BI Spotlight: Leaders from Bank of America, Cigna, TBWA, and Deloitte, talk about how companies can help employees develop resilience in the face of unprecedented stress and challenges
- Business transformation has been a boon for global companies, but has also created stress for workers trying to keep pace with change.
- The workplace has faced unprecedented levels of stress over the past several months, with the onset of the global pandemic, and America's reckoning with systemic racism.
- This BI
Spotlight event, "Building a Mentally Resilient Remote Workforce" addressed how companies can effectively help its employeesmanage stress, anxiety and depression, stay healthy, and feel more productive.
- Moderated by Insider CMO Jenifer Berman, the event featured Jennifer Fisher, chief wellness officer of Deloitte, Anne Oxrider, senior vice president of wellness programs for Bank of America, Dr. Douglas Nemecek, chief medical officer for Cigna Behavioral Health, and Doug Melville, chief diversity officer for TBWA\North America.
Business transformation is the source of positive innovation in the workplace, as well as stress on individuals trying to keep up with rapid changes that are taking place.
The last several months have layered even more stress on workers, as the global pandemic sent many off to home offices, and many others to workplaces fraught with new kinds of risk. In addition, and more recently, the US has been reckoning with increased awareness of systemic racism at every level of society.
BI Spotlight convened a panel of experts to talk about the implications of these events for employers and their teams titled, "Building a Mentally Resilient Remote Workforce". The event featured Jennifer Fisher, chief wellness officer of Deloitte, Anne Oxrider, senior vice president of wellness programs for Bank of America, Dr. Douglas Nemecek, chief medical officer for Cigna Behavioral Health, and Doug Melville, chief diversity officer for TBWA\North America.
"Mental wellness overall has become a touchstone issue for companies," said Jenifer Berman, CMO of Insider, who moderated the discussion. "Pre-COVID it was a central theme. At the World Economic Forum at Davos it seemed to be one of the topics that seemed most prevalent across the board. The last few months have only accelerated that converation."
Mental-health awareness has evolved as companies first focused on physical health and wellbeing. "Like all big firms, we did the very trendy 'let's go do wellness and get Fitbits and start walking and focus on physical health," said Anne Oxrider, senior vice president of wellness programs for Bank of America.
"You do that for about a year and you realize very quickly that having that singular conversation about your physical health without addressing the full person...you are going to end up deteriorating any successes that you have," Oxrider said.
Mental-health issues impact people and teams alike
Dr. Douglas Nemecek, chief medical officer at Cigna Behavioral Health, said the company had been conducting research over the past few years into the topic of loneliness and social isolation, which is connected to other health risks such as heart disease and diabetes. The latest data at the end of 2019, "found that the numbers had actually gotten worse,"said Nemecek, who said that 61% of those surveyed identified as lonely.
The 2019 study also asked questions about the workplace, and its impact on loneliness. "We learned some really important things there too," he said. "People who are lonely say that their productivity is lower...they miss more days at work. They are five times more likely to take a day off because of stress." The data pointed to higher turnover rates, which has implications for the entire business as well.
These stressors can impact an entire team, not only the person experiencing difficulties."Mental health touches all of us," said Jennifer Fisher, chief wellness officer of Deloitte, citing the statistic that 1 in 5 adults in America are said to struggle with these issues. "You have to think more than just the impact to the individual that might be struggling with their
Fisher added that while focus on mental health in the workplace can center around topics like absenteeism and productivity, while more focus needs to be placed on what she calls 'presenteeism'.
"Presenteeism is...employees are showing up for work, they are physically there, but they aren't engaged and aren't engaging with their work," Fisher said. "A lot of this can be can be linked to chronic stress, to anxiety, to burnout, depression and other mental-health disorders."
Fisher said its important for companies to help foster mental-health literacy, rather than than just awareness, so that people can be productive and also get the help they need.
Doug Melville, chief diversity officer at TBWA North America, said that his company had a breakthrough on mental-health topics two years previously, through a regular podcast he does with the agency's CEO. They invited Charlemagne Tha God, host of "The Breakfast Club" to talk about his book about mental health and how communities of color lacked access to tools for dealing with problems
"There was a huge portion of America who's mental health was never really considered, Melville said. "Now we're evolving to look at the mental health, particularly in creative industries when you're trying to perform tasks that involve imagination and being free".
How leaders can help
Berman spoke about Insider's research on the human impact of transformation, which showed that 55% of executives still believe there is a stigma around mental health in the workplace. People in leadership positions can help their teams open up about their needs when they are open and honest about their own.
For leaders, this can boil down to something as simple as saying you're 'taking a mental health day', not just a personal day, which can help lessen the perception of a stigma around specific needs.
The global pandemic has accelerated learning for companies in helping employees stay healthy and productive. Cigna gave its employees 10 additional emergency days off at the onset of the global pandemic, in order to help workers deal with the stress of working from home, balancing children and home life, and cope with the worries around the virus.
Lessons learned in this period may be applied to the workplace going forward. "When we go back to the workforce, now it's going to be backed into the reopening of a lot of organizations," Melville said.
"All the information we are learning from our employees during this time of work-from-home," Melville said. "We're now going to have the opportunity to reintroduce people to the office of tomorrow with some of the conversations we've had baked into the reopening."
Final thoughts from the speakers
The speakers offered lessons for leaders to take on board as they navigate the future:
- Nemecek, Cigna: "One of the other things our research showed is people are less lonely...if they feel they can be their true self at work. Allowing people to be themselves, having an open and inclusive culture, and having opportunities to get to know people personally...As we share those personal stories we make even more connections, we get more engaged with people, we feel better. It's important for their health, it's important for our health as well, and ultimately the whole business does better."
- Melville, TBWA: "I look at mental health and all the areas of diversity as a new operating system. Some leaders can reboot and put the new IOS in there and they can get the energy going. Some leaders, the upgrade is really hard to get to. It's not always based on age...Whether it's race, gender, LGBTQ, there's just so many things with being culturally aware. The leader has to be in tune with some of these things in the organization, or else it's so hard to get the resources and the commitment and the authenticity that people who work for your organization and see you every day can believe and buy into."
- Oxrider, Bank of America: "Corporations need to support their leaders...Continuing to make available and surrounding our leaders with resources, centralized places where they can quickly go and tap in. We feel we've been able to survive and thrive because we've got centralized places, we've got toolkits, we've got education and messages that our leaders are getting. The key to being a resilient leader is taking that and pushing and sharing that. The other part we're seeing and encouraging is - let others lead. Your team is also qualified, they are also in an environment where they are learning to adjust.
- Fisher, Deloitte: "A big lesson learned is in intentionality. In the environment that we're in, when we started right after COVID and the massive shift to work-from-home, there were no boundaries. As the weeks and months have gone on, it has required all of us, but in particular leaders, to be much more intentional, set boundaries, be much more thoughtful about the technology we use, how we use it, who we talk to, when we talk to them, how we structure our meetings. Creating intentional time for what used to be serendipitous networking. Being intentional, and hoping that continues well into the future regardless of what our work situation looks like."
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