“Before and throughout the global pandemic our studies with thousands of workers have repeatedly found that their biggest struggle was caring for their mental health,” explained psychologist Danielle Jacobs of The Wellbeing Lab. “But when we gathered data in May, it was the first time we’d seen ‘dealing with people’ shoot to the top of workplace wellbeing challenges for 39.1% of workers, followed by mental health for 28.8%.”
Why has dealing with people suddenly become so difficult for workers?
“After months of working from home it’s understandable that our social skills are probably a little rusty,” said Danielle. “However, more concerning for our relationships and general wellbeing as we head back to work is that while workers reported a significant surge in resilience (53.1% reported they were living well, despite struggles up from 42.1% in August 2020) they are also experiencing considerable levels of fatigue.”
“It’s understandable that after having to demonstrate their resilience over and over again during the global pandemic, workers are exhausted,” acknowledged Danielle. “The data suggests that if workplaces want to hold onto the performance benefits that come with this resilience, leaders need to be prioritizing safe spaces for workers to rest, recover and reconnect as they head back to the office.”
“This sounds simple enough, but unfortunately, workers also reported a significant decline in their levels of trust for managers to make sensible decisions about their futures (down from an average of 6.4 in August 2020 to 5.3 in May 2021),” cautioned Danielle. “In addition, even though bosses are generally the best people to reach out to when workers are struggling with their wellbeing, fewer and fewer workers were seeking them out, preferring instead to talk to their friends and family when they need help.”
What can workplaces do to make dealing with people easier as workers head back to the office?
The Wellbeing Lab suggests the following approaches:
- Prioritize Space For Rest & Recovery – We’ve all found dealing with people challenging when we’re feeling exhausted. Acknowledge that your workers have demonstrated incredible resilience in the face of ongoing uncertainty and disruption over the past year and encourage them to create spaces for rest and recovery wherever their work allows. It might be a bonus long weekend, scaling back the number of meetings or projects, encouraging people to take their lunch breaks, or simply letting workers know that they have the permission to work with their bosses and find spaces for rest and recovery that suit them and their teams.
- Help Leaders To Express Care & Compassion – Leaders have a significant impact on their people’s levels of wellbeing. Our research has found that when leaders express care, compassion and appreciation often – as opposed to sometimes or rarely – both wellbeing and performance outcomes improve for the leader and their team members. Fortunately, with a little thought these behaviors can be integrated into the existing role modelling, routines and rituals leaders already prioritize each day.
- Make It Safe To Talk About Struggle – Wellbeing comprises moments of both thriving and struggle. Struggle is not a sign that we are broken, it is an opportunity for learning and growth when we have the knowledge, tools and support to help us navigate these moments. Workers need psychologically safe spaces to talk honestly about their wellbeing and what’s working well, where they are struggling, and what they are learning about caring for their wellbeing in order to sustain their levels of resilience.
The full report which was conducted by The Wellbeing Lab in partnership with the Australian HR Institute and Dr. Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne’s Centre For Wellbeing can be downloaded at: thewellbeinglab.com/australian_report2021