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Wellbeing at Work

Will our next workplace crisis be mental health – and how can we stop it?

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From zoom fatigue to burnout – workplace mental health issues are alarmingly widespread through global workplaces. Stress takes its toll on workers cognitively and physically and for many employees, the past 18 months have been a series of constant stressors with no promise of when this chronic stress will end. But what do we actually mean when we talk about a work wellbeing ‘crisis’ and why has the pandemic intensified these conversations?

The pandemic has disrupted the world of work globally and even ‘working from home’, while often heralded as a mental health gain, has caused wellbeing issues for some workers. When our home becomes our place of work, how do we switch off? Is the lack of direct contact with co-workers breeding employee burnout? For most workers, 18 months of video calls have exposed the difference between a face-to-face meeting and the crackle of an unstable Zoom connection – despite the perk of optional backgrounds and trousers. As for taking a break when needed, reports show remote work can make asking for a sick day feel as stressful as asking for a promotion.

Managing workplace wellbeing is complex when dealing with a global workforce made up of dispersed employees with varying local benefits and restrictions. When thinking globally, what can we do to turn the tide of employee burnout?

Today we are running through some of the most common pandemic mental health issues and offering suggestions on how to pick your staff back up after a stressful 18 months.

Is your pandemic brain burnt-out?

Prolonged states of uncertainty and stress can negatively affect our health and well-being. A new side-effect of pandemic burn-out is brain fog – orpandemic brain. People experiencing this may feel mental slowing or fatigue, have trouble thinking, or experience cognitive inefficiency. Problem-solving, organising, or paying attention may become more challenging and effortful.

It is well acknowledged that stress can have a serious impact on our mental and physical health. While short and manageable amounts of stress can activate our thinking and action, prolonged low-level stress can seriously stall our cogitative power.

Burn-out is also on the rise and companies around the world are scrambling to stop their staff from falling into a mental state that leaves them overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant everyday demands. Working from home and the lack of interaction with others can also lead toBoreout’. Dubbed the cousin of burnout, ‘Boreout’ occurs when employees are so jaded by their work that it begins to feel completely meaningless – this leads to stress, anxiety, and other health conditions.

The language around workplace mental health has evolved to match the current issues and often half the work of employers revolves around identifying the issues global employees are facing. The steps to fix these issues can then be company mandated or individually encouraged.

Turn it off – and take the battery out.

Switching off is vital to maintaining a healthy work-life balance and looking after our mental health. Technology is often demonised as the root cause of many issues, but the modern-day ease of international communication is something to be celebrated. Managing an international workforce will always require some kind of virtual communication.

However, as we are relatively inexperienced with our everyday technology, we can often abuse them without fully being aware of the side effects.

All employees try to make sure work updates can reach them easily, whether this is via laptop notifications or downloading messaging apps onto phones. The problem is many of these devices stay with us outside of working hours – if you are someone who successfully dismantles all devices at 5 pm every day, congratulations. But if you are haunted by the sound of message notifications into the night, rest assured that you are almost certainly not the only one.

So, do employers need to tell their workers to switch off? LinkedIn editor Emma Hudson poses the question of legislation to keep us offline outside of official work hours. Hudson estimated that homeworking over the past 18 months has stretched workers’ average time spent on the job by more than 48 minutes each day. France, Spain, Italy, Slovakia, and Ireland all have introduced laws or codes of conduct over the past years that make sure that workers have the legal right to disconnect. The European Parliament and Canada are currently considering following their lead.

While enforced hours may be necessary in some cases, some businesses may run their staff and their company guidance differently – especially when flexible hours are incorporated into the company culture. Hard and fast laws are not always the answer and often the same results can be achieved by a strong HR guidance or supportive and open company culture.

Mental health leave: to mandate or not to mandate?

There is an increasing trend of mandating employee mental health breaks. This has been intensified by the wellbeing issues of the last 18 months and the fact that global companies are facing an annual leave backlog due to various restrictions on everyday life and limits on global travel.

Recently, dating app Bumble, announced it was giving all its global employees a paid week off to soothe their ‘collective burnout’. ‘Mental health days’ are becoming more common in the world of work. Tech giant, SAP, was the latest company to give international workers a day off to recharge and combat burnout.

The need for change around workplace mental health is long overdue – but some argue mandated mental health days are not an effective solution. Bernie Wong, in Forbes, points out mental health days are not really a new concept – they have just previously been guised as sick days or ‘personal emergencies’. A study claimed 95% of employees who have taken days off for stress officially named another reason, such as a headache. Less than 30% of employees said they felt comfortable talking to their managers about their mental health, and even less at 25% said they would consider telling HR.

We all know that taking a break is good for us – that it makes us more productive and even boosts our cognitive power. Getting employees to take a break, or ask for one, can often be the hard part for global HR departments. Some experts advise a more holistic approach to mental health, such as creating a culture that supports and incorporates mental health issues at work, encourages employees to take proper time off, and de-stigmatises the issues.

Coming back

A return to the workplace is on the cards for many global employees over the next few months, and with this change comes new stresses and strains. Whether you are trying to lure employees back to the office or letting them work from home on a permanent basis – keeping on top of wellbeing is becoming more and more vital to ensuring a high functioning workforce.

How to go about this will vary depending on employees working locations and considerations of how to create a fair system across the board. A more personalised HR approach may even work better for smaller businesses that have the resources and awareness to consider individual staff members.

Whatever the chosen system of support, recognising the struggles of the past 18 months and untangling the pandemic jargon will go a long way towards getting companies and their international workers back to full speed.

Need help managing your global workforce? Access hiring support that meets your efficiency needs with a human touch – speak to Mauve’s global experts here.