Every organization is facing the same critical challenge: to engineer new ways to sustain our associates’ mental well-being as we shift to a new hybrid world of work. The unplanned and uneasy shift to remote and co-located working that arrived on the back of a once-in-a-century pandemic has asked us all to rethink what collaboration really means and how we work together as teams. Stressors are manifesting in new and unexpected ways. Working practices and working norms are in flux. No job on the org chart has been untouched by the tidal wave of change. It’s no coincidence that when stay-at-home orders became the norm in mid March 2020, three out of four prescriptions for anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and anti-insomnia medications were new rather than repeat. Yet for every $1 we invest in supporting mental health in the workplace, there is a $4 payback. As University of Oxford and MIT researchers revealed before the pandemic, there is “a strong positive impact of employee happiness on productivity.” Happier associates and healthier organizations make for stronger businesses. In conjunction with Harvard Business School, in 2020 we launched Go Forward To Work, a major research project with more than 2,000 executives crowdsourcing best practices for the future of work. Today, there is no higher priority than cracking the code of mental well-being in the new hybrid work world.
An emerging framework
Our emerging thinking about the fields we need to explore spans:
- Team Policies & Practices
- Leader Competencies
We need your insight, bold ideas, and experience of what practices you have deployed across each field. Our initial research findings and thinking is outlined below.
1. Team Policies & Practices
Team resilience is similar to a battery, it needs to be restored and recharged regularly, as Keith wrote in this article for Harvard Business Review, 7 Strategies to Build a More Resilient Team.
- Candor Breaks: leaders of high-performing teams create psychological safety — the belief that any team member can speak out without consequences — a crucial attribute of resilient teams. Creating Candor Breaks by splitting into smaller groups (using breakout rooms if the meeting is virtual) to encourage frank and honest discussion is proven practice to create psychological safety and encourage team members to share their thoughts and feelings. At Ferrazzi Greenlight, we also refer to these as “Yoda in the room” moments.
- Independent Observers: To help team members embrace frank assessments of their work, resilient leaders invite outside experts to offer an objective perspective on issues/team dynamics.
- Story Sharing: Leaders of resilient teams often encourage team members to map out their life’s journey, including highs and lows, and share highlights with the rest of the team. In being vulnerable, the team creates an environment where compassion and humility are welcomed.
- Owning Challenges: Leaders should build trust and honesty by encouraging people to express their fears and concerns with each other and canvass the team for solutions.
- Show You Care: By asking questions and listening attentively to answers, leaders have to regularly demonstrate that they are genuinely interested in the progress the team is making.
- Energy Checks: Ask everyone to state their energy levels on a scale of one (low) to five (high) at the beginning of every meeting. This simple and fast exercise that will quickly determine if someone needs help or is outside their normal range of fatigue and frustration.
- Commit to Building Each Other’s Resilience: We call this “Co-elevationⓇ”— a team’s commitment to the mission and each other and an unwavering belief in winning together and an agreement to cross the finish line together.
Teams that put in place measures to do that will find that they are better equipped and – more importantly – willing to undertake any challenge throughout the pandemic and beyond.
High Impact Teams in a Hybrid World
It’s tempting to see team performance and well-being as separate issues. But factors like psychological safety and the presence (or lack) of candor play decisive roles in the effectiveness and outcomes of any collaboration. Data tracked by the Ferrazzi Greenlight Research Institute since 2000 highlights the difference between high versus low performing teams. High Impact Teams follow a pattern of highly collaborative behaviors that Keith defined in a book released at the peak of the pandemic called, Leading Without Authority. For high-performing teams, the objective is to create a dynamic of constant and unbounded co-creation, one in which interdependent team members share responsibility for crossing the finish line together. They must share accountability for each other’s results, and pick each other up when they need help.
But in the new hybrid work world, high performing teams are already adopting new work norms and practices. They have begun to question what was previously unquestionable: why is calling a meeting the universal solution to whatever needs to be accomplished? If you break down the specific problem that needs to be solved, what is uniquely valuable about gathering people together at the same time to solve it? They started to engineer for asynchronous collaboration first—taking pressure out of people’s overcrowded schedules, as MarketPlace Morning Report explained in this interview with Keith. High Impact Team were also looking outwards to engage more people to crowdsource ideas both internally across their organization (and externally), but empowering “individuals to give their input where they never were able to before.”
The connection between working practice, engagement, and well-being was echoed in MITSloan Management Review by Professor Lynda Gratton of London Business School in her idea of two principles of place and two principles of time.
- Place Principle: Design the Office for Cooperation
Professor Gratton gave three ideas from global design group Arup:
- Reduce small personal spaces and give them back to cooperative space;
- Encourage teams to meet in the open so others can feel the buzz;
- Move groups every quarter to new seating to encourage meeting new people.
- Place Principle: Make Working From Home a Source of Energy
- Commit saved commuting time to activities that boost their physical and emotional energy (either time exercising or with family and friends.)
- Observe “rituals” that help define boundaries between the work day and home life (how you dress and getting ready for work routine in the morning.)
- Being clear with colleagues when they are available and taking breaks, for example, for lunch to help maintain boundaries.
- Time Principle: Let Asynchronous Time Boost Focus
Blocking time in a schedule for “deep work”: uninterrupted time for concentrated focus on a primary task or major project whether at home or in the office.
- Time Principle: Enable Synchronized Time to Be the Basis of Coordination
Making the primary purpose of real-time meetings co-ordination, dialogue and feedback.
The crucial questions these principles and practices raise are about the impact of who we work with, when, and how on our well-being as well as our productivity.
2. Leader Competencies
We all know that sustaining mental health was a major workplace issue before the pandemic. The World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity — and classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon for the first time in 2019. Deloitte’s Workplace Burnout Survey found that 77% of US professionals had experienced it to some degree. Experience tells us we need to overcome two root problems: stigma and awareness. Prepandemic research by Unum Group showed:
- Only one in four US managers were trained how to refer employees to mental health resources. That’s not training to deal with mental health issues—that’s just training to signpost to the right resources.
- 55% of employees said their employer did not have, or they were unsure if their employer had, a specific program, initiative, or policy in place to address mental health.
- 61% of employees felt there was a social stigma in the workplace towards colleagues with mental health issues.
- 50% felt stigma has stayed the same or worsened in the previous five years.
The starting point as we strive to overcome old attitudes that hold us back is leadership training. One example is ID360 which has trained and coached teams and individuals at companies including Marriott, Microsoft, and American Airlines, including customized managerial training programs around best behaviors regarding mental wellness in the workplace. Another is Mind Share Partners, which conducted an executive session with Verizon Media’s CEO Guru Gowrappan, the executive team, and an extended leadership team just before the pandemic hit in February 2020. On March 24, Gowrappan tweeted about the session: “It was an incredible workshop about how to cultivate and facilitate a culture of openness, honesty and transparency to destigmatize mental health.” But of course, all the training in the world won’t help if the upper level staff isn’t modeling the right kind of behavior. As managers and executives, you also have lots of stress, so how do you handle it? Do you speak openly about your stressors with your team?
Perhaps, as Karen Ellzey, CBRE’s Executive Managing Director of Consulting for Global Workplace Solutions, has suggested, we don’t need codes of conduct, we need “codes of caring” that reinforce organizational culture. Breaking down those codes into daily routines would bring that caring culture to life. Salesforce is one of a growing number of organizations that build mindfulness practices into their working patterns. One example is using grounding exercises at the start of meetings, to “bring people into the present, make them mindful of our objectives and what we want to achieve and act as a signal to leave things outside the room that we don’t need.” Gary Foster, Chief Scientific Officer at WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, suggested that wider lessons can be drawn from the behavioral science that underpins the WW program: food, activity, mindset and sleep. “Mindset—the way that you think about the journey and yourself—is the foundation for developing healthy behaviors that can become healthy habits,” he said. As Dr Matthias Birk explained in Harvard Business Review, creating a routine for healthy and mindful habits, including meditation, takes self-discipline from the individual—and it’s also an area where some organizations are already offering their associates support through in-house programs or signposting to peer communities like Mindful on Wall Street, which draws together executives from Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, DWS, and Goldman Sachs.
Across sectors and organizational scale, what are the routines that best support mental well-being in the new hybrid working world?
Digital technologies have helped put employee assistance programs in associates’ pockets through apps, self-care tools, on-demand coaching and personalized services. For example, WW is among the organizations to offer Headspace to its members as part of its effort to offer a more holistic approach to health. Apps like Ginger, Sibly, and Talkspace, provide various types of therapy and coaching on-demand and by appointment, and are part of the benefits package for employees at Pinterest, Stitch Fix, Sephora, Zynga, Cleary Gottlieb, and more. Lyra Health, which is used by Starbucks and eBay, has an even more robust platform, offering a complete mental wellness suite of products, including self-care tools, mental health coaching, evidence-based therapy, medication management, critical incident support, manager training, onsite therapy, and work-life services. Happify Health is currently part of the benefits package at companies including IA, Humana, and Cigna. A digital platform that claims to decrease anxiety and depression and increase resilience by 20%, Happify Health offers its users more than 60 four-week long training tracks targeting various mental health issues.
What other resources best serve well-being for remote and co-located teams?
The next step
Our aim is to create a resource site of bold ideas and best practices — drawing on the insight and experiences of the community of peers that we are convening. We believe the site we create from this crowdsourcing will become a valuable resource for every leader. It will be essential reading for any change agent who wants to build team resilience, nurture talent, and create happier, healthier organizations.
We would love to see you raise your hand to join our effort—and hear how your organization is cracking the code of mental well-being in the new hybrid work world.