Balancing Productivity, Mental HealthBy Miriam Bello | Wed, 10/13/2021 - 16:26
Mental health had been increasingly recognized as a critical success factor for companies and the pandemic only highlighted its relevance in the workplace. The complete overhaul of work modalities is forcing companies to revolutionize their approach to employee mental health.
“To date, companies are finding themselves in a new era in which both collaborators and employers have different expectations,” says Alma Rosa Puig, CEO of Great Place to Work.
While all jobs require a diverse and often specialized set of skills, in recent years companies have been paying increasing attention to "soft skills" derived from emotional intelligence. In 2020, working from home was only available at less than 19 percent of companies, which only offered it on an occasional basis. “In organizations, leaders failed to thrust employees,” said Puig.
Working from home was one of the largest shifts during the pandemic and, while cases dwindle, companies continue feeling its effects. In the new era, employees proved they could be productive regardless of the setting. In October 2020, 40 percent of organizations in Mexico had reported an increase in labor efficiency while labor productivity increased by 28 percent, according to Puig. “As a result, today over 64 percent of employees work more flexible hours.”
However, the pandemic severely impacted employee mental health in different ways. “Employees may be working relentlessly amid economic uncertainty with few social outlets, and possibly juggling childcare to boot, eviscerating any separation between work and the rest of their life,” said the American Physiological Association.
By May 2021, only 18 percent of organizations in Mexico reported increases in efficiency. “Employees had already reached an efficiency peak and no attempt was made to find new channels of efficiency,” explained Puig. Work stress in Mexico increased after a year of pandemic by 8.1 percent because the working day increased by an average of 2.5 hours, adding other fears such as potential unemployment. Also, over 56 percent of employees in Mexico reported burn out due to the confinement and intra-family violence, which affected their performance. “To date, one in four people have mental health problems, 75 percent of employees feel socially isolated and anxiety levels have increased by 57 percent,” exposes Puig.
The UN, PAHO and ILO responded to this rapid working shift and its impact on mental health with the paper “Managing Work-Related Psychosocial Risks During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” It explains that for employees to feel and be fully present at work, their working conditions must guarantee a good environment and work team and a balance workload and schedule. Their job environment should also be free of violence and harassment, offer a balance between work and personal life, provide job security and provide communication, information and training. The report highlights that social and psychological support are fundamental for employees.
Lacking these spaces “would damage the company,” said Puig. She explained that Good Place to Work communicates that “good mental health allows one to be more productive.” The emotions that paralyze the brain the most are uncertainty, anxiety and fear, which have been among most common feelings during the pandemic, according to the CDC. In comparison, happy employees increase their productivity at work by 13 percent, explains Puig. Moreover, according to WHO, every US$1 invested in prevention programs generate US$4 return. “The organization's contribution to mental health strengthens the employee's commitment,” said Puig.
Good Pace to Work has identified that employees are now demanding technical and human skills. “There is also a demand for more transparency in organizations to reduce and avoid social tension,” said Puig. Employees demand greater flexibility and work autonomy, which is one of the most fundamental calls to action for companies and will remain in future working conditions. “A stronger focus on the health and physical, mental and emotional well-being of the employee is also one of the most vocal demands,” said Puig.
The new competencies that will make a difference when recruiting are flexibility and the ability to adapt to change quickly. “In the past, we would not see companies worrying about emotional intelligence or focusing on emotional agility and social connection. Now, this is a core competence,” said Puig.
Technology is playing a large role in the redefinition of workspaces. For employees and employees, technology has changed the working modality. Accelerated automation will allow employees to evolve their skills and now a combination of human and AI skills to solve problems is required, Puig explained. “Organizations should seek customized solutions and agile operating models, which can only be obtained through technology.”
Companies are also behind on diversity and inclusion. The pandemic evidenced how women are still taking the biggest share of domestic work. Looking ahead, companies should integrate women on leadership positions, provide more flexibility and offer equal parental leaves for men and women, said Puig. The future calls for a digital wellness environment where collaborators balance work and private life through technology. “This has to be based on trust and the perfect example for this is working from home; tech has propelled it, but is only possible by trusting employees,” said Puig.
Great Place to Work promotes a person-centric model because competencies are changing and companies need talent that learns and applies new skills rapidly. “Organizations will be responsible for designing a workplace that cultivates learning and mental health.”