Most employees are experiencing the early signs of burnout, according to a recent report by Mental Health America. In fact, the study found that nearly 83 percent of respondents felt emotionally drained from their work. Corporate America is in crisis. Employees are leaving jobs in record numbers and our collective declining mental health is affecting productivity.
While the ongoing pandemic has been the scapegoat for the source of employee discontent, statistics show that the pandemic has only exacerbated organizational flaws that existed before employees were sent home to work at the beginning of the pandemic. The worldwide job aggregator, Indeed, conducted a survey of 1,500 U.S. workers and discovered that 53% of Millennials were already burned out pre-pandemic.
Today, 9 in 10 employees agree that workplace stress is affecting their mental health, according to the study by Mental Health America, and most do not feel they have a safe place to discuss their mental health challenges at work. For those who feel the workplace is especially unsafe and stressful, resignation has become the default solution.
Today, 9 in 10 employees agree that workplace stress is affecting their mental health.
Source: Mental Health America
The problem is, managers are not trained to deal with the growing incidence of burnout, exhaustion, and the resulting cynicism and reduced work efficacy. Organizations with value statements around employee work/life balance, satisfaction, and purpose are failing to deliver on promises that aren’t backed up by specific policies, programs, or measurable behavior expectations that directly address the mental wellness of their employees.
Emotional intelligence and the wellness intelligence quotient
While managers with higher EQs (Emotional Intelligence Quotients) are likely creating better workplace cultures than their counterparts who are still operating from an on-task approach to conversations, there is still work to be done to improve the Wellness Intelligence Quotient across organizations.
For many organizations, the way forward will require reskilling managers to be empathic leaders, mentors, and coaches instead of task masters and gatekeepers. Counter to what business leaders may believe, productivity is not lost when supervisors, team leads, managers, and upper management take the time to connect to employees and acknowledge their humanness. On the contrary, increasing the organization’s Wellness Intelligent Quotient will have the effect of directly addressing the very root of today’s productivity challenges: burnout, anxiety, and depression.
If your organization is ready to take your company values off the wall and apply them to behavioral best practices, we recommend immediately taking these 3 steps toward building a culture that attracts talent and retains happy, productive, and engaged employees:
Open lines of communication and reduce stigma
Institute a top-down commitment to mental wellness
Measure your Wellness Intelligence Quotient
Create transparency and build trust with open communication
Don’t assume that your employees are happy and healthy, just because they have not reported issues to their supervisor or company management. Several studies have uncovered the stigma and fear associated with reporting mental health challenges in the workplace. A Paychex survey of 1,017 full-time employees revealed that 54% felt uncomfortable talking to their managers about mental health, 30% feared discussions could lead to being fired or furloughed, and 29% thought it could cost them a promotion. Even worse, the study by Mental Health America found that about 59% of respondents felt their supervisor does not provide the emotional support they need to help them manage their stress.
It’s not surprising that managers who have not built an atmosphere of trust, openness, empathy, and caring are not likely to be perceived as safe places for employees to go with concerns. While the onus typically falls on the manager to create a positive atmosphere within their realm of influence, few have actually been trained to do so. Often, managers are assigned to their positions not because they are proven mentors and coaches, but because they tend to be high achievers and producers—skills that are often antithetical to encouraging openness and the kind of off-task communication that leads to a culture of trust.
About 59% of respondents felt their supervisor does not provide the emotional support they need to help them manage their stress.
Source: Mental Health America
Company executives operating under outdated playbooks for organizational wellness may mistakenly think that seeking the necessary training to address employee unrest lies with supervising managers who want to change and are willing to seek out the necessary training on their own. This attitude is a cop-out and an unrealistic expectation for managers who likely do not perceive how they are directly affecting the mental health of their direct reports. In addition, change is difficult and it’s unlikely that managers who are not comfortable talking to employees on a personal level or providing mentorship and coaching will seek out the kind of training they need to effectively grow a more inclusive and open company culture.
Workplace culture change has become an immediate imperative for companies hoping to retain and attract the best talent. Glassdoor, word of mouth, and social media channels will make it increasingly difficult for companies to hide behind written values without creating systems and practices to bring those values to life for every employee.
In organizations with hierarchical structures, as most companies have, change begins at the top of the organization. Executives and managers must be the first to embrace the new guidelines and take the time to attend training sessions that will help them change their behaviors and—ultimately—the culture of burnout and anxiety that currently exists in most workplaces.
Workplace wellness begins at the top of the organization
Workplace cultural change cannot be assigned to individuals within the organization and it’s not an initiative in one department. Policies for systems, behaviors, and practices must be determined at the highest levels of the organization, and principles must be communicated to the organization as a whole with expectations around systems and specific behaviors that will support the guiding principles.
From there, policies can be instituted that provide guardrails that guide behavior in order to ensure every person is held accountable for adhering to the best practices that will lead the company to build an environment where employees thrive. Healing our beleaguered workforce is not going to be easy and support systems will need to be built over time. However, there are some actions organizations can take immediately to ensure behaviors support those systems.
Workplace cultural change cannot be assigned to individuals within the organization and it’s not an initiative in one department.
Like any solution, the initiatives you institute to support a healthier, more inclusive, and open work culture will never be one and done. Managers will need reminders and refreshers, new employees will need to be educated, and aberrant behaviors will need to be immediately addressed at every level of the organization.
To get started, we recommend assigning a wellness advocate in your Human Resources, People and Culture, or similar team. Once identified, this person can be the ambassador for mental wellness programs in the organization. While we highly recommend all employees at the team lead and management level receive training right away, at the minimum we suggest training your wellness advocate to be the ambassador of mental health wellness in your organization..
Almost immediately, the wellness advocate should begin identifying other people in the organization to receive management training. The purpose of these training sessions will be to help people in positions of power to grow their Wellness Intelligence Quotient, identify early signs of mental health challenges, and develop an inclusive communication style fosters an atmosphere of workplace wellness.
Once trained, your wellness advocate can be the mentor and coach for other members of the organization as they go through the training and a resource for them once the training is complete.
In the third phase, individual contributors should be given the opportunity to participate in employee resilience programs that will help them to develop the skills they need to positively impact their work life and that of their coworkers.
Measuring your Wellness Intelligence Quotient
Just as work can be a contributing factor to mental health challenges, so can it be a positive contributor to improved mental wellness. As an organization, you’ll want to assess the progress you’re making toward creating a positive and inclusive work environment and continue to identify teams and managers where improvement is needed.
We’re currently facing one of the worst mental health environments we’ve seen in recent history. It may take some managers a little longer to make the transition to a new communication and management style. Giving these individuals additional support sends a message that the organization is serious about supporting managers and employees as they move toward honing their Wellness Intelligence Quotient.
Just as work can be a contributing factor to mental health challenges, so can it be a positive contributor to improved mental wellness.
Employee surveys that ask specific questions about the work experience and culture before and after mental health wellness initiatives will give you a benchmark by which to measure your success. Quarterly employee pulse surveys will help keep your organization on track and identify areas of weakness.
Here are 10 sample employee survey questions that will help you measure your leadership’s Wellness Intelligence Quotient:
Do you commonly feel exhausted, drained, or sad at the end of the workday?
To what extent does your work contribute to those feelings?
Do you have trouble concentrating as a result of workplace stress?
Do you enjoy communicating with your direct supervisor?
Do you feel your direct supervisor understands your challenges at work?
Do you feel your direct supervisor helps manage your workload?
Can you talk to your direct supervisor about negative feelings when they arise?
If you do talk to your direct supervisor, do you feel supported?
Is your direct supervisor empathetic and caring in their communications?
Does your direct supervisor provide mentorship and coaching to help you grow professionally and personally?
Chances are leaders and company executives will be surprised at the level of burnout, anxiety, and depression they find among their workforce. Instead of pointing fingers and blaming each other for the state of the workforce, take positive action. Your efforts will not only improve the working lives of your employees, it will likely have a positive impact on the bottom line as productivity and company loyalty improve.
At Welligence, we specialize in mental health training programs for the workplace. Our courses are designed to lead companies to overcome the stigma of mental health concerns by way of education and implementation of workplace wellness best practices. Find out how we can help you normalize the mental health conversation in your workplace.