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The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching and unforeseen consequences in all aspects of society – one of the most prevalent being the workplace. Virtually overnight, companies needed to quickly and efficiently pivot to embrace a remote workforce and establish a completely new way of operating their business with their employees being the most crucial component to ongoing success. Although drastic, this change was not entirely negative, as it proved many employees could successfully handle working remotely, leaving them with more time to spend with family, less time commuting, and ultimately a better work-life balance.

Along with the switch to a remote workforce, which eliminated many geographic restrictions for job opportunities, the pandemic caused many to rethink their current career paths to try out a new industry, pursue their dream job, and open themselves up to take more risks. This has resulted in a mass exodus of employees leaving their jobs, otherwise known as the “Great Resignation.”

Starting in April of 2021, Americans began actively quitting their jobs, with around 3% of the workforce submitting their resignations for that month alone. Since then, employees have continued to quit their jobs at never-before-seen rates. In August there were more than four million resignations across various industries, and since the spring, almost 20 million people have quit their jobs in total. With many people leaving their positions to find “better” opportunities, employers are faced with the dual challenge of both retaining and attracting top talent amidst this competitive job market.

The Great Resignation is serving as a pivotal turning point in workplace culture, and employers need to be proactive about creating a more sustainable work environment to keep staff engaged. New research shows that 56% of workers have considered leaving their careers, and of those, one in four cite mental health needs as the reason for the switch. Having employee wellness as a top organizational priority will be the key to ensuring employees feel valued by their employers and remain fulfilled in their roles. Outlined below are some initial best practices for creating a mental health and wellness-based organizational approach.

Leading from the top down

Americans are known for having a “living to work mentality,” often working longer hours than the traditional 9-5 as proof of their dedication and commitment to their careers. In addition, workers are given less paid time off than in other countries, the average being around 10 days, with many employees not utilizing all of their PTO days as they feel there is no one to take on their duties or there is an unrealistic perception this could be detrimental to their performance. Yet despite this devotion to working, taking time off is essential to maintaining positive mental health and preventing burnout. In fact, taking time away from work not only helps people mentally reset but is also proven to fuel productivity upon their return.

To reduce the stigma around working extremely long hours and taking minimal PTO, it’s not enough for employers to simply verbally encourage employees. Senior executives need to lead by example, by not only encouraging healthy mental behaviors but by leading by their actions. Whether that is taking their vacation days, working more reasonable hours, or respecting employee boundaries by not sending late or weekend emails; wellness efforts will seem more authentic when the C-suite takes part in leading the charge in encouraging staff to prioritize mental health.

Adopting a hybrid approach

While historically the majority of jobs required employees to work in a dedicated office location, the number of individuals willing to leave their jobs amidst a global pandemic and accept new positions virtually has proven that many people can work just as effectively from a remote setting. Many people have enjoyed the flexibility and balance of working remotely and have also embraced the option to relocate to a location that would have been impossible pre-pandemic. The opportunity cost of commuting is now something employees and potential candidates are taking under serious consideration.

On the flip side, employees who are more extroverted and teams-oriented will likely be more eager to return to a physical office. Likewise, younger employees who may require the social interaction, or those with no designated home office may desire to work in office, either full time or a hybrid approach. There has been a complete rebirth of the traditional “workplace” has become, and there is no single correct approach for everyone. Employers who can remain flexible and open to different workstyles to account for each individual and their respective needs will be in the best position to retain and maintain talent amid the current labor shortage.

Asking the hard questions

To adapt and improve, feedback is essential for any business, and when it comes to workplace culture, it’s important to listen to the people who are impacted the most – the employees. What kind of benefit programs are they looking for? Are there particular stressors that need to be addressed? How can they feel more supported? The answers may point to some challenges and policies that are not working in the organization, which is completely acceptable in this ever-changing landscape. Open and transparent communication is key.

To evolve and create a better work environment, organizations need to first identify areas for improvement in order to address and adapt a company culture where employees feel recognized and believe their employer has empathy and is supportive of their needs while considering needs of the business. Not only will sourcing employee feedback address areas for improvement, but individuals may have new and innovative ideas to bring to the table to help mold a better culture for employees that will in turn reduce attrition and improve engagement.

Now is the time to assess the wellness, culture, and positive wellbeing of all employees as this evolution of the workplace will continue to challenge leaders for the foreseeable future.

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