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COVID-19 has been more than just a deadly virus spread around the world. It has radically shifted our everyday lives and social norms causing a silent, dangerous affliction that will have lasting impacts way beyond the pandemic itself. Mental health has been a growing concern before 2020 that has now been amplified. No one is immune to mental health issues and according to Deloitte, we are all at risk of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, businesses have become the only trusted institution seen as both competent and ethical, so how can they leverage this critical position to help employees understand and cope with mental health issues?
When we look at it from a business standpoint, the pandemic has highlighted the role organizations play in their employees’ emotional health. To put it simply; when employees suffer, corporations lose money. With prolonged restrictions and forced work/education from home arrangements, lines have become blurred and burnout, stress, and anxiety are on the rise with women being disproportionately affected.
A new study has shown that pre-pandemic, men were doing 33 hours of caregiving per week, compared to 46 hours during the pandemic. As for women, they were reporting an average of 68 hours per week pre-pandemic, a number which has jumped to 95. Women with children are constantly juggling the pressure of being the best mother and the best employee. This pressure increases distress amongst working women, triggered by feelings of guilt and failure. To put it simply, women are emotionally and physically exhausted.
What does this mean for organizations? We are currently at risk of losing all the progress we have made in women’s advancement in the workplace. A new study has shown regression of gender diversity in leadership roles and the workplace in general. In the US, 25% of women were thinking of leaving their job or downsizing their responsibilities. A similar study has been conducted in Canada that suggests, “in a matter of weeks during the spring, COVID-19 rolled back the clock on three decades of advances in women’s labour-force participation, setting Canada’s economy up for a slower recovery than might otherwise be the case.”
Individuals: Mental load is caused by anxiety, guilt, and emotional exhaustion. A well-known strategy for dealing with stress is to remind yourself to focus only on things you can control. Tammy Heermann cautions not to confuse this with being controlling which exacerbates the problem you are trying to fix. She suggests that you pick three precise things on which you can expect yourself to be a 10/10. Otherwise, you must change your mindset and set your expectations around 6/10. Another strategy is to practice self-compassion. Self-compassion will have better results on your mental health than exercise and taking some “me-time”.
Organizations: To stop the regression, organizations and societies need to change their belief systems and the narrative they share. Take this real-life example: In two separate meetings, an employee has witnessed two very different scenarios from their coworkers. In one, a woman was feeling guilty about taking two hours of her day to home school her children and in another, a man said he had a two-hour break between meetings and that he would take advantage of it to do some exercise, without expressing any shame or guilt. Organizations must remind their employees that these are extraordinary circumstances, and it is okay to take care of your family and personal needs without feeling any guilt or fear of limiting career growth.
Individuals: An important new book called Burnout describes how even when the stressor is gone, the emotion of stress persists and builds up in your body. Individuals need to be mindful of that and find ways to eliminate the emotion with movement, whether it’s yoga, exercise, or simply jumping up and down.
Organizations: Leaders must help their teams prioritize and manage their workload according to everyone’s personal situation. In many jobs, working the standard 9-5 is not necessary. If your employee needs two hours during the day to take care of personal matters but makes up for it in the evening or on another day, that is okay! Demonstrate that you trust them and that their performance is measured on deliverables and output – not time spent at a desk. In addition, encouraging physical activities in the workplace, as a weekly Zoom Yoga group class, is also a good practice.
Individuals: As workers, we need to set boundaries, which shows courage and great leadership for others. We should also be vocal about our accomplishments, share our value and demonstrate impact. Stop relying on powering through to-do lists and start focusing on how you add value, how you share your wins, how you ask for what you need.
Organizations: Organizations need to reward healthy behaviours and promote executive champions. As a society, we need to stop giving value to overworking. Managers need to demonstrate a healthy life balance (e.g. taking your vacation time) and share their vulnerabilities in order to set an example. Leaders need to create a climate of psychological safety and not penalize someone who is dealing with mental health matters.
Individuals: Most people are working from home, so take advantage of the level playing field! Networking, positioning yourself across the organization, showcasing your brand and managing your career is as important as ever!
Organizations: Organizations have a greater role to play. Women and minorities cannot achieve change by themselves. Organizations must participate in the conversation by changing policies, cultures, and values.
This blog is the summary of the below-recorded webinar: