Nothing says the holidays like a little bit of stress. But unlike too many seasonal sweets, anxiety isn’t something you can walk off.
The holidays are meant to be a time to take a breath, recharge, and reflect on the past 12 months. Even before COVID-19, 77% of American consumers reported that they had a very hard time relaxing during the holidays, and felt more stressed and worn down than before.
For the last 18 months, 24 days, and 16 hours or so (who’s counting), companies have learned to succeed as businesses in a COVID-centric environment. We’ve experimented with workflows, remote working collaboration tools (Thanks, Zoom!), and socially-distanced company celebrations.
But, how can companies step up to the plate this season to improve employee mental health and help us succeed as people? We reached out to Iterable’s Zenit community group—our company’s safe space for mindfulness, meditation, and now, meaningful advice.
‘Tis the Season for Companies to Step Up
1. Normalize the Normative
At work, back-to-back meetings leave little room for conversation or transparent discussion. Packed schedules propagate office speak and surface-level conversations. To improve employee mental health, instead of limiting time for employees to connect and build relationships with their colleagues, workplaces should focus their time and attention on ensuring employees have environments where honest discussion can take place.
“As a remote employee, I’m prone to booking back-to-back Zoom meetings. On paper, a packed schedule is great for productivity, but in reality it leaves little time for frivolity and transparency. I find myself repeating the same commentary, without getting anywhere authentic or real with my colleagues.” shares Lauren Benner, Social Media and Communications Manager at Iterable. ”In reality, Mondays are NOT a cause for celebration. Heck, Monday is the start of a work week! And on Friday nights, many of us have no plans at all. Business leaders can support team-building and boost morale by giving employees space to keep it real at work.”
Iterable’s Affinity Groups and Community Groups provide opportunities to facilitate open and honest conversations, and remote Happy Hours and team syncs allow time for people to chat about what’s really going on.
2. Work to Live, Don’t Live to Work
The fact of the matter is that people have been in a pressure-cooker of stress for the past 20 months. This stress has taken a toll, and raised awareness on the impact overworking and over-stressing can have on holistic health and wellbeing. This new “enlightened” workforce is demanding more from workplaces; more flexibility, more vacation, and more care.
When the “nine-to-five” narrative no longer resonates, what can business leaders do? Move away from the classic retention questions of “how can we keep employees at the company,” and toward a more mission-driven inquiry like “how can we create opportunities for people to feel fulfilled.” And during the holidays, that means family takes precedence over the fiscal year.
“There are times and seasons during the year where family takes precedence over work. This is especially true during the holiday season, when employees are juggling Nutcracker recitals and busy preparing for incoming in-laws,” shares Brian Fisher, Manager of Demo Solutions at Iterable. “No one understands an employee’s work better than the employee themselves. You can mitigate their stress by allowing for flexibility in their workday during the holiday season. Businesses can trust that your workforce can hit their targets, without micromanaging.”
With a focus on employee mental health, Iterable’s people-first priorities allow for flexibility when it comes to workspace, work mode, and work hours. We’re also hosting a meeting-free week in the last week of the year, to remove the stress of Zoom and provide more time for zen.
3. Variety is the Spice of Life
We all know about burnout and why it’s bad. But fewer of us have heard about ‘boreout’—a related phenomenon that sounds eerily familiar to Sasha Baron Cohen’s famous film, and is, arguably, as detrimental.
Boreout happens when we are bored to the point where life feels meaningless. It’s a symptom of repetition that makes us feel pointless, and our work devoid of value. It doesn’t get as much attention, but it can cause just as many problems as its cousin, burnout. Boreout is top-of-mind because travel and lockdown restrictions, caused by COVID-19, have propagated a cyclical lifestyle of “wake, work, sleep, repeat.” The weekends? Not much different than the day-to-day.
For companies, recognizing the issues inherent in boreout is a good first step to improving employee mental health. Step two? Doing something about it.
“The inherent beauty of remote work is that you can work from anywhere. Employees should take advantage of this reality, and businesses should support their ‘wanderlust’ proclivities,” shares Peter Doro, Senior Solutions Consultant at Iterable. “ Adjust budgets to allow for employees to work from B&Bs. Provide incentives for remote employees who want to work in a new setting, or learn from a new community. Allow flexible time off, which will empower employees to take time to travel safely from their home to their destination!”
4. Humanize the OOO
We’d wager that, at one point or another, you’ve called in sick when you
wanted needed a vacation day. Maybe you’ve felt the dual pressure of process and parenting, and have been forced to use up vacation days to take your child to their tap-dance performances. Perhaps you’re guilty of submitting vacation requests with the standard “OOO” label, feeling like visiting “Epcot” wasn’t a worthy reason to avoid working.
Whatever your reality, be assured that you are not alone.
“An impactful, and simple, action that leaders can take to promote a healthy work-life culture is to vocalize how they practice balance at work. There’s nothing wrong with blocking off your lunch to walk your dogs, taking a half-day to have a daddy-daughter date, or not scheduling meetings one day because you’re working from a beauty salon. So, personalize that out of office (at least internally). The only way employees will feel comfortable enough to be truthful and transparent about their schedules is if leadership takes the…lead.” shares Aliyah Powell, DE&I Manager at Iterable. “We’re really drilling down on this messaging at Iterable, and empowering leaders with the tools they need to propagate this messaging and model these behaviors.”
Business leaders can support the trickle down effect by acting on the call for OOO transparency, and businesses can help change the narrative by providing dedicated spaces for mindfulness and reality checks.
Communities to Improve Employee Mental Health
Stress is normal. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessary. The holiday seasons are a particularly painful time of year for some employees, and as a result, businesses should drill into their people-first programming in December and January. But this shouldn’t be the only time of the year that People teams activate their amity.
Advice from a team who was recognized at Digiday’s Best Work Life Culture Awards (hint hint, that’s us)? A healthy workplace is a thriving workplace and businesses who want to succeed need to ensure they are supporting the mental health of their workforce year-round.
Iterable is growing, and we’re looking for like-minded leaders to join our team! Explore open roles on our careers page.