Over the last 18 months, research by meQuilibrium, a digital employee-resilience platform, has tracked how employees have been feeling during a period that included changes in nearly every area of their lives.
From December 2019 to June 2020, motivation declined by 28 percent and stress levels rose 23 percent, while from June 2020 to December 2020, there was a 52 percent surge in anxiety and a 28 percent increase in frustration.
Now that some companies are reinstituting in-person work or a hybrid home/remote approach, the levels of stress are rising again, says Andrew Shatté, chief knowledge officer and co-founder of meQuilibrium.
“We knew that there were issues out there that have only become exacerbated from June 2020 to December 2020,” he said. “The interesting thing is that it hasn’t been a one-size-fits-all when it comes to how people have responded emotionally.”
The research found that employees who want to return to worksites are likely to have their stress under control. Those who are more reticent show signs of depression, anxiety or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These hesitant-to-return workers are likely to have less emotional control, more sleep problems and other behavioral issues dragging them down, it discovered.
In the conversation below, Shatté discusses how organizational leaders can help workers and the company culture strengthen resilience in the face of more change as the workplace evolves moving forward. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Remote Report: Why have mental health and wellness become topics of conversation in the C-suite during the pandemic?
Andrew Shatté: For the first time really in organizational history, we have folks in the C-suite talking about mental illness, mental health, health and well-being and resilience. [Now] we need to think about how do we equip people with the essential skills of individual resilience, such as the ability to stay calm, stay focused, do good problem-solving, learn from previous experience, be realistically optimistic, have empathy, share with others and boost others and have that growth mindset. Those are fundamental things.
We also need to be building resilience in teams. We need to make sure that teams promote equity. That when it comes to the operation of a team, all voices are heard. That people understand their contribution, not just to the team, but to the organization.
RR: What role will managers play?
AS: The CDC has said that as many as 33 percent of people may be meeting criteria for clinical anxiety right now, when the base is more like 5 to 10 percent. And there’s been a spike in cases of clinical depression and clinical anxiety and burnout, but the levels of increase have not been matched by [Employee Assistance Plan] utilization. So we know that there are a lot of people out there who are not getting help.
During the pandemic, when many, if not most, organizations moved to the remote workplace, suddenly first-level managers were cast in a whole new light, because the highest level of management was having day-to-day contact with people back in their homes. Organizations that led the way on these sorts of things, in a progressive sense, realized that [they needed to outfit] managers to check in with their people and observe signs and symptoms that someone might be having a problem, and connect those people with help.
The bigger the gap between what is practiced and what is preached, the less resilient that culture is.
As we return to the workplace, we need to take some of the burden off these first-level managers … and say, look, this is everybody’s concern.
We all have a responsibility to really destigmatize mental illness and mental health within our organizations, to make sure that people try to create a culture where being sad or depressed or anxious … is seen as no more of a stigma than having a physical malady that’s keeping you away from work.
RR: How can this focus be incorporated into the company culture?
AS: We know that resilient people do better, no matter what kind of environment you put them in, than non-resilient people. But we also know that everybody does better whether they’re resilient or not if we put them in a system that is fair, diverse, equitable and inclusive.
It’s not just ‘who do we hire?’ It has to be, are we equitable, diverse and inclusive when it comes to promoting, when it comes to establishing a team leader, the order in which people speak and making sure that all voices are heard?
We believe that when it comes to the level of an organizational culture of resilience, there needs to be a system of fairness, equity, transparency and open communication. We need to have really good mentoring so that people are being nurtured and developed. We need to have a very clear set of organizational values and not just the values that you see on the website or that have been preached, but the values that have been practiced. The bigger the gap between what is practiced and what is preached, the less resilient that culture is.
We need to have that culture of positivity. In addition, we do need to be a culture in which we are helping people see that contribution in a sense of meaning, mission and purpose. As we go back to the workplace, these are evergreen things. This is not a pandemic-recovery thing. They become the critical pathway as we’re moving back to the workplace. Organizations will either be on the right side of history or the wrong side.