Here's Why Mental Health Will Be a Key Player in the Future of Work

by Teuta Reci

8 min read · Dec 28, 2020

The world of work is rapidly changing. From March 2020 and onward, billions of people have been affected by the devastating pandemic. The whole world went on lockdown, and by the end of April 2020, 1.6 billion workers lived with the fear of losing everything.

Businesses—in an attempt to survive the "apocalypse"—shifted to remote work. Employees—used to the sounds of the coffee machine and keyboard typing sounds—were encouraged to work from their homes. 

This was the "new normal," and everyone had to adapt to it in order to survive. 

But in addition to a change in our working environment, people have also experienced a change in their well-being.

Even before the pandemic, people's mental health was already cracking.

Around 60% of 18 to 34 year-olds in the UK said they often feel lonely. In the US, 46% of the entire population feels lonely regularly. 

Lockdowns and social isolation only made things worse.

As an issue worth investigating, in this post, we'll dive deep into the concept of mental health and see how it can be critical in the future of work. We'll touch upon why self-care makes better leaders and offer a few tips on how employers can instill mental health into the company culture. 

Let’s jump right into it! 

What Is Mental Health?

We can find thousands of definitions about mental health, and none of them will even approach the surface. Some say it's a coping mechanism, while others say it's a state of well-being in which we realize our abilities.  

In other words, mental health is a combination of our emotional, social, and psychological well-being, which determines our relationships and contributes to our work. 

When we consider this, having a work environment that enables and offers mental health support can be a major driver of employee work performance. 

Mental Health Helps Reduce Burnouts

When employees were instructed to start working from home, some were relieved they didn’t lose their job while others panicked, clueless about how working from home will affect their productivity. 

What the majority of employees failed to consider is the sense of utter loneliness that came from working alone. Protected from outside threats, yes, but completely cut out from the rest of the world. 

The truth is, it hasn’t been easy.

As the pandemic showed no signs of slowing down, people’s well-being took a toll. According to a study by Monster, 69% of employees are suffering from burnout while working from home. What’s more, 59% are taking less time off than they normally would. 

Phrases like “depressing monotony,” “on the verge of a panic attack,” and “added pressure” get thrown around a lot. 

Another report from NordVPN confirmed the same. US employees that have switched to working from home were noticed to log three hours more per day. Employees in European countries like France, Spain, and the UK have seen an increase in overtime work of 2 hours per day.

Another interesting fact emerged: peak email time has moved an hour, from 10 a.m. to 9 a.m. Employees were also logging in hours late at night, with spikes in usage from midnight to 3 a.m.

What Can Employers Do?

Employees are beginning to look at mental health as a business value. Thus, it has never been more important for employers to invest in their employees' well-being. Employers who will prioritize employee well-being will be those who can expect to avoid a drop in employee engagement and productivity. 

Failing to do so can potentially lead to high turnover rates, and you'll witness your best employees leaving your company for the competitor.

Even before the pandemic, companies were seeing huge turnovers that were caused due to reasons such as work-life balance (12%), well-being (9%), work environment (6%), and management behavior (11%). 

But potential turnover is easily avoidable. 

Here are some inexpensive strategies that can make a huge difference: 

  1. Don't hesitate to engage in conversations about mental health with employees. Senior leaders should encourage open discussions by sharing their personal stories regarding mental health.
  2. Check-in with your employees regularly. A quick "what's everyone doing today" message in Slack can go a long way.
  3. Encourage employees to take time off if they need it. 
  4. Take advantage of team-building activities. What's stopping you from setting up virtual movie nights? 
  5. Give mental health days to let employees log off and focus on their well-being.
  6. Provide clear instructions on working hours. 
  7. Don't contact employees on their days off or over the weekend. 
  8. Rethink your benefits package and consider including programs and resources that address mental health.

Self-Care Makes Better Future Leaders

Leadership is a tough task to live up to. A leader is the one that everyone looks up to and reaches out to if they need anything.

But behind that strong picture, one person is doing their very best to keep it together. 

They dedicate their time and energy to take care of their team, their superiors, clients, and even their partners. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, they forget to take care of themselves. 

How are leaders expected to lead others if they start suffering from burnout, disengagement, and exhaustion themselves? 

Only a highly-functioning leader can lead highly-functioning teams.

What Can Leaders Do?

They should lead by example. 

If a leader is taking care of themselves mentally and physically, they will inspire their entire team to do so. Self-care should be seen as an investment that can lead to an increase of a leader’s productivity and effectiveness. 

With that said, here are a few things leaders can do to remain able to lead:

  1. Always respect your need to sleep. Sleeping is very crucial to our day-to-day activities. It leads to increased focus, improved cognitive function, and improved empathy, among other things. 
  2. Maintain a healthy diet. Although this may seem like new-age nonsense, a balanced diet is related to higher energy levels, better moods, and lower levels of depression.
  3. Stay active. Dedicating one hour every day to jogging, walking, or lifting weights can increase your blood flow and boost your learning and memory. 
  4. Set a daily reminder for a quick loving-kindness meditation.
  5. Reach out to your family and friends to increase your social connectedness. 

The World of Work May Change Forever

Now that the majority of teams experienced it first-hand how it feels to be working remotely, a question arises: will companies continue to operate remotely, or will they ask their employees to return to the office?

Many of the tech giants have already announced they're sticking to the remote work arrangement.

Google will let its employees work remotely until 2021.

Twitter's CEO announced that his employees can continue to work from home even after shelter-in-place orders end.

Facebook has issued a statement saying the company is planning on having 50% of its employees work remotely in the next 5-10 years.

And it’s not just the tech giants. A PwC US CFO Pulse Survey found that 49% of leaders say they're planning to make remote working a permanent option for roles that allow.

It’s also highly likely that there's going to be a shift in leaders' thinking about remote work. Leaders might recognize the advantages of distributed teams in other future business situations. Chances are, remote work will be openly embraced. 

Employers are not the only ones who may get seduced by the remote work concept. Employees have also got a chance to taste the fantastic work-life balance remote work brings. As a result, we can expect to see the best talent shifting towards more flexible organizations and avoiding rigid ones. 

It seems like COVID-19 will reshape the world of work, forever. 

What Does This Mean?

This means that leaders should rethink their attitudes towards mental health. Whether leaders opt to implement the fully distributed work model or the hybrid (a combination of remote work and office work), employee mental health should be placed in the spotlight.

In the new workplace of the future, all kinds of mental health issues may appear, ranging from depression and burnout to trauma and anxiety. Mental health experiences will likely vary, depending on job type, gender, parenting and caregiving obligations, economic opportunity, and other factors. 

If you’re a leader who’s planning to transition their team to being 100% remote or hybrid, don’t just wait until or if issues arise. Be proactive and have mental health initiatives ready in place. Nurture an environment of open communication, camaraderie, and recognition, and you may not even need those special mental health initiatives.

There’s no going back. The future of work is here.

Are you willing to take the recommended steps or will you risk losing your best talent?

The choice is yours to make. 

FAQs

Q: Can a job affect your mental health?
Many employees today suffer from bad mental health due to a bad working environment. A toxic workplace, such as high pressure, narcissistic boss, vindictive coworkers, absence of order, poor communication, can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. 
Q: How can you help mental health in the workplace?
  • Senior leaders should encourage open discussions by sharing their personal stories regarding mental health.
  • Check-in with your employees regularly. A quick "what's everyone doing today" message in Slack can go a long way.
  • Encourage employees to take time off if they need it. 
  • Take advantage of team-building activities. 
  • Give mental health days to let employees log off and focus on their well-being.
  • Provide clear instructions on working hours. 
  • Don't contact employees on their days off or over the weekend. 
  • Rethink your benefits package and consider including programs and resources that address mental health.
Q: Why is mental health leadership important?
When a leader understands himself or herself, they will be more equipped to understand the emotions of others. Leaders shouldn’t hesitate to share their personal experiences with mental health in order to encourage their employees to open up and deal with their own emotional issues. At the end of the day, good leaders are happy leaders.