The pandemic has changed the workplace forever, adding pressure to an already stressed out workforce. In a post pandemic world, businesses are making drastic changes in how they work. In the new year, company leaders cite a number of trends and predictions that will be essential for businesses to survive. Making discussions of mental health a standard practice and de-stigmatizing mental health issues are at the top of the list along with prioritizing self-care and workplace wellness.
Remote Working Will Be The Norm
Many business leaders predict that remote working is here to stay. One of those is Jamie Coakley, vice-president of people at IT support firm Electric who believes, “Remote work has become the norm for many, and employees will value the flexibility in creating their own autonomous working style to do their role.” Research supports Coakley’s prediction. A survey from U.S. based Enterprise Technology Research, expects the percentage of full-time remote workers around the world to double from 16.4% before the coronavirus outbreak to 34.4% in 2021.
“In 2021, leadership will need to re-imagine a new, hybrid culture as many of us will continue to work from home part-time if not full-time all together,” insists Scott Shute, head of mindfulness and compassion at LinkedIn. “We’ve seen employees request to work remotely indefinitely and move to different parts of the country because we’ve learned that business continuity is possible even in an all-remote environment.”
To meet the demand for remote working, companies must ensure employees get the appropriate software tools they need to accomplish their goals, although that adds another challenge, according to Ray Grainger, co-founder and CEO of Mavenlink: “Technology will therefore need to play an increasingly prominent role in their ability to respond with just-in-time identification and deployment of resources, many of which they lack in their organizations.” Yoav Landman, co-founder and CTO of JFrog, agrees: “As people have moved to a remote work model due to Covid-19, organizations have been forced to quickly enable their entire workforce remotely. Essentially, every company has now become a distributed development organization, and as a result, employees need access to the software and tools necessary to continue doing their job, regardless of their location.”
Employee Mental Health Will Get Priority
A SWNS research study, conducted by OnePoll, on behalf of Vthrive The Vitamin Shoppe ™ CBD, found that six in 10 of 2,000 Americans said they were”Zoomed out” just 12 weeks into the pandemic with the average respondent spending an additional two hours and four minutes per day looking at a screen. And 68% said Zoom fatigue has added to their current stressors. Another recent poll conducted by LHH found that 92% of respondents felt burned out in the month of November, and a recent Gallup poll reported that mental health and emotional well-being have taken a nose dive, dropping to their lowest since 2001. The good news is that many business leaders insist this unprecedented mental health crisis requires companies to make mental health and wellness a priority. Mary-Clare Race, chief innovation officer at LHH, said, “With offices now fully virtual for the foreseeable future, most companies, managers and senior leadership are tasked with the new challenge of prioritizing mental health remotely.”
One of the biggest ways companies can support mental health is to encourage employees to take full advantage of PTO, mental health days and vacations. But a new Skynova survey of 1,000 employees shows that’s not happening. Nearly 30% of employees report their time-off policies are more restricted during the pandemic. A full 61% plan to work during the holidays this year, and 54% said they were apprehensive of asking for additional time off for fear of falling behind—even though those who did reported higher morale. A Monster study also reported almost half of workers didn’t use all of their PTO this year. Claire Barnes, Monster Worldwide senior vice-president of Human Resources, reacted to these findings. “Many companies—Monster included—have made an effort to reinforce the importance of taking a break. We’ve added PTO and mental health days to further encourage employees to decompress and take some well-deserved time off.”
To that end, business leaders like Coakley predict fewer work hours, more PTO and time off in the cards in 2021: “The burnout that results from working from home and the limited boundaries it creates (bedroom offices, longer hours, less breaks) will continue to impact employee wellness. Companies that celebrate time off and resting will become the norm as opposed to working long hours and never taking PTO–this will become a thing of the past.” Coakley also predicted access to therapy, meditation and alternative forms of wellness will become essential employee benefits in 2021.
There Will Be A Shift In Healthy Lifestyle Changes
A new survey of 1,012 Americans by biotechnology company Gelesis, reveals 71% gained weight throughout 2020. Respondents said weight gain has created mental stress and fatigue with 52% feeling down about the way they look. Plus 47% who gained weight said their self-esteem has dropped since March. The good news is that the pandemic has been a catalyst for change. Sixty percent of respondents want to feel healthier and 51% hope to lose weight in 2021. The Gelesis survey found that 61% of Americans are more determined than ever to develop healthy eating habits (64%) and maintain healthy lifestyle habits (63%). “We have found that in 2021 the hopes of Americans outweigh their worries,” said Elaine Chiquette, PharmD, Gelesis’ chief scientific officer, “and millions are ready to kick off the new year and make changes, including losing weight.”
According to fitness industry insider and Feed.fm CEO Jeff Yasuda, home workouts are here to stay, even if there is a successful coronavirus vaccination. He says personalizing the right workout to the right person will continue to be a key theme of fitness. He also says we can expect to see financial investors continue to pour money into the fitness segment. When workers are mentally and physically fit and treated with respect and care, they are a company’s greatest strength and biggest asset. Total Brain’s CEO, Louis Gagnon, stressed the advantages of employer support: “Employers who design employee well-being programs with the understanding that physical health and mental health are inextricably interconnected will be rewarded with better performing, more productive and loyal employees and lower healthcare costs.”
Emphasis Will Be On Compassionate Leadership
In the coming year, more and more business leaders, like Scott Shute, call for compassionate leadership (checking in and asking employees what they need and listen to what they say). Shute believes workers are more likely to get involved when management leads by example, normalizing topics around mental health and encouraging mindfulness at work. “For instance, people can start their day or their meetings with a few deep breaths to get centered, go for a mid-day walk or eat a meal while being fully present,” Shute said, adding the importance of providing employees self-care resources. “This could mean offering personal time off for mental health days, no meeting days, discussion sessions on mindfulness or managing burnout, online learning resources, etc. For example, to help employees at LinkedIn, we created Mindful Moments, a self-paced online learning program to learn about mindfulness.”
Kim Nguyen, director of people operations at New York City fintech firm Alloy, believes empathetic leadership should be encouraged at every turn. “It’s tempting to assume that 2021 is a completely new year and soon the chaos of 2020 will be a distant memory—but if this year taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected, Nguyen said. “Depending on how you look at it, we’re all now accustomed to a new level of unpredictability, meaning we likely will feel more in control despite a certain level of chaos–but that doesn’t mean leaders should fall back into pre-pandemic patterns. Empathy and humanity should always be prioritized, but especially now as many recover from traumatic experiences.”
Despite the 2020 setbacks, data from The Project Management Institute show 71% of management feel a renewed sense of optimism as we approach the New Year and are beginning to set goals, get projects back on track and turn business goals into reality in 2021. In the coming year, Shutte advocates for a more humanized workplace where workers are treated as people first, employees second, “Employees want to work for a company that values them, that has their best interests in mind.” As employers, when we’re aware of the unique needs of this time and meet those needs with a true spirit of compassion, we’ll all have a better chance to thrive.”