Employee mental health and wellbeing in the post-pandemic workplace
Lori Rubin, Partner at Odgers Interim US, joined our firm during the COVID-19 pandemic and has experienced first-hand the different work environment during a global pandemic. In this article, she talks about the future of the workplace and the steps organizations can take to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of their employees
Never before has mental health and wellbeing been so openly and prominently discussed as it has been since the beginning of the pandemic. For most companies, the pandemic has resulted in drastic changes to our working patterns. Many organizations around the world have implemented great initiatives to support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees during the unprecedented crisis we have lived through the past 18 months. However, the return to “normal,” which the effective rollout of vaccinations nationwide has made possible, is cause for concern for many.
Not everyone wants to go back to the way things were before the pandemic. For many, the move to working from a home office has been a welcome change, as it has meant less time commuting, more time for families, and generally, a better work-life-balance. With offices coming back to life, and the economy picking up again, many businesses are looking to resume pre-pandemic working models, while many employees are reluctant to go back to a 5-day-a-week office job? There has been talk across industries about the fear of “The Great Resignation”, so what can leaders and organizations do to look after the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce moving forward?
Flexible and adaptable working models
We recently ran a poll on LinkedIn, asking our network of senior interim executives and clients what they would like to see implemented by businesses to support employees’ mental health and wellbeing as we emerge from the stronghold of the pandemic. An overwhelming majority of 63% stated that they would like to have a clear flexible working policy in place. Working from home, if and when they can, will enable employees to gradually get used to their workplace again, and most importantly, grant them the ability to decide which environment suits them and their work responsibilities best. Not every role and not every work task has to be completed in an office. In addition, it is not beneficial to force workers to return to an office when their work performance has met or exceeded the expectations of their managers while working from home. Allowing for a more flexible approach to working will ensure that employees feel heard and trusted, while granting them the flexibility to have a better work-life-balance post-pandemic.
Maintaining mental health and wellbeing infrastructures
During the past 18 months, many companies have implemented new and better supported mental health and wellbeing practices across their businesses. Ranging from documented mental health policies and accommodations to virtual social events, to extra resources, such as counseling and expanded Employee Assistance Programs – businesses have become creative and innovative in ensuring their employees are better supported given the unique challenges of the pandemic. Some firms have even granted additional wellbeing or mental health days on top of paid time off allowances while other companies have arranged for regular pulse surveys to be conducted to measure the satisfaction of their workforce on an ongoing basis.
However, one of the greatest support systems to ensure wellbeing and good mental health has been the open discussion and subsequent removal of the stigma formerly associated with mental health. During the Pandemic, we have seen CEO’s and Senior Executives across all industries talk openly about mental health and their own struggles and worries, which opened up the channels of communication when employees were feeling unwell without the fear of repercussions for their job. The need for all of these programs and this open discussion is likely to continue for employees who are transitioning back to the office and those working from home. The most successful organizations and businesses in the post-pandemic economy will be those that not only maintain these great initiatives, but further seek ways to ensure that their employees receive the best support for their mental health and wellbeing, while continuously working together to eliminate the fear of asking for help or talking about mental health.
Embracing change as a force for good
The long-term impact of the pandemic on our mental health and wellbeing is highly unpredictable. Some experts have cautioned that the return to the “new normal” might bring mental health issues to the surface that we are not yet aware of. For businesses and organizations around the world, this means preparing to support their workforce as best as possible and embracing the inevitable changes to our working models as a force for good.
For businesses, these changes can also be a chance to restructure, refocus, and rebuild. It can also mean the start of new business ventures, growth and expansion, and transformations. As an interim management recruitment firm, we have seen a significant demand for interim executives to help guide companies through the post-pandemic transition, return to work policies and mental health policies and accommodations. This comes as no surprise to us. Unlike others, interim executives are used to the so-called VUCA (acronym: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) world of working, and are able to step into unknown situations at short notice, helping businesses achieve their goals by providing unbiased management of an area of the client’s choosing.
Regardless of who is responsible for creating and implementing these policies and changes, It is critical that companies realize that the most effective and successful employee going forward, will be the one that feels satisfied at their place of work, supported by their management, and trusted to perform their duties without the need for micromanagement and control. By implementing flexible working policies and maintaining mental health and wellbeing infrastructures created during the pandemic, businesses and organizations can eliminate the threat of mass resignations and unwell employees, while achieving phenomenal business results. Companies will see positive impacts on company culture because they will be demonstrating that they care about their associates as people, not just as employees.
If you would like to talk about anything mentioned in this article, or learn more about interim management, please feel free to contact Lori Rubin.