The events we’ve experienced have changed daily life in countless ways, and they’ve altered each and every workplace. The question is still posed around what will remain and be sustained to leave an improved environment? The way we work, expectations, boundaries, sacrifices, limitations and priorities have all shifted.
The Bloom of Mental Health and Wellbeing Support
One of the most prominent concerns of the past 2 years has been the mental health and wellbeing of the people who constitute our organisations. People are vital to every cog that moves a business forward and not a disposable commodity, they need to be valued as such.
Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental health challenges are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains. - WHO
The prioritisation of employees’ needs must be at the core of a business and employer’s decisions. The benchmark for the incorporation of this into organisational strategy as standard needs to be raised. Deloitte’s Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey indicated a clear focus on wellbeing and mental health. They listed the top four, non-financial business priorities of millennial leaders to be: Ensuring work/life balance - 27%, supporting employees’ physical and mental health - 16%, and supporting people’s development and helping employees be their true selves - both 13%.
According to the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020, employees’ intentions to remain with their employer increase when businesses address employee needs from inclusion and diversity to sustainability and reskilling. Staff retention is only one of the benefits of improving employee wellbeing and company culture and considering 87% of HR experts consider employee retention to be one of the highest priorities in business, (Legal Jobs) this could be considered a significant motive.
‘Engaged teams have lower turnover, 21% greater profitability, and 17% higher productivity than disengaged teams.’ - Gallup
For those more adversely impacted by the effects of the pandemic, for example, women, the risk of increased mental health struggles has been all the more prominent. Increased stress has, of course, been a key driver of mental health issues during the last 2 years, “Roughly half of millennial and Gen Z women said they were stressed all or most of the time.”
The topic of mental health is boundless and intertwined with other areas of concern; the loss of ground on gender equality, the increased struggles thrown to those with disabilities, the stalling in progression for people of colour in the workplace and added complexities for unemployment. Poor mental health is both the cause and the result of issues such as these, and many more, which is why this is an essential issue to address as leaders.
The benefits of supporting employee mental health and wellbeing include:
Engaged & Resilient Employees
Improved Employer Branding & Public Perception
Retaining & Attracting Talent
Making Good on CSR & ESG Commitments
Taking Back Lost Ground: Women
Organisations need to do more to make up the ground that was lost for women in the workplace during the pandemic. The opportunity for equality and awareness of the challenges faced by women in 2022, is an area of investment that should not be compromised.
Not attached in entirety to the pandemic, of course, this issue is age-old and while we’ve seen improvements made here over the years, the disparity between genders in the workplace remains stark. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the pandemic has set gender parity efforts back by a generation or more. The same trend has been recognised annually by McKinsey since 2016 - the rate at which women are promoted to manager is far lower than that of men, making it incredibly difficult for businesses to ‘lay a foundation for sustained progress at more senior levels’.
Change generates change, so we say start now, even if you start small.
Mckinsey also reported that ‘Women are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts’. Could we expect, with more women holding more senior positions, to see more movement for DEI in the future?
Women are however even more burned out now than only one year ago, doubling the gap in burnout between men and women. ‘In the past year, one in three women has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their career’ as the pandemic began, this number was significantly lower, 1 in 4.
Barriers to progression:
- Digital Transformation
“Women disproportionately occupy positions in the workforce that are more vulnerable to job loss due to automation, AI and economic disruption, such as recession,” - Weforum
Provide development opportunities, upskilling and skill diversification to support employees who may be at risk as the future of work develops. Plan ahead to retain skilled staff and add value to their skillset.
- Fewer Women in Leadership positions.
Can we change this status quo? With women making a bigger impact on supporting DEI development and being more likely to be allies to women of colour, continuing to tolerate fewer women in leadership is a real barrier to progression.
- Work/Life Balance
Balancing careers and parenthood or other caregiving responsibilities is not exclusively an issue for women but more than half of women surveyed by Deloitte with children said they handle the majority of childcare, and 79% of those who care for dependents other than children have the greatest responsibility for domestic tasks within their homes. Flexible and remote working opportunities are invaluable here.
Standing on the brink of change, a new age of work, are we able to say what stays and what remains ‘pre-pandemic practice’? Having endeavoured, accepted and embraced new tools, protocols, practices and circumstances, which benefits have been uncovered?
Leadership Changes & Priorities:
Leadership styles have been forced into question during one of the most challenging times in recent history. Priorities and styles have changed, focusing on people, opening some divides between employees and employers to show vulnerability and compassion.
Flexible & Remote Working:
Something which many have argued for for some time now, and something many organisations were already working towards. Remote and flexible working has been forced upon many who were not ready to provide this option, pushing comfort zones and giving centre stage to the benefits it can allow. The flexibility in working hours, patterns and locations has helped those with caregiving responsibilities, (largely women, with an estimated 66% of caregivers being female) or those managing disabilities or chronic illness. It opens up barriers of location meaning more scope for talent and skill acquisition and working around mental health days and selfcare needs is possible.
Health As A Focus
With a new understanding of the importance of health and wellbeing and the value of the workforce, a focus on health and wellbeing is something that you can carry with you into the new age of work.
What changes has your organisation adopted that you will be keeping in 2022 and beyond?