We learned in recent employee research that employees are stressed and seeking balance. As a result of the public health emergency, employees say they are more aware of the holistic support they require to feel cared for and be successful at work. A vast majority (75%) of respondents are increasingly aware of their emotional health, yet only 44% of employers provide mental health coverage.
Only 4 in 10 study participants said that their company cares about their wellbeing and wellness. Less than twenty percent of companies make mitigating employee stress a priority or offer any specific stress-reduction perks or benefits.
Managers Can Support Employee Mental Health, Even If the Company Is Slow to Do So
Managers are the main influencers of team culture. In addition to managing people in delivering the functional mandate of the team, managers have the greatest external impact on employee attitudes, outlook, and behavior. And this includes helping to support stressed out employees – even if the company has been slow to adopt policies that protect work/life balance.
7 Things Managers Start Doing Today to Alleviate Employee Stress
Here is some practical advice on how managers can change their mindset about employee emotional wellness and small changes they can make in managing their team:
You Can’t Unknow What You Now Know
Three fourths of employees say that the pandemic has made them more aware of their work/life balance. Managers have told us that the pandemic has opened their eyes to the pressures and responsibilities their teams are juggling at home in addition to work. “Now that I know what is going on at home, I am more sensitive to what about, when, and how I push my team,” said one CMO, “I have a newfound respect for some of my team now knowing all they manage.” This is an opportunity to develop a managerial superpower: empathetic, thoughtful, considerate leadership.
Foster a Flexible Team Culture
Only 1/3 of employees said their employer is good at setting and honoring boundaries between work and personal life. Managers can lead by example by establishing and sticking to hard start/stop work hours for their team, when everyone must to be available for meetings, along with rules around when phone calls and emails can be made (and responsiveness). Managers can also be open to establishing those parameters based on individual team member needs, to accommodate caregivers of children or other family members, for example.
Create a Safe Space for Active Listening and Supportive Responding
Admitting that one is feeling vulnerable when it comes to mental wellness can be intimidating. While finally waning, there is still a stigma around mental health issues. A manager can signal that they have created a safe space by speaking openly about their own emotional wellness. They can also practice their listening skills and hear how employees’ struggles, finding solutions together to alleviate the negative workplace impact on mental health. Identifying helpful, free or low-cost resources and giving people the time they need to work on their mental health stressors are just a few things managers can do.
Less Face Time is a Good Thing
Zoom fatigue is real. And while ‘seeing’ each other is an important aspect of connection, managers should consider if every meeting requires a face-to-face interaction. Will a phone call suffice? Or as the joke goes, could the meeting be an email? What about establishing Pajama Fridays – no meetings outside of the team on that day, and everyone shows up in their cozies. Get creative about alleviating the ‘always on’ pressure.
Back to Reality Anxiety
In another recent research study we conducted, only 3 in 10 employees said they are comfortable returning to the physical workplace. It doesn’t take a scientific poll to know that most of us have some anxiety about what ‘going to work’ will mean post-pandemic and our heightened awareness of staying healthy in shared spaces. Even though managers may not be able to influence the company decisions about the post-crisis workplace, they can foster a team culture of open communication and be transparent about what they know about the company’s plans.
Advocating for Support
Managers are responsible for their team’s productivity. And they are also responsible for advocating for their needs to company leadership. Managers should share what they’re learning (maintaining employee privacy, of course) about what’s trending when it comes to employee stress and the missing support needed (in terms of policies, programs, and employee benefits).
Be a Checked-Out Example
In our research, the vast majority of employees reported having used less time off in the past year than ever before. In fact, 65% say that their company has not encouraged them to take the time needed to rest, recover, and recharge as needed. This is a time when managers must become adamant about employees using their time off – stress and overwork has a direct impact on productivity and at-work engagement. “In this last year, I realized that I need to be vocal about my own need to rest, and using my vacation time,” said a CMO in a recent webinar we hosted, “Even when an employee pushes back and says they have no where to go for a holiday because of travel restrictions, or that they have deadlines, it’s my responsibility to insist they take the time and prioritize what’s on their plate. None of us are superhuman and checking out is critical.” Managers can set the example by taking their time off, completely unplugging while doing so, and sharing how this self-care helped their state of mind. Being a work martyr helps no one.
With leadership comes great responsibility. Managers can use their influence for the good by implementing just some of these ideas to support employee mental health. To learn more about employee attitudes and behavior insights from our recent studies, click here.