A global pandemic, racial riots, the Great Resignation, the spread of gun violence, and now inflation and a recession. While these issues have a history longer than most of us have been alive, we have been caught in a cycle of uncertainty and upheaval for over two years now.
During times of high stress and uncertainty, business leaders must step up and take stock of their environment, especially how well their culture helps employees feel supported and safeguarded against burnout. Here are three useful and practical ways to do it:
1. Make time off a top priority
A culture and management style that prioritizes wellness and mental health support alongside traditional business drivers like profits and performance is critical to the post-pandemic workforce.
According to the Talkspace Employee Stress Check Report, which polled 1,400 full-time employees in the U.S, 57 percent of all workers -- including 66 percent of those who want to quit -- would be likely to stay at a job if it offered more mental health services.
Beyond offering access to mental health care, employers should foster environments that allow workers to take time to rest and recharge. In fact, nearly 3 in 4 workers (74 percent) say more paid time off, like mental health days, would make them consider staying at their jobs.
While offering additional days may not be possible, examine whether your employees are fully using their allocated vacation or PTO and set an example, as managers, that these days are critical to your own work-life balance.
2. Let people express their fears
Many believe showing fear is a sign of weakness, so they spend immense energy trying to hide it. But fear is like steam. Contained for too long, it will blow a lid off. It makes sense, then, that companies that don't regularly discuss fears experience toxic and unhealthy behaviors.
According to Edward Sullivan, CEO of Velocity, and co-author of the recently published book, Leading With Heart, the most toxic workplace behaviors are directly related to unexpressed and unresolved fears. In work cultures of psychological safety, healthy conversations about fear often begin with the leader showing vulnerability and courage that create an opening for others to share their fears.
A conversation, shares Sullivan, might start with the leader saying, "The thing that keeps me up at night is ______________." The leader can ask employees, "What are you afraid of?"
3. Let people take more breaks
The best way to counteract exhaustion from burnout is by allowing employees to take more restful breaks. Phone scrolling and email checking between meetings don't count. They accentuate the mindset of task switching, and never allow the mind to recharge.
Research shows that more frequent breaks of any type lead to less stress, but encouraging activities like walking or meditation helps employees experience less stress and increased productivity.
Restful breaks don't have to be a major undertaking. Stretching, walking outside with a colleague, drinking water, or practicing breath work or meditation, for example, all qualify as forms of active recovery.