United Minds
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United Minds

Three Ways to Support Employees’ Mental and Physical Health and Wellness During the “Great Wait”

Fostering a healthy workplace in the midst of the “Great Wait”

The past eighteen months have been dominated by constant change — more than most can truly absorb. And the longer the COVID-19 pandemic lasts, the more uncertainty it creates.

Humans are designed to react to short periods of stress in a fight-or-flight way, but aren’t so good at enduring ongoing threats and conflicting information. And it’s taking a toll. In a recent poll of U.S.-based consumers and workers (conducted in partnership with KRC Research), we discovered that:

· 58% worry about their mental health and wellness

· 56% say employee turnover is a problem where they work

· 49% are experiencing work burnout

The physical, mental and emotional toll of COVID-19 is widespread and enduring. For employers, this critical reality cannot be ignored.

So, what now?

Beyond every organization’s responsibility to protect its people, there are several business-critical reasons that employers should be concerned about employees’ physical and mental health. According to a survey completed by West Monroe Partners, hiring and retention has been identified as the top threat for 49% of executives — and for good reason: as TLNT reports, replacement costs range from 30% of salary for entry-level workers to 400% of salary for senior executives. And with COVID-19 cases on the rise and new variants emerging, companies looking to bring people back into workplaces also face higher risk of infection, which can slow and even shut down productivity.

Three ways to foster a healthy workplace

Today, more than ever before, cultivating a healthy workplace for the overall wellbeing of a workforce is essential — and it takes work.

Employers can start by focusing on these three things:

1. Normalize the discussion of mental health. Throughout the pandemic, leaders have become more demonstrably empathetic and transparent. And it’s working. A previous KRC Research poll of U.S.-based employees found that 57% of employees feel more connected to their leaders and companies despite often being physically distant. Prioritizing mental and physical health is an opportunity for leaders to connect authentically with their people, both by acknowledging their own feelings and by creating space for others to bring their whole selves to work. Some organizations successfully do this by introducing and encouraging meditation and mindfulness. For example, start each meeting with a brief pause. Have everyone write down what’s on their mind as a way to clear their head before switching to the now. And begin the meeting with a “check-in” before you dive right in.

2. Take manager and leader training to a new level. Research shows that an employee’s direct supervisor has perhaps the most significant impact on an employee’s experience. But beyond the traditional “manager” duties, leaders and managers need better training to spot employee issues and help to address them. Not by taking on the role of therapist, but by having the ability to really see when an employee is struggling and connecting them to the right resources.

It’s also important to remember that leaders and managers are people too — and they are often going through all of the same things their employees are experiencing, on top of supporting their people. For the health and wellbeing of everyone, it’s critical for managers and leaders to also practice self-care.

3. Innovate and test — rapidly. Wading into mental health and wellness in a real way is new ground for many companies — and there’s no roadmap in place for navigating the way. Leaders need to take a more open-minded approach and try a lot of things to see how they pan out. Learn quickly from what works and what doesn’t and don’t forget to share!

Ultimately, focusing on improving mental and physical health and wellness needs to be about more than providing perks. It should center on truly aligning programs and systems that support employees’ stated needs. Like taking time to actively listen via dedicated sessions, surveys and open office hours. Creating more space through organizational norms that protect people, such as meeting-free Fridays, after-hour email blocks and even mental health days. Respecting those employees who need to work outside of the norms based on personal demands. And more expansively, where possible, it can be beneficial to facilitate change within the organization, from shorter-term secondments and special assignments to career mapping and full-time role change.

The key is realizing that employees aren’t a predictable and finite resource — they’re people. And healthy people require a healthy mind, body and spirit.

Also important is realizing that we’re living in what we’re calling The Great Wait — a certainty that uncertainty will continue. And that the current, ever-changing environment is not sustainable for most people, let alone one where people can thrive at work.

In partnership with United Minds and Weber Shandwick, KRC Research has conducted a series of nine national surveys among Americans 18 years of age and over. The first survey was completed between March 4 and 6, 2020 after the first U.S. coronavirus death. The most recent survey was completed between August 23 and August 26, 2021. Each survey was conducted online with a sample of between 1,000 and 1,500 individuals, demographically weighted to align with the U.S. adult population based on U.S. Census data. All surveys examine two key audiences: U.S. consumers and workers.

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Emily Caruso

Emily Caruso

Emily Caruso is Vice President of United Minds, where she specializes in helping organizations identify opportunities to improve employee experience.