Since our research team in China began working from home at the start of the Chinese New Year, I’ve been using Mentimeter to get a sense of how they and the rest of my team have been feeling.
Mentimeters allow us to get real time feedback and in the early days ‘stress’ and ‘anxious’ loomed large in the center of the word cloud (see visual). More recently the word ‘tired’ seems to be taking center place.
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What struck me most about these surveys is how strong our feelings are right now.
For the last two years I’ve led Accenture’s “It’s not 1 in 4; it’s all of us” research about why mental health touches all of us, so I was familiar with the pervasiveness of the problem. But with the recent pandemic, I thought about how much mental health will matter going forward.
The way leaders react to the emotional needs of their people will be incredibly important, yet none of us have the rule book for what to do. Here are a few insights from our research:
This is a time to show your people that you really care.
In our survey, in companies where employees felt supported, 88 percent described their leaders as being open, warm and human when it comes to employee mental health. In the least supportive companies, only 5 percent said this. Supportive leaders were also 26 times more likely to be visible in supporting employees’ mental health than their peers.
At my home office
Now is the time for leaders to voice their understanding, to acknowledge their own vulnerability as well as their strength. Our survey found that in the most supportive companies, employees with mental health challenges were 58 percent better able to cope at work than those in less supportive environments.
And poor mental health – like COVID-19 – impacts us all.
Across the world, people are waking up each day to find that their choices are increasingly controlled: Where they can be, how often (or even if) they can go outside, which shops they can go to, what quantities of food they can buy, who they can see.
Giving employees working from home – many for the first time and many with children or elders to care for – the freedom and trust to organise their day in a way that works best for them will help them regain a sense of being in control.
As the pandemic evolved and as countries adopted more stringent controls and now begins to relax them again, the effect that all of this has on peoples’ mental wellbeing has evolved as well.
Initially (as our Mentimeter polls showed), there was widespread anxiety, fear, worry over how to juggle childcare and work, and concern about family finances. But as the situation continues to unfold, the potential is very real for these feelings to develop into more serious symptoms of depression among some employees.
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This is a time to show your people that you really care.
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We know that fears over job security and finance have a significant impact on our mental health. Many employees (78 percent of those over 40, and 37 percent of those aged 18-25) received no training on caring for their mental health before starting work. Employers need to address this by sharing information about mental health, how to recognise signs of declining mental health and when an intervention is needed.
In a virtual world, we need to encourage and facilitate more direct, more open conversations to really understand how people are doing.
Provide practical support
In our November study, fewer than half of the employees we surveyed were aware of their organisation offering any support around mental health. That gap needs plugging.
Fortunately, over the past weeks, we’ve seen organisations from local not-for-profits to the World Economic Forum providing information on what people and companies can do to support employees’ mental health.
Reduced to its essentials, three levels of support are needed:
- Guidance on how to work in a healthy way from a virtual office;
- The basics of resilience and how to stay mentally well (the 5 ways to wellness is one model that can be adapted and used for this purpose*) and;
- Direct support through employee assistant programmes if your company can provide them — or, for smaller companies, signposting to local support services and helplines.
Give praise and recognition
All over the world millions of workers are adjusting to working in a new way in a very different reality; but where they possibly can they are working. With one eye on the home-school work, another on a self-isolating parent, in bedrooms and kitchens, in the loneliness of a small apartment or in a crowded space shared by the whole family, they are working.
Recognise, thank and praise the people who are keeping your business running. It’s likely to make a bigger difference than you’ll ever know.
The challenging path forward
After weeks of lockdown I checked in on a team that lived in a city where the restrictions are beginning to lift. I asked them how they felt about the new rules. And back came that word ‘anxious’ to the center of my screen. In that one-word cloud, you could feel the tension between relief and hope and fear.
Returning to life and work in the new normal will not ease our need to take care of our peoples’ mental wellbeing. Indeed, I believe it will make the need for a supportive, open environment around mental health all the more urgent. If we are to help our people navigate this new world and nurture their wellbeing, we must start preparing now.
*Together with Stanford University and Thrive, we have developed training for all employees called “Thriving Mind,” designed to help people understand mental healthcare and resilience.
This document is intended for general informational purposes only and does not take into account the reader’s specific circumstances, and may not reflect the most current developments. Accenture disclaims, to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, any and all liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information in this presentation and for any acts or omissions made based on such information. Accenture does not provide legal, regulatory, audit, or tax advice. Readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel or other licensed professionals.