For many workers, maintaining a healthy balance between workplace demands and the difficulties of day-to-day life can be a challenge. According to the Harvard Business Review1, 94 percent of surveyed professionals work over 50 hours per week—and that was all the way back in 2009. In 2020, people aren’t just working more—they’re facing an unprecedented barrage of challenges and stressors, including a global pandemic, civil unrest, and a difficult economy. While workers have necessarily remained resilient, the sheer amount of stress facing them is challenging that resiliency. As a result, organizations, especially those focused on cultivating world-class employee experiences, have a responsibility to help their people endure these challenges and cope with the inherent uncertainty of the present.
According to a poll conducted in July 2020, 53 percent of American adults say their mental health and wellbeing has been negatively impacted due to COVID-19—in March, that number was only 32 percent.2 This steady increase in poor mental health outcomes—including anxiety, depression, isolation, job loss, and substance abuse—is fueling the exacerbation of an already unprecedented public health crisis. To monitor these changes in mental health, the National Center for Health Statistics partnered with the Census Bureau to create the Household Pulse Survey, which was developed to bolster the U.S. government’s understanding of the mental health impact of COVID-19, as well as complement the existing federal statistical system.3 For years, research has tied social isolation and loneliness to poor mental health. Unsurprisingly, the Household Pulse Survey found that higher shares of people sheltering in place (47 percent) are suffering from negative mental health effects, particularly social isolation and loneliness, in contrast to those who are not sheltering in place (37 percent). And for those dealing with job loss or reduced income as a result of the pandemic, the negative mental health impacts are even more substantial—particularly for low-income individuals—with higher rates of substance use disorder and suicide.4
Despite the enormity of these issues, companies can use their resources to create better conditions to mitigate some of the uncertainty and distress facing the world’s workforce. Empathy and availability from workplace leaders to answer questions and assuage fears is a great starting point, but to support the mental health of workers long-term, organizations need concrete solutions. One of those solutions is enhanced training, like CBRE Host’s Welcome (Back) Warmly program. To prepare teams for the difficult and complex process of returning to the workplace, Host created a program based on building human connections with a focus on empathy and compassion as workers navigate an altered office environment. Through courses designed to facilitate the development of personal relationships, self-awareness, collaboration, and empathy, Host provides employees and leaders with deeper, more personalized service delivery skills to account for the wellbeing and mental health of clients and colleagues alike.
Another meaningful response is the adoption of an employee assistance program. These programs, developed and supported by academics, can help leaders recognize mental health issues in their employees and provide effective support for their wellbeing. An example is the Michigan Medicine Depression Center at the University of Michigan, which has developed a program for employers that provides strategies to improve mental health in a proactive way. Rather than waiting for workers to ask for help, the program provides organizations with free mental health tools to aid individuals who may be struggling. A major component of the program is centered around creating opportunities for one-on-one conversations between leaders and their team members to talk through issues. The program works with supervisors to teach them how to engage with employees in crisis without making them uncomfortable or being too invasive in a professional context, providing additional outlets to talk through problems or, in the case of serious mental health issues, find professional help.5
Normalizing mental health challenges is another vital component of providing support for those who are struggling. As nearly everyone has experienced some difficulty due to the pandemic, it’s important for leaders to be forthright about their own struggles to encourage the same in their team. Authenticity in leadership not only builds trust (especially in times of crisis), but also boosts employee performance.6 Authentically sharing experiences can be done in novel ways to reach a broader audience. For example, biotech firm Roche Genentech produced a series of videos featuring senior leaders discussing mental health, which were shared internally throughout their company as part of a campaign called #Let’sTalk. From there, the company empowered employees to make their own videos about their own experiences, giving them an outlet to discuss their problems while also showing solidarity with their similarly affected colleagues.7 Broad organizational support for mental health models healthy workplace behaviors and contributes to a more connected and engaged culture that allows people to be vulnerable and authentic with their colleagues. Regarding workplace culture, the most desired workplace mental health resources are a more open and accepting culture, clearer information about where to go for help, and additional training on mental health issues. Additionally, modifying policies to be accommodating at work can go a long way in reducing employee stress, including flexible hours, paid time off, and a reduction in overall time spent working.8
As organizations and their companies face an uncertain future, remaining mindful of mental health allows for a better, more effective, and more supportive workplace. While we may not return to a pre-pandemic level of normalcy for some time, providing solutions to encourage better mental health and work offers long-term benefits for workers and companies alike, fostering a culture that respects employee needs and creates positive outcomes in both performance and wellbeing.
4 Ibid. kff.org
Ryan Bryant is Host’s Communications Lead, overseeing the development of marketing collateral, internal and external content, thought leadership and Host social media. With a background in journalism, Ryan is passionate about using language to foster authentic engagement with readers to emphasize our shared humanity. When he isn’t writing, Ryan can likely be found noodling around on a guitar or playing with his dog, Tina Turner.