Now that the pandemic is mostly a phenomenon of the past, we’re back in the office full-time doing the 9-5 grind and a lot of us are asking ourselves “how the hell were we able to do this before?” The commute, the hours, the in-person meetings… things that we were able to do routinely pre-COVID now feel like we’re climbing Mount Everest and we only just got to Basecamp 1.
As the saying goes, hindsight is 2020, and we’re only realizing now how draining the pandemic really was on our wellness. In an April 2020 survey, nearly half of Americans reported that the pandemic was harmful to their mental health, with rises in social isolation (75%), anxiety (57%), stress (67%) and emotional exhaustion (53%). In another survey, more than 70 percent of workers described the pandemic as the most stressful time in their careers. That was over a year ago. It’s been over a year of that. No wonder we’re having a hard time returning to work. We’re emotionally exhausted.
Pre-COVID, emotional wellness wasn’t exactly a top priority for a lot of companies, despite the fact that the workplace is often our main source of stress. Typically, one in four Americans say work is a source of anxiety. Given the year we just had, ignoring the emotional wellness of your employees now not only puts their wellbeing at risk, but puts your business at risk as well.
Companies and their staff are in an unprecedented position, and it’s up to everyone to take unprecedented action. It’s up to both the employee and the employer to navigate how to reach emotional wellness in the workplace, and there are a number of skills that can pave that path.
Sometimes, things don’t turn out the way we expect them to, and we’re sure we’re not the only ones who sometimes take these failures personally. When this happens at work, it’s important to interpret failures as learning opportunities and move on. If we don’t, especially if we’ve given 110%, it’s easy to fall into a defeatist attitude that will surely decrease our future work ethic. Employers should frame every failure as an opportunity to improve. Equipping employees with resilience in the face of adversity will imbue them with skills to find the positive in the negative, and in turn, will make something from what seemingly felt like nothing.
Break > Burnout
Even in the most positive and supportive workplaces, stress is inevitable, but many of us have a hard time handling it. We can get overwhelmed, and if we don’t find relief, we can easily get burnt out. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to not do anything at all. Some employees and employers perceive taking a break equals not doing your job. But sometimes you need to step away from something to figure out the next step – and that’s okay. Both employees and employers need to recognize that resting means rebooting. Employers should teach employees effective ways for dealing with everyday stress, like taking regular breaks, going for walks, meditating, etc. Any one of these strategies can help employees calm down and get creative. When her students had writer’s block, the late Toni Morrison advised “it’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.” That applies to our jobs as well. Employers and employees need to recognize when we need to say when, and when we do that, we’ll be better off.
Personal Precedes Production
Emotional and mental wellness is often overlooked simply because you literally can’t see it, and neither can anyone else. But the truth is we all have our sh*t, and sometimes we can be reluctant to share our personal struggles with our bosses out of fear they’ll see us as weak, unreliable, or unstable. Oftentimes this can lead us to disengage from our work and our communication with our colleagues and managers. So what appears to be a performance issue in a supervisor’s eyes is actually a personal issue in disguise. Employees need to feel like they can be open with their management, and management needs to promote a company culture that encourages openness, and by extension, acceptance. On top of that, employers have a responsibility to check in with their employees, especially now. To prevent disengagement, employers need to do the opposite: engage. Check in with your team on a daily or weekly basis. Flex those empathy muscles so your staff knows they can be honest. Check in so they don’t check out.
Employee wellness should’ve always been a top priority, and if it wasn’t before, there is no better time than the unprecedented present to weave it into your workplace.