“And many happy returns”

By Nili Goldfein and Lior Bitton

In 2020, a McKinsey report demonstrated how a “don’t ask don’t tell” workplace culture can trigger various manifestations of Behavioral Health — a term used to describe how daily cognitive habits affect our overall well-being, emotions, biology, and behavior. According to the report, these effects — including various addictions such as substance abuse — may result in direct financial losses due to excessive health insurance costs, high turnover rates, low productivity and more. In other words, investing in workplace wellbeing isn’t just a moral responsibility: it’s crucial for business. It’s high time we address these issues and replace the outdated “don’t ask don’t tell” with a “do ask, do tell, and let’s talk” approach.

Two years later, as we’re all heading back to the office, McKinsey’s report seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy, as we realize that heading back doesn’t mean returning to what was. Remote work has broken the boundaries between home and work beyond repair and has completely changed our approach to mental health. It can no longer be simply divided into healthy or ill; It’s a complex spectrum that can affect each one of us, at any given time.

Consequently, employees’ expectations regarding the responsibility for their mental health have shifted as well. Research shows that before the pandemic 60% of employees believed that dealing with their personal mental health challenges is their sole responsibility, yet by June 2021, 62% stated that they believe that their workplace should share that responsibility as well.

“There’s no place like [work from] home”

In the past two years, especially during quarantine periods, we’ve all experienced some extent of emotional damage in face of the blur of boundaries between work and home. No wonder: according to Microsoft, during the pandemic virtual meetings more than doubled, work on Slack sky-rocketed by 62% and after-hour emails increased by 10%. Parents, especially in management positions but not only, were torn between their commitment to work and family obligations and constantly zigzagged between the two without coming up for air, while single employees also suffered from work-related stress and loneliness.

Excessive zoom fatigue, exhaustion, emotional stress and burnout took their toll on performance and began to trigger turnover, which later developed into the Great Attrition of all times. Fed up and emotionally drenched by going to work unnoticed, unrecognized, or unappreciated, employees are no longer willing to compromise their mental health, no matter how impressive their title or salary. They will go at length to find a workplace that along with tending to their professional and materialistic needs, will treat them with compassion, and tend to their wellbeing.

Creating happy [and healthy] returns

Today, business leaders who wish to retain and recruit great talent should recognize Mental Health as a priority that affects all stakeholders: employees, managers, customers, vendors, business partners, and local and global communities. The following tips may help you get a head’s start in creating a happy and healthy workplace:

Prioritize your mid-level managers: Based on our excessive work with versatile organizations, we have learned that the major mental health casualties can be found in mid-level managers. This is because mid- managers are constantly juggling between their personal workload, their team members and their responsibility to set an example of proper conduct, especially in times of crisis. If unaddressed, this juggle can backfire: though burned-out mid-level managers are 37% less likely than other employees to take a personal day, they are threefold likely to be engaged in excessive job searching.
Strengthening resilience in mid-level managers is not only crucial for their individual wellbeing: it may also be key to strengthening the organization at whole. Offering professional training in mental-health related issues will support them with confidence and skills to detect, reach out and attend to employees in emotional distress, while building team resilience in the process.

Be vulnerable leaders: One of the positive outcomes of the global pandemic is a shift in the way business leaders approach vulnerability. CEOs of huge companies, banks, and foundations have already begun to talk openly about their own mental experiences and promote an atmosphere of tolerance toward other people’s feelings and emotional coping. Managers who were open about themselves have been a key factor in inspiring their people and enhancing an open, compassionate, and accepting work culture.

Re-boot your balance: Create new work processes and regulations tailored to the changing reality and needs of today’s multiple work modes (remote, onsite and hybrid). Keep in mind that these programs should be both flexible and orderly. While flexibility should be applied in defining work hours and physical settings, they should be supported by clear and definitive boundaries to create a sustainable work-life balance and avoid mental overload.

Build a comprehensive support system: When creating a support system for your people, it’s important to bear in mind two guiding principles. First, it’s not aimed solely to close work-related gaps: it’s designed to address all forms of mental distress, on professional and personal levels. Second, one size doesn’t fit all. Start by a assessing the different needs of each target group, such as employees, their parents, their children, women on maternity leave, physically ill or disabled, juniors, mid-level and senior executives, and build tailored solutions for each.

Be sensitive: A good organizational support system does not only offer free therapy sessions: it offers genuine attention and care. Support your people by checking in with frequent, informal one-on-one chats. Ask them how they really are, take time to find out what they need and encourage them to invest in their wellbeing proactively. Remember the “do ask, do tell, and let’s talk” approach; make them feel comfortable to share their feelings, ask for help and agree to receive it.

Nili Goldfein — EVP Marketing & Business Development at NGG Global Consulting Solutions, an expert in Leadership and Management in a World of Disruption.

Lior Bitton — Licensed clinical psychologist, Co-Founder and CEO at totalk2.com.

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