Checking in on employee mental health from afar (World WellBeing Week 2022)

Sometimes, it’s hard enough to read the signs of employee mental health in person – let alone remotely. 

And with 25% of Gen Zers feeling more emotionally distressed than their older colleagues (McKinsey & Company); almost double the levels reported by millennials and Gen X (13%) and triple that of baby boomers (8%); checking in has never been so crucial.

Especially from afar.  

So what better time to do it than this World WellBeing Week (June 27th – 1st July)? With more and more businesses joining the movement and making well-being a strategic priority, we’re shining a spotlight on how to ensure new starters feel seen – wherever they are. 

Out of sight (out of mind)

Nearly half of Gen Zers questioned in a Deloitte metal health whitepaper said they were stressed “all” or “most” of the time – but not just because of the pandemic. Instead, the top causes of stress influencing employees’ mental health are around financial insecurity, climate change and career expectations. 

The thing is, remote working has only made matters worse. 

In ‘Remote Work Is Failing Young Employees’, Gen Z workers discussed feeling feel like “strangers” at work. With a lack of face-to-face communication, they’re often left feeling invisible and anxious about what they are supposed to be doing. 

But if Gen Z are hesitant to ask for help about work remotely, how are they going to open up about more serious issues?

Unfortunately, many of them simply won’t. 

According to the Deloitte research, 33% of Gen Z said they would not feel comfortable speaking openly with their direct manager about feeling stressed, anxious or about any other mental health challenges.

But if they can’t open up, what can you do?

Keeping employees calm in a crisis (and beyond)

Over the past couple of years, it’s been worryingly easy to get inside our own heads.

But even pre-pandemic, mindfulness was on the rise in the workplace. 

The ‘Employer-Sponsored Health and Well-Being Survey’ of 163 companies by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Fidelity Investments found that 52% of companies offered mindfulness training in 2018. 

And that’s because it’s proven to be effective; research shows that meditation not only improves anxiety levels 60% of the time, it also improves employee productivity by 120%.

Headspace are offering enterprise-ready programs that you can roll out across the business, but there are lots of alternatives. 

“We’re trialling using Calm, the meditation headspace app,” said Ian Furlong, Head of Delivery at emerging technology company OSO. “The idea is to roll that out for all of our employees in the future.” 

So, why is mindfulness such a good option for work?

Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, spoke to the NHS about why it works for any stressful scenario. 

“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” he says.

At work, mindfulness allows us to become more aware of the thoughts and feelings we experience and to see how we can get lost in them in ways that are unhelpful.

Mindfulness “…lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply ‘mental events’ that do not have to control us,” he says.

So meditation is one good way of making sense of your thoughts when you’re alone. But there’s one thing it can’t solve: lost connections. 

Keeping the social aspect of work alive

According to Telstra’s Talking Loneliness report, one in two Gen Zers (54%) said they regularly feel lonely. 

This difficulty in making connections was one concern we raised when questioning whether or not WFH is right for Gen-Z workers

But there are lots of small things companies can do that could make a big difference in keeping employees feeling connected. 

“We have a daily standup now,” says Simon Coles, Co-founder and CEO at Amphora Research. “It used to be for the techies but now it’s for everybody.” 

The standup also provides a great opportunity to encourage more natural socialising at work says Coles.

“We’re not doing false things or forcing social interactions. Instead, we’re allowing a more social style of working to happen. So in the standup, we might ask two people to go away and solve a problem together.”

Essentially “…if it’s possible for two people to interact whilst performing a task, we now encourage that. Whereas, previously, you might be thinking about productivity,” he continued.

Importantly, pair working increases workplace bonds; super important to Gen Z but also something that they often need some support with.

Because although a Furniture At Work survey of 2,000 office workers found two-thirds said having friends in the workplace increased their overall happiness, it told a very different story for Gen Z. Because although these members of staff were more likely to consider their office colleagues “close friends”, they also struggled the most to make these types of bonds (36% admitting to this, compared to the national average of 26%).

But it’s unlikely they’ll ever be able to talk about what’s really going on without that support. In fact, Telstra’s study revealed Gen Z was the least likely to admit to being lonely; 58% said they felt “too embarrassed” to admit they were struggling (10% higher than the average of 48%).

So without any of the normal visual cues to suggest that something’s wrong, what else can employers do?

Give employees the tools they need to talk

No, we’re not talking about Slack or Zoom. 

Instead, this is about teaching our employees how to articulate what they need to say – without feeling anxious or embarrassed. 

Amphora Research runs a course called ‘Better Conversations’ which, as Simon Coles refers to it, “… is a basic toolkit for operating in the company.”

But much more than that, this course is laser-focused on employee well-being. And the good thing is, the first of its five one-hour sessions starts as soon as an employee’s been onboarded (we’ve talked in depth about good practices in remote onboarding here).

“The first module is about state,” says Coles. 

“It asks employees how they’re feeling, e.g. whether happy, anxious, worried, etc. But most importantly this gives them the ability to talk about their ‘state’ later on when the business does check-ins. For example: “I lost my state because I didn’t know what to do.”

The second module focuses on evidence, inference and Impact. This session asks employees to consider:

  • What did you see or hear?
  • What stories did you make up about it?
  • What was the impact on you?

“This causes them to stop and think: ‘I’m making stuff up, sitting in my room all alone, maybe I should ask some questions and clarify things,” says Coles.

“Ideally, what we then have is a 21-year-old who’s able to go to the big boss and say ‘my state’s not quite right, I’m making some stuff up – can you please help me?”

This is essential because if you have a call with somebody, you need to be aware that you might be the only person they’ve talked to today. Not only that, you might be the only person available to talk about something that’s just happened. 

“When you’re at work you’ve got an office context and nothing else is happening. Whereas they might have just had an argument with a spouse or had some bad news,” says Coles. 

Creating a safe space for opening-up

For all its benefits, the working from home model allows staff to mask how they’re really feeling. Most people can “put the face on” for half an hour in Zoom call and employers are left none-the-wiser that anything’s wrong. 

At Amphora Research, it’s just as important that grads feel like they can open up to each other than it is they talk to their boss. 

“Along with helping themselves, Better Conversations is a way of reminding our grads that they’re each other’s support mechanisms, especially during the pandemic which was a very difficult time. And as a company, we would celebrate you being there for each other,” says Coles. 

Want to celebrate your employees this World Wellbeing Week? Give them the tools they need to open up. There’s no better reward in this remote life than that. 

If you need any help hiring gen-z or even just fancy a search to see what’s out there, head on over to our grad recruitment app and check out today’s burgeoning talent.