Following the explosion of corporate mindfulness initiatives and wellness programs in the mid-2010s, both “mindfulness” and “wellness” descended to the status of largely meaningless buzzwords. Now they’re found mostly on countless corporate hiring pages meant to reflect positively on management and present the environment as people-first and progressive. This usually is not the case and employee wellbeing is a regular sacrifice to the company’s bottom line. On the whole, these programs have come up short.
JPMorgan has previously attempted to curb banker burnout by ramping up the hiring of junior staff and analysts as well as encouraging associates to stop working on weekends. Yet the results of these initiatives don’t seem promising, as 75% of junior bankers want to quit amid the burnout crisis. Moreover, many employees express extreme dissatisfaction with their jobs and companies to the point of quitting altogether, setting off the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle, or whatever you want to call this tidal wave of employee attrition.
Widespread employee backlash to policies like Apple’s decision to transition its personnel back to the office en masse makes it clear that there’s a growing and fundamental disconnect between leadership and employees. As cliché as it sounds, wellness programs aren’t working and aren’t making up for top-down management failures, while the mindfulness of managers toward employees’ needs and desires simply isn’t adequate.
Understanding the source of the problem is key
If there is a smell in the room, just spraying perfume is a temporary fix. You have to look around to find the source of the smell. Corporations often “spray lots of perfume” (read: offer flimsy perks with baked-in wellness jargon) in order to mask lingering “odors” (read: problems stemming from organizational and process failures), in hopes that a pool table, or nap pod or subsidized meditation app subscription will magically solve underlying systemic issues such as burnout, workplace discrimination and low morale, all of which have a profoundly negative effect on the overarching measurement of employee engagement. These employee wellness perks attempt to mask the “stench” and merely allow employees to cope with these issues, rather than targeting the issue right at its source.
Burnout is not so easily fixed. Being mindful and listening to your employees is the only way to effectively identify the signs of burnout, which include energy depletion and exhaustion, depersonalization and cynicism and reduced efficacy. Once the problems are understood, take steps to not only course correct but also prevent the problems from happening in the first place.
Address issues that contribute to and cause endemic burnouts, such as gaps where not enough employees have been hired to fit the workload. For example, our strategy is to hire graduates. They may have little prior experience, however, we put in place in-depth internal training programs to help new employees in all roles and with a variety of backgrounds acclimate to our company. When considering qualified candidates, employers should consider trading off specific years of experience with a potential hire’s passion, ability to learn and future potential.
On top of that, it’s important for companies to have skill-up initiatives to make sure employees stay up-to-date in the industry. Create training programs to ensure existing employees are retaining skills and staying up-to-date with changes in their industry.
Managers should help employees assess their workload and ensure that they are not being pushed beyond a sustainable capacity. The managerial level should have learned how to prioritize themselves and should help direct reports to strategize better ways of prioritizing. Part of doing this will be to reestablish where their strengths can best be put forward, and ensure their goals are aligned with the team’s goals.
This is all clearly easier said than done, but it is nevertheless crucial to stop the bleeding right at the source.
Make employee mental health a top priority
The incoming workforce is more depressed than previous generations, so practicing mindfulness and establishing meaningful benefits and wellness initiatives is more important than ever in order to retain and support employees. Some examples of these include:
- Workplace accommodations for physical or mental health concerns,
- Employee assistance programs that focus on mental health,
- Flexible work schedules, allowing remote work and the ability to adjust one’s schedule.
While no one program can solve a systemic issue like mental health alone, all of these examples contribute to the well-being of employees on a tangible level.
In the old economy, physical labor was the primary health risk. But in our modern economy, mental labor is the engine that keeps work going. Since we’re sitting in front of computers all day, we’re moving less, which is a key measure to offset the effects of mental stress. It’s more important than ever before to foster wellness for both body and mind.
There are certainly many layers to the mental health crisis — including systemic and societal factors — that any one company wellness initiative cannot solve, and to lay it all on the employer’s responsibility is not the point. But managers must lead with empathy and maintain awareness of the invisible factors that may affect their employees’ mental health. Whatever we can do to ease the mental burden of the people in our care will pay back tenfold in their contributions to the company.
Facilitate a culture of healthy feedback
Imposter syndrome is rampant thanks to social media, particularly among Millennial workers. We’re not only comparing ourselves to people within our social circles — but also to people around the world. Humans only have the capacity to maintain relationships with about 150 people — a theory referred to as Dunbar’s number — yet we are exposed to countless people just by scrolling for a few minutes. LinkedIn is a constant source of career comparison. Imposter syndrome sabotages you by tempting you to ruminate on your faults or what you lack.
Establishing a healthy feedback culture is essential to combating imposter syndrome. A healthy feedback culture means you question the performance, not the performer. It encourages team members to create value and emphasizes feeling valued. Healthy feedback goes both ways, not just from supervisors down to subordinates. Netflix was famously known for its honest feedback culture (at least before things started to change within the last few years), where no one in the company was free from constructive criticism, not even the CEO.
A healthy feedback culture can only be established if all are involved. And on an individual level, encouraging employees to practice mindfulness and gratitude is a great bulwark against low self-esteem. It starts with being compassionate with yourself.
Make sure wellness is a continuous practice
It cannot be stressed enough — managers need to think bigger about wellness. Audit your employee wellness initiatives to see what does and doesn’t have a tangible impact. Lead with corporate policies that have tangible effects such as adequate paid vacation days. Don’t just throw a pool table and meditation app at the problem. Prioritize the initiatives that are the most effective, and then pursue additional perks that add on to an employee’s experience. While it’s easier to start with temporary band-aids, like meditation app subscriptions or free snacks, you can’t finish there.
Managers looking for shortcuts are wasting their efforts. Just like going to the gym, things take time and a lot of trial and error. You need to invest the time and effort and possibly make sacrifices to reach these goals.
At its core, mindfulness is rooted in the awareness of yourself, the world and the people around you. Until managers face this reality and make the necessary changes, they’ll be on the losing side of the Great Resignation.
Manoj Gupta is Managing Director for UK and Europe at AI-powered quality engineering company Qualitest. Manoj is an accomplished leader across the technology industry with over 25 years of global experience. He is the author of the best-selling book “New York to NEW YOU,” which focuses on mindfulness and Human Engineering, and covers the three M’s: Management, Motivation, and Mental Health. Manoj holds a Master of Engineering degree from BITS Pilani, India.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.