As more people get vaccinated and companies begin returning to office life, the conversation around working from home persists. Instead of having either/or work situations, many companies are adopting hybrid scenarios, allowing people to balance working from home and from offices. While advantages and drawbacks exist, many reasons point to why working from home a couple of days per week could benefit overall productivity and mental wellness.
With all we’ve experienced over the last year, 72% of knowledge workers recently surveyed by Salesforce said they’ll make or maintain at least one major change to their work lives after the pandemic has ended. Just under half said hybrid work arrangements bode best for overall well-being, with nearly 60% saying psychological and physical well-being top the list of reasons for hybrid work. This is a perk workers today actively seek out — likely more than the frivolous perks from the before times.
If you can say there’s a silver lining of this pandemic, it’s that it has become clear that mental health is really important.Dr. Emily Anhalt, Coa
“If the last year didn’t show us when you’re not mentally healthy, you’re not going to show up at work in the same way, I don’t know what will,” said Dr. Emily Anhalt, co-founder and chief clinical officer at Coa, an online mental health and emotional fitness studio, which saw a 900% increase in demand for its classes in 2020. “If you can say there’s a silver lining of this pandemic, it’s that it has become clear that mental health is really important.”
That marks a change from even 10 or 20 years ago. Starting in the late 1990s, many companies used fun office perks such as free video games and catered lunches to woo top talent. Some companies added over-the-top perks such as free helicopter rides and covering the cost of reproductive egg freezing. By the mid-2010s, companies stepped it up even more. Note-taking app Evernote supplied semi-monthly house cleaning for employees. Airbnb offered workers $2,000 to stay in any travel listing around the world. Tesla let staff use its cars.
Now, we work in a world where many large companies, especially in the tech industry, have said staff won’t have to return to the workplace well into 2021 and beyond. Even then, people have said they want more from their companies around their well-being and whole selves — especially after living through a global pandemic.
The pandemic has caused many to reevaluate and reprioritize in what many have referred to as the “great reset,” both at work and in our personal lives. We dealt with rising anxiety and depression due to unknowns surrounding the virus, anger around race relations, balancing work with parenting, and grappling with an uncertain economy. Many are looking for better work-life balance and want to work for a company that shares their values and promises to see them as human beings.
“We’re going to see an increase in mental and emotional health resources,” Anhalt added. “What the pandemic has shown us is that none of us can escape tough things no matter how hard we work. You’re not necessarily going to see that next tough thing coming. You should probably hit the emotional gym so you’re better equipped for whatever life throws at you.”
Companies were already prioritizing well-being before the pandemic hit. They’ve added more health-minded offerings — think cayenne ginger juice shots, juice bars, chair massages, gym membership reimbursement — and full-blown wellness programs at places like Google and Zappos. Like so many movements that were slowly building steam over the course of the past decade, the pandemic put this into hyperdrive.
In addition to benefits like health insurance and paid vacation time, younger workers want more robust benefits packages, often including employee-supplied assistance for self care and mindfulness: meditation, therapy, yoga, and more. In fact, 60% of Gen Z and 65% of millennials said they wouldn’t take a job offering only a range of fun perks, without more robust benefits.
What’s more, where older generations thought discussing mental health issues at work was taboo, millennials and Gen Z are more open about their struggles.
“By taking a stance on mental health and offering robust benefits, employers are able to show they see this as a relevant and central concern, reflecting the values of the prospects they seek to recruit”ALEXA MEYER | CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF COA
As managing director of a real estate firm CBRE’s global workplace solutions, Karen Ellzey has an inside perspective on this topic.
“I was talking to a client at a technology company about this concept of posting codes of conduct,” Ellzey said. “We started brainstorming and said, ‘Why don’t we call it codes of caring, so that you’re reinforcing the culture?’ That says this is an organization and a culture that cares about you. And we want to care about each other. It’s really important to do that.”
An anxiety crisis
Nearly half of workers under 40 say they feel stressed or anxious all or most of the time. All. Of. The. Time. Not just at work, but in their everyday lives. So it comes as no surprise the vast majority of those workers seek out a workplace with mental health benefits in place, according to the American Institute of Stress.
“Outside of having resources available, millennials and Gen Z also expect their workplace to share similar values to their own,” said Alexa Meyer, Coa’s co-founder and CEO. “By taking a stance on mental health and offering robust benefits, employers are able to show they see this as a relevant and central concern, reflecting the values of the prospects they seek to recruit.”
Meyer adds that companies should include strategies that support a culture of psychological safety. This means making diversity and inclusion a priority and setting up space where everyone can have their voices heard, valued, and respected.
“These types of codes, when used well, empower managers and leaders to support mental health days, find a therapist, or take time to participate in emotional fitness training,” Meyer said. “With time, this mentality permeates the culture, creating a stronger workforce and work environment.”
Better mental health leads to better productivity
With so much added stress and anxiety surrounding us daily, even if you don’t personally experience it, it still has an impact on the workplace. Someone from your team may call out sick or take a mental wellness day when experiencing anxiety or depression. That can affect a team project or possibly overall morale. In fact, more than 12 billion days of productivity in the world’s 36 largest countries get lost each year due to depression and anxiety at a cost of $925 billion, according to a 2016 Lancet study.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
With company support, people can get access to wellness programs. When that happens and people feel good about themselves, they tend to perform better. A culture of creativity, collaboration, innovation, better decision making, and even resiliency takes root.
“When we show up as our best selves, we’re able to show up more effectively for others,” said Ruslan Tovbulatov, chief marketing officer of Thrive Global, which was founded by Arianna Huffington, a regular guest on Salesforce’s B-Well Together series.
“Self-care is the foundation of our ability to show up as our best, most productive and creative selves, each day,” Tovbulatov said. “When we’re operating in a zone of stress and burnout, the message is clear: self-care isn’t a priority or really even possible. In some companies, it’s even frowned upon, synonymous with a lack of ambition or commitment.”
It seems, however, that sentiment is quickly falling away as people coming into the workforce seek out benefits that fit with their personal needs. That includes managers and even the C-suite. Bottom line? The need for better mental wellness is widespread and it comes from the top down.
Support starts at the top
People have always looked to their managers for support, and that has increased since early 2020; tensions are at an all-time high. A leader’s actions and behaviors can serve as a guide to let team members know it’s OK to speak up and show vulnerabilities.
“The topic of psychological safety is resonating with a lot of people,” said Lauren Gant, human factors and ergonomics manager for Allsteel.
Following the onset of the pandemic, Gant researched the idea of psychological safety in the workplace. The results show that employees who feel seen, supported, and safe are more likely to talk more openly with a peer or manager without fear of retribution or punishment. During this chaotic time, something seemingly so small is actually quite poignant.
“We’re rapidly moving toward a time when companies that don’t take mental health seriously will pay a price in recruiting and retaining employees.Ruslan Tovbulatov, Thrive Global
So just like putting on your oxygen mask first in the case of an airplane emergency, managers also need to make their own mental health a priority, Coa’s Meyer said. That leads to modeling behavior where direct reports can see that their boss is human, too. In addition, leaders need to get engaged in the conversation around mental health to help create a more open environment.
“I’ve spoken with founders and leaders who put their weekly therapy appointments in the calendar, visible to employees,” Meyer adds. “Every small effort to increase the dialogue goes a long way.”
Even more important? Making sure employees know where and how to access their benefits and resources. A vast majority of company health plans include mental health resources, yet only about half of employees know that information.
With so much at stake, people are seeking ways to feel, well, anything at all — and since we spend so much of our days at work, companies need to start playing a more serious role in helping people. Changes don’t necessarily happen overnight, and they don’t have to. They just have to start moving in the right direction.
“We’re rapidly moving toward a time when companies that don’t take mental health seriously will pay a price in recruiting and retaining employees,” Tovbulatov said.
And when companies, no matter the size, start prioritizing employee experience and offering more access to wellness services, it can start to show up in their work performance.
“Your business will do better if people are mentally and emotionally healthy when they’re working with you,” Anhalt said. “Who we are anywhere is who we are everywhere.”
And that’s the case whether you work remotely, at the office, or a hybrid of the two.
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