By Kim Rummler, HR Consultant at KMA
Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of employees continues to be a top priority for employers, and we don’t foresee that subsiding any time soon. Post pandemic, many employees are still feeling burned out; add in growing economic uncertainty with inflation, a possible recession on the horizon, and worries about layoffs, and it’s no surprise that stress is palpable in many workplaces. It’s important to understand the root causes of that stress, and for leaders to do what’s within their power to help alleviate it.
Here are four factors impacting employee wellbeing, and some strategies for addressing them.
A lack of work/life balance
People continue to struggle to balance work and life – especially those who are caregivers at home. Finding quality, affordable childcare or eldercare options is extremely difficult, so the ability to work remotely and flexibly has been a huge help to those with caregiving responsibilities at home. There’s a worry that this flexibility might disappear as we start to hear hardline messages from employers that everyone needs to be back in the office, whether that’s to justify the expense of office space, or whether that comes from a lack of trust that remote workers are in fact working. Flexibility in when and where work gets done will continue to be an urgent need for many employees.
We recommend that employers continue to offer flexibility when possible, and to honor that work/life balance for their employees. If retaining talent is important – and how could it not be? – employees need to feel that they are seen as whole persons with whole lives, and not just as drones. Employers need to show empathy and compassion in understanding employees’ needs, professionally as well as personally.
A lack of communication and transparency
When employees aren’t hearing from leadership what’s happening, rumors and stories will fill the void. This creates an atmosphere of confusion and mistrust that can become toxic. And when employees don’t feel safe that they can speak up, that their concerns or their ideas will be heard and acted upon, they will start to feel disengaged and demotivated at work. All of this translates to more stress and burnout.
We recommend that employers be clear on the direction the company is going, especially when some major transition is in the works. The more employees know about company goals, and progress toward those goals, the more they will be invested in doing what it takes to get there. Set clear expectations for employees and provide reasonable deadlines; a workplace that is hectic all the time is counterproductive. Establish a good process for feedback, and cultivate an open door environment where employees are encouraged to share their feedback and ideas.
A lack of support for time off
If taking time off is functionally more burden than benefit to employees, the long-term impacts include performance issues, poor health outcomes and absenteeism. Some workplaces offer paid time off without creating a support structure that makes it practical, so employees don’t find it’s worth it to take time off because they return to a huge backlog of work. In other cases, taking time off isn’t encouraged or modeled by management, and employees don’t feel comfortable scheduling those much-needed vacations.
Our advice is to offer employees adequate paid time off and to create a culture where taking time off is both supported and encouraged. Employees on vacation should be covered by a co-worker so that they don’t have to catch up on all the work they missed while they were gone. And leadership needs to set that example of taking time to recharge, and communicate the benefits of rest and recovery in being more productive at work, and happier, healthier and less stressed all around.
A lack of meaning and connection at work
With 1.7 times the number of job openings than job seekers, employees continue to have leverage over their employers. Beyond compensation, companies will be competing for talent on the basis of benefits, perks, flexibility and culture. Companies that don’t prioritize employee satisfaction – their sense of belonging and purpose at work – will struggle to retain talent.
You don’t need to run a social club, but there are lots of ways to ensure employees feel like they’re part of something larger at work, where they feel seen and cared for, and where they can connect with co-workers, who may be the people they spend more time with than anyone else. Especially in a hybrid or remote context, setting aside time to connect personally is important for employee wellbeing and team building. Create opportunities to bring people together to socialize, de-stress or exercise together. Yoga, meditation, and counseling services are all examples of perks employees value and demand these days. Employees want to know their employer has their back, and showing that builds loyalty, trust, deeper job satisfaction and a culture of wellbeing.
Kim Rummler is an HR Consultant based in New Hampshire with more than 25 years of experience in employee relations, federal and state compliance, policy development, performance management, recruiting, and compensation management. She has worked in a variety of industries, including defense/government contracting, utilities and banking. Meet Kim.