Updated: Jan 4, 2021
The Future of Work and sustainable good businesses depend on our answer, believe it or not.
Almost a year after a global pandemic turned many homes into makeshift offices, it seems like a natural, must-ask question, especially within teams and organizations.
It's not that I have no clue. Talking with my clients tell me plenty. The barrage of articles on mental wellness out there hint at a lot more. Personally? I was teetering along mental fatigue even when I was trying to count my blessings.
The year-end holiday was a welcomed respite and news of COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out give some hope. But the situation remains uncertain and challenging on many fronts. Establishments and organizations everywhere have done their part in implementing safety policies and sanitation measures, adapting wherever they can. Many have also invested in equipping their people to work remotely. Some others have gone an extra mile to encourage "virtual bonding" or innovating on ways to support WFH (work from home) productivity.
However, very few are asking the hard questions about the softer aspects of collective wellbeing at a systemic or organizational level.
When Individual Wellbeing Becomes a Systemic Responsibility
If you manage people and teams, directly or indirectly, you have probably noticed how they have struggled in work, interactions and collaboration. In various surveys published (from McKinsey to Gallup and IFOP, etc.), 4 to 8 out of 10 people said the crisis had affected them in one way or another. Daily work hours have considerably been longer across the white collar rank and file, and it's particularly alarming for managers of dispersed teams.
However, most people put on a brave front and try not to think about what ails. Understandable, all things considered. We do what we can to summon needed energy and get on with life because building self-resilience is how we survive.
Trouble is unconscious and unfettered mental stress has systemic impact when it feeds or is influenced by unhealthy groupthink and unconducive management practices. Even before the COVID pandemic, worldwide studies had registered a decline in people's engagement at work. Only 15% of employees on average reported being motivated. Asia and Europe fared more than three times worse than the US at 6% and 10% respectively.
With imposed WFH (work from home) under a cloud of intense uncertainty and health risk, mental stress has only been amplified. Caring that people across organizational hierarchies can thrive and not just survive, should be impetus enough to ask that question and mean it.
Kindness But Also Good Business Sense
If that's not enough, organizations and management should be reminded that there are undeniable economic repercussions behind declining employee wellbeing. Operational and business risks will increase while performance and productivity suffer. Mental stress is increasingly a major cause of workplace absenteeism. The WHO estimated a global economic cost of $1 trillion in productivity losses due to anxiety and depression.
Addressing it before we reach a tipping point of no return, as individuals, decision-makers, people managers, team leaders or organizational leadership, just makes good business sense. It also mitigates unnecessary risks, not to mention spreading simple kindness as a professional community.
So, seriously, how are you doing?
(Please take this short survey if you care to share and help build wider understanding.)
I created the survey because I believe we can learn by sharing our mental state during this time, particularly for people managers who are likely to be the hardest hit. Your anonymous feedback will complement the employee wellbeing survey I'm conducting with organizations to raise collective awareness (if you're interested to do this for your department or company, find out more here).
The idea is to use that understanding to help us reset and re-design how we can collectively work to thrive, rather than be submerged alone in constant strife.
Let's Reset the Future of Work
For many reasons as stated, and also because for many who have experienced WFH for the first time, there's no going back to how things were before. In spite of everything, some form of remote work arrangement will likely take hold, with more strategic thought to conserving physical social connections and collaboration that have become preciously irreplaceable. All the same, I believe the dream we want is loftier, going beyond hybrid workplace arrangements.
About 80% of respondents to an IFOP survey said employee wellbeing is now a key competitive stake for employers, and rightfully so. The work landscape urgently requires a reset from 20th century mechanical and industrial designs and the culture of management-by-presence.
It has been said that “every problem is an opportunity in disguise”. Perhaps it’s time to put on our thinking caps to identify those “opportunities” for re-inventing a different organization — one founded on people’s wellbeing.
What we want and need are organizations with systems that consider these elements to be a strategic core in living the value of "people first". It will be a tectonic shift and management practices will need to slowly inculcate a cultural transition of values that revives genuine care and builds trust. A sustainable Future of Work will be less about machines and more about being creatively human in a healthy, thinking and thriving society.
This starts with getting comfortable asking and answering the harder "touchy-feely" questions of how we feel individually and collectively with others at the workplace. So for you, and for us collectively, do tell. Use the survey or talk to me confidentially.
Covid-19 and the employee experience: how leaders can seize the moment by J. Emmet, G. Schrah, M. Shrimper and A. Wood; McKinsey and Company.