it’s not about Zoom itself — or any other video conferencing software. The big challenge stems from our intuitive expectations about virtual meetings bringing us energy through connecting to people. However, those meetings fail to meet our basic need for connection; our emotions just don’t process videoconference meetings as truly connecting us on a human-to-human gut level.

6. Mis-managed “live” replacement therapies.

Getting back to our “square-peg-round-hole” analogy, many companies try to replace the social and emotional connection with Zoom happy hours and similar activities. While well-intended, these attempts to transpose in-person bonding events into virtual formats largely fail. Humans intuitively have elevated expectations about the quality of the interaction during meetings, so we end up disappointed and frustrated when our emotional (not to mention physical) needs haven’t been met.

7. Shortage of experience with virtual technology tools.

Many members of our workforce, especially in older generations – the non-digital natives, were never trained to best use virtual collaboration tools. Slack, Asana, and Zoom were new experiences for them. In addition to lowered productivity, this challenge results in frustrating experiences for those asked to communicate and collaborate virtually — many for the first time in their careers.

8. Shortage of skills in effective virtual communication.

Within many companies, especially where four generations are present in the workforce, it’s notoriously hard to communicate effectively even in person. Effective communication becomes much more difficult when in-office teams become virtual teams. A primary challenge in this area: Reliance on the written word, which makes it difficult to assess tone, intent, and even meaning.

9. Scarcity of clues provided by non-verbal communication.

Working virtually, we too often miss the casual interactions so vital to effective collaboration and teamwork. Specifically, body language and voice tone are essential to noticing brewing people and team problems. Unfortunately, virtual communication tools provide us fewer opportunities to detect such issues. Making it even worse for many teams: The growing trend to turn cameras off during virtual meetings.

10. Lowered standards of accountability.

In in-office environments, leaders and peers can easily walk around the office, visually observing what’s going on and checking in with their direct reports and colleagues on their projects. When working virtually,  ignoring an email is much easier than someone stopping you in the hallway or standing in the doorway to your office. Many leaders and organizations have not yet found a way to replace real-time accountability with a version effective in remote work situations.

11. Poor work-from-home environments.

Some employees have access to quiet spaces and stable internet connections; they are quite proud of their home-office sanctuary, devices, bandwidth, etc.  Others, though, struggle with this critical aspect of virtual work. For them, the changes brought about by the pandemic — including overhauling workspaces at home — have taken significant time and resources. Some are still not 100 percent ready.

12. Poor work/life boundaries.

Ineffective separation of work and life stems from both employer and employee actions. In a recent survey at TalentCulture, almost half of respondents said their boss expects them to be available “at any time.” For their part, employees have shown a lack of willingness to set mutually acceptable boundaries.  In the long term, these failures cause lowered productivity, increased errors, and eventual WFH burnout.

WFH Burnout and Zoom Fatigue: A Solvable Problem

Work-from-home burnout and Zoom fatigue are much more complex than we think. As business leaders and employers needing to take on this challenge, we must reframe our company cultures and implement a wholesale strategic shift in operations. We must deliberately move from the “work from home emergency mode” to accepting remote work as the new long-term normal.

And we must provide our employees all the resources, training, and reskilling necessary for people — and our companies — to thrive within that new normal.