How the Response to Employee Wellbeing has Changed - Key learnings from the pandemic

Since the pandemic began, remote work has changed the way company culture and employee mental health is addressed. Nearly 89% of employees last year said they experienced workplace burnout. Even though remote work has cut down on commute times, it has not increased worker wellbeing.

70% of workers said they would quit their jobs if another employer offered better policies around burnout.

The way we think about wellbeing at work has dramatically shifted, rapidly becoming a priority, not only for People Experience teams but also company leadership and management.  

To address this growing issue, we spoke to People leaders Jeff Waldman (CEO @ ScaleHR) and Sachi Kittur (VP People Strategy @ StickerYou) as well as wellbeing experts Dr. Jonas Eyford (CEO @ Recharge Wellness) and our very own CG Chen (CEO @ mello) to identify major trends and key learnings they’ve observed during the pandemic. Here’s what they found:

1. Cyclical Burnout has Become Constant Burnout

When asking our panelist Sachi what trends she has seen in employee wellbeing as a people leader the first thing she mentioned was that although burnout is not a new phenomenon, it has shifted in the last 18 months from being cyclical to constant. Cyclical burnout comes in waves depending on factors such as time of year and workload. However, since the pandemic hit, and there was a major shift in how people worked, burnout has been a constant battle for everyone including leadership and management.  

Supporting employees that faced burnout was something people teams could identify and triage as it occurred, but with new work environments, the shift to prevent and mitigate burnout has to happen at a cultural level. Sachi shared how leaders from across her team at StickerYou have consciously identified what their team's capacity is, and shifted timelines on things like companywide KPI reviews, giving  employees' space to focus on their wellbeing. These cultural decisions are more likely to occur when leadership is listening to their teams and creating continuous feedback loops to identify early signs of burnout (learn more on how mello can automate this process)

2. Diverse Demographics Experience Burnout Differently

Another trend highlighted by mello CEO and panelist CG was that burnout effects different types of employees in unique ways. CG gave the example of someone who is in a female person of colour in a senior position, a caregiver, and managing more than 5 people, you are nearly 2X more likely to burnout that your male counterpart.

3.There is a Changing Narrative from Work-Life Balance to Work-Life Engagement

Creating environments that allow for healthy work-life balances has been crucial to companies and people teams when thinking about talent retention and wellbeing. Along with this, people leaders also focus on employee engagement, or the emotional connection an employee has to their organization and its goals. The lines between work and life, however, have become increasingly blurred during our shift to remote and hybrid work environments, subsequently leading to high disengagement and declining wellbeing. To break this cycle of poor employee experiences, our Advisor and panelists Jeff, suggested we look at a concept called work-life engagement.  

Work-life engagement refers to the idea that if people are engaged in their lives, they are more likely to be engaged at work. So if people are healthy and well outside of work, that will translate into their workplace behaviors. To support your employees in bettering their work-life engagement, people teams can focus on assessing their EAPs regularly to address the changing wellness needs of their team, as well as giving time back to employees as much as possible (as in Sachi’s earlier example) so they have time to create healthy lifestyle changes. The steady shift in narrative from work-life balance to work-life engagement at a cultural level is one all 4 panelists observed.

4.There is a Noticeable Uptick in Leadership Caring about Wellbeing... but Being Uncertain of Where to Invest

Along with a shift in narrative towards work-life engagement, our panelist Jonas also highlighted the uptick in companies putting effort towards improving the wellbeing of their teams. He mentioned that as burnout has become a crisis in most organizations it has become impossible to ignore. Jonas recognized that although it has come with the cost of suffering through the pandemic the willingness of leadership to acknowledge and invest in wellbeing has increased at a noticeable rate.  

Jeff re-iterated this point from his own experience sharing how at the start of his career, people were expected to keep their emotions and vulnerabilities outside of the workplace but now we see the importance and destigmatizing of mental health across industries. CG expanded further on this point by sharing that most companies in her team’s research have nearly doubled their spending on mental health resources. She also noticed that, because burnout is such a complex issue and many companies are dealing with it on a constant basis for the first time, leaders are trying a large variety of solutions with a less clear picture on which solutions actually work. CG later demonstrated mello’s “nudge” feature, which helps companies assess and identify which EAPs and solutions are most used by their teams. (try this feature for free here).

The most highlighted learning in the discussion was the increased importance of feedback oriented and dynamic employee wellbeing strategies. A company's ability to measure, assess, and action on burnout makes them more competitive in the market, especially as we are seeing a rising rate of turnover. You can watch the full panel discussion here to hear more about the solutions for employee wellbeing in hybrid and remote workplaces.

CG Chen
October 22, 2021
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