As I have highlighted in the many podcasts I have led this year, both the Covid-19 Pandemic and increased workloads have triggered a significant rise in mental health problems for all employees, especially with the shift to solitary remote working. But the rise in mental health problems has been the most dramatic for junior professional service workers.
Junior lawyers and consultants are warning that they are suffering burnout after working longer hours in isolation, highlighting fears of an exodus from some of the biggest global management consulting, financial and law firms.
This impending exodus is also being exacerbated by both the heightening demand for consulting and legal advice during this crisis as well as the global transition to remote working.
Similar tensions are being felt within financial services organizations. In fact, as a perfect example, just recently a group of first-year investment banking analysts told management at Goldman Sachs that they had been working 95 hours per week, and that they were suffering from severe anxiety and insomnia.
Voicing concerns over their stress levels hasn’t always helped. KPMG’s former CEO, Bill Michael told staffers to “stop moaning” and quit “playing the victim card.” (He was forced to resign.) Another senior lawyer at a US law firm told the junior staffers to “stop being whiny weasels and get on with it – you’re lucky to have jobs.”
So, what steps can HR leaders promote to quell this post-pandemic anxiety and stress? Here are eight proven tips on how:
1. First, declare insensitive and shaming comments by senior leaders such as the aforementioned completely unacceptable. Furthermore, ensure that there are real and strong ramifications for senior leaders that continue to make these insensitive comments.
2. Evaluate your wellness policies and whether they need to be changed or bolstered. In fact, 72% of US companies are adding more benefits focused on employee well-being.1 Furthermore, 59% of US employers are adding new benefits, such as offering mental health counseling, reduced workloads, less work hours, and/or giving more paid time off.2
3. Try and ensure these wellness policies are inclusive, such that people can select what best works for them.
4. Make promoting FUN an intrinsic part of your workplace culture, since FUN can be the most powerful medicine for anxiety and stress. Leverage gamification, letting your employees regularly play online games with one another.
5. Set daily mindfulness breaks twice daily, mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
6. To address the dual pressures of home-schooling and working from home, consider expanding family care leave, such as adding additional paid time off for parents and/or additional child support.
7. Revisit your company’s approach to meetings; this is especially important given the widespread employee disdain for these meetings. There were 55 million meetings in the US this year.3 The average manager in the US sat in on 12 meetings per week, while the average non-manager had to attend eight.3 Recent studies reported that 70% of worldwide workers rated their meetings as poor or unproductive.4 Here are 10 very helpful tips for improving your meetings and how they are perceived:
- Create significantly better meeting agendas.
- Train your meeting leaders on how to chair a successful meeting.
- In advance of the meeting, inform attendees as to why they are being invited to the meeting.
- Expect and demand that the meeting starts on time.
- Also, explain that anyone who shows up late to the meeting will not be allowed to participate.
- Be sensitive to time zones when scheduling the meeting.
- Clearly define the topic/s that are going to be discussed.
- Explain why the topic/s is/are important enough to be on the agenda.
- Articulate what you would like to achieve during the meeting.
- Include only the right people in the remote meeting.
- Consider establishing a “No Meeting Day” every two weeks.
8. While all of the tips above are very effective, the single most important driver of successfully managing pandemic fatigue, is the relationship the manager has with her/his employees. Great Managers have regular interactions or “check-ins” with their direct reports and initiate a dialogue about their wellbeing. Moreover, the more contact employees have with their Manager, the better they feel and more committed they are to their health.