A difficult year adjusting to life in a global pandemic has taken its toll on our mental health and without a separation between work and home, many of us are feeling exhausted and stressed.
Here, Patti Clarke, Chief Talent Officer of Havas Group, shares her perspective on why the pandemic has intensified feelings of exhaustion, and how many agencies across our network are prioritising employee mental health and overall wellness.
What impact has the pandemic had on our mental health?
The pandemic has been an extremely stressful experience. Living through a global crisis in which people feared that themselves and their loved ones could become sick, is an extremely stress-inducing situation. Many of our employees had friends and family who were very sick and sadly in some cases passed away due to the virus. The restrictions and lockdowns had a significant impact on our “normal” life and social routine. The dramatic change in how work got done, specifically working from home, has also posed issues for many employees. We were all forced to quickly adapt to an “all virtual” way of working with Zoom, Teams, Slack, etc. At times, there was a feeling of being isolated and a loss of community with being removed from the social/fun/lighthearted aspects of the job, which put the sole focus on the work. Working from home has also created a situation for many where they feel as though they “cannot log off” – leading to increased hours worked, and increased stress. Finally, the pandemic also resulted in a more volatile economy and less confidence in job-security, which also led to increased stress and anxiety.
How was mental health reflected in our annual employee study HavaSay?
While we knew agencies were working hard to communicate and stay connected during the pandemic, we were concerned about the longer-term impact of the pandemic on our employees. This led to our adding specific questions to our January 2021 HavaSay survey so we could gain more insight on the experiences our employees were having in a remote work environment. We found out that 70% of employees felt equipped to manage both personal and work demands and that over 90% had found ways to collaborate as a team while working remote. However, when we dived into specifics about their workday, only 47% of employees felt they were able to take regular breaks throughout the day to recharge and only 51% felt they could accomplish what they needed to during the day and that they did not feel pressure to be “on call” all hours of the day/night. Employees shared that not physically leaving an office made it difficult to log-off at the end of the day causing longer than normal work hours and that a lack of new hiring and client demands had increased their workload significantly. While many agencies were already putting processes in place to address employee mental health and wellness, this feedback was critically important for leaders. It enabled them to understand specific areas that might need to be addressed, to evaluate their current processes and also identify new ones to put in place.
How can Havas address mental health in a meaningful way?
The wellbeing of our employees is a major priority for us, so addressing work related areas that impact mental health is not only important to individuals but also teams, and the company. The first line of defence is managers proactively “checking-in” with individuals and taking action to address areas such as workload and hours. There are also programmes and initiatives that can help employees better manage their work week. Below are just some examples of support that’s been put in place in Havas agencies to help employees.
- Havas NA Benefits, Your Friends from Benefits – This initiative sends regular emails with resources for managing stress, anxiety, and burnout and employees can take part in aligned seminars.
- Havas New York Village (HXC), Creative Consciousness – A series of weekly initiatives designed to let employees take a break during the workday to focus on mindfulness, including free weekly yoga on Instagram Live.
- Havas Health & You, WorkWell – An initiative which includes additional summer days, late start Mondays, shorter meetings, etc.
- Havas London Village (HKX) – The agency implemented a programme, which included “Spring Fridays” with a 2pm finish, “Ease into Monday” with a 10am start, and an additional two days leave each year defined as “Mental Wealth Days.” They are also launching a wellbeing app to all of its 2,200 employees.
- Havas Village Paris, Havas Loves You – This initiative, launched six years ago, offers workshops and advice on ways to disconnect and reconnect.
- Havas Group, Havas Impact+ – The network recently encouraged a Power Down Hour to mark Earth Day, powering down to save electricity to help the environment, but also to help with mental wellness. Life@Havas, a global employee newsletter, has dedicated sections to wellness offering a range of content including mindfulness practices, at-home workouts, themed playlists, simple recipes, and countless mental health resources.
‘Burnout’ is a word we are hearing more and more. What are some of the signs of burnout?
In May of 2019, the World Health Organisation upgraded burnout from a “state” of exhaustion to “a syndrome” resulting from “chronic workplace stress.” Burnout is characterised by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in “other areas of life.”
In February 2021, the Harvard Business Review stated: “Burnout is not a result of an individual’s ‘lack of mental toughness,’ but instead the environment that is being created. You can’t assume that this is simply a matter of better personal resilience or more-effective individual coping. Especially right now, experiencing burnout in no way implies any personal shortcomings. The more effective action is to support people while things are in emergency conditions, like the pandemic, and to redesign the workplace to provide a sustainable, effective, and fulfilling work-life balance in normal conditions.”
The Mayo Clinic has one of the most comprehensive guides to how to spot burnout and how to act against it.
If you think you, or any of your colleagues, are heading towards burnout, then please reach out to your manager or local HR teams who are there to help.