Five Steps Leaders Can Take to Promote a Culture of Wellbeing at Work

Our new global study, Resetting Normal: Defining a New Era of Work, revealed that exacerbating the problem of burnout is what appears to be an inability of leaders to identify employees who were burned out.

Jessica Conser, Ph.D., SVP, Product & Solutions, LHH
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Worn down. Fed up. Unsure about the future.

The pandemic has taken a huge toll on working people around the world. From fear of contracting COVID-19 to the mixed blessings that come with remote work, the past 18 months have been an unparalleled test of our mental and physical resilience. 

How well are we holding up?

To get a more precise picture of the mental and physical wellbeing of workers and leaders around the world, The Adecco Group commissioned a new global study, Resetting Normal: Defining a New Era of Work.

In early 2021, an online survey reached 14,800 white collar workers between the ages of 18 and 60, spread across 25 countries. The respondents all had desk-based jobs, worked at least 20 hours a week and were required to work remotely during the pandemic.

The survey found that over the previous 12 months, 38 percent of the world’s working people were suffering from burnout and 32 percent said their mental health had declined as a result. 

Exacerbating the problem of burnout is what appears to be an inability of leaders to identify employees who were burned out. More than half (51 percent) of frontline managers – the leaders who have the most contact with non-managerial staff on a day-to-day basis – admitted that they struggled to identify and address issues of burnout and mental wellbeing. 

Obviously, nobody asked for a pandemic. But now that it’s here, it’s incumbent on leaders to adjust to the reality being faced by the people they lead. Fortunately, many of the strategies needed to monitor and manage the mental and physical wellbeing of your employees during a pandemic were already best practices before COVID-19 burst onto the scene.

1/ Emotional intelligence for leaders is more important than ever. Before the pandemic, most experts in the leadership development industry were stressing the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ). In particular, the need for leaders to be aware of the impact they have on others, and empathetic when it comes to listening to and addressing the needs of their people. EQ has never been more important than it is right now. Your people need to know that you understand how difficult it can be right now to stay focused on work. Further, you need to know if there is something in your leadership style, or something in the organisational culture, that is inadvertently triggering burnout or mental health issues.

2/ Remember that remote work often translates into longer hours. Our survey showed that globally, 82 percent of people felt they were as productive or even more productive than before the pandemic. But that boost to productivity comes with a cost: two-thirds of respondents said they were working more than 40 hours a week, a 14 percent increase in this metric from a year earlier. Longer hours may make the bottom line look good, but it can take a tremendous toll on your people and their mental resources. Keep a close watch on those employees who may be extending their work weeks to ensure they are not at risk of burnout.

3/ Meaningful career conversations can also be wellness checks. Leaders have known for some time now that their people want to have regular, meaningful career conversations. If this was a standard practice for you before the pandemic, it’s essential that you continue these conversations and use some of the time for a wellness check. It’s essential right now for leaders to have a more complete picture of the professional and personal burdens carried by their people. Don’t assume you know what’s going on. Instead, take the time to ask. Simple questions like, “With everything that’s been going on, what are doing to take care of yourself?” What can I do to support you better?” “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?” “How can I can help?” Asking these questions can pay enormous dividends down the line. 

4/ Encourage employees to manage workloads to avoid burnout and take time to recharge their batteries. Research about remote work has shown that during the pandemic, many people found it hard to take time off. Vacation is essential to the mental and physical wellbeing of your people. So is limiting the number of video meetings. Research showed that as we became comfortable with video conferencing applications, we packed our days with back-to-back calls. Not taking time off, and not helping your people manage their daily workloads, is a sure recipe for burnout disaster. Keep a close watch on unused vacation time, and institute policies to limit or eliminate video meetings on a certain number of days each month. Just to give your people time to pause and reflect. This can fuel greater creativity and productivity. 

5/ Keep mental and physical wellbeing in mind when you plan for the future of work. Many companies are in the process of planning or implementing back-to-work strategies. For some, it’s back to the office as usual; others are taking a more hybrid approach. Our survey was clear: working people want flexibility going forward, and they want to be consulted about any changes that are going to be made. Imposing a back-to-work plan on burned out employees that fails to take their needs into consideration is only going to make them more stressed and likely lead to attrition. Approach back-to-work with a collaborative engagement strategy: find out when and where your people can be most productive and then forge a path forward together.

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