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Lessons in combating workplace stress from top companies: Bumble, Lloyds, Google and more

Organisations have had to cope with a crisis beyond COVID-19 in recent months. The crisis of burnout has been sweeping employees, causing low moods, poor performance, depression, and time off work.

Just as workplaces have been revolutionised at the hands of the pandemic, they now too must overhaul their current systems in order to combat workplace stress. Otherwise, they risk losing employees, time, money, and damaging their reputation.

The signs of burnout

Workplace stress has increasingly been rearing its ugly head for years now, but the pandemic has really put the icing on the cake. Online searches for ‘signs of burnout’ have increased 24 percent throughout 2020 compared to the year before. The pressure to be at peak performance all the time is a key factor causing burnout. The ‘always on’ culture and expectation for employees to be available around the clock, along with money worries, uncertainty about the future, emotional exhaustion and more are also contributing factors. The unfortunate truth is that these all likely culminate in mental health issues.

Even before 2020, the boss of Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta-Osorio warned that “firms that ignore mental health issues risk breaking employees' lives and families." He was speaking from experience having suffered from sleep deprivation and exhaustion, which led to him taking eight weeks off in order to return to health. Antonio’s time out made him re-evaluate the importance of mental well-being for the bank’s 65,000 employees, and upon his return he began to implement some major changes.

Educating senior staff

De-stigmatising issues around mental health was a high priority for Lloyds Banking Group. Antonio Horta-Osorio put in place training to educate senior executives, and an online portal for staff to use if they were struggling with issues in their private lives or at work. The mental health awareness program resulted in thousands of mental health first aiders throughout the bank, with the core aim being to make employees feel more comfortable discussing their personal problems.

The sad reality is that nearly half of employees still feel uncomfortable talking to their employers about their mental health. A recent return-to-work survey found that 48% of UK workers do not inform employers when suffering from issues impacting their personal life. The survey also uncovered that only half of workers have access to mental health first aiders, and that 50.5% have received no health and well-being support during the pandemic.

Having support available to facilitate honest conversations about an issue, whether personal or workplace related, is a key way to tackle the problem of stress before it escalates. It is not about training staff to be counsellors, but just about being open for employees to talk without fear of judgement or repercussions. Educating senior team members in mental health can help them gain skills such as active listening, as well as building their understanding, and recognising where additional support may be the solution.

The perks that matter

There is a desperate need for better workplace education around mental health in order to address stress and burnout. Alongside this, we are seeing an urgent call for the reform of workplace perks, which could minimise stress. The saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Google is renowned for their outside-the-box staff perks, and they really touched on something with their in-house cookery classes – after all, healthy eating is essential to all round health; and with their ‘bring your pets to work’ policy. The latter of which many other companies (Uber, Amazon and AirBnb to name a few), have also implemented, as pets are proven to ease anxiety and reduce stress.

Taking employee well-being to the next level, forward-thinking Google has since launched gPause, their global community of mindfulness practice for well-being change. This internal program utilises mindfulness and meditation apps, and virtual peer-to-peer mental health community, Blue Dot. They have also introduced extra days off, including an all-staff ‘reset day’. Dating app Bumble has taken this a step further and recently hit the headlines for giving their staff a week off! Bumble temporarily closed all of its offices for a week to combat staff burnout.

Others, including Skyscanner, have also been reforming their staff benefits. Previously centered around free food and foosball (as so many companies do), the organisation is now providing an employee package with access to well-being app Headspace and closing their offices for a day for staff to focus on themselves.

Restoring a balance

The pandemic has shaken the notion of what is the norm. Nine to five working has dissipated, and businesses are dramatically rethinking their policies. Fun perks are all well and good, but it is becoming evident that the core benefits that matter most to staff are pensions, healthcare and a supportive environment. Without these fundamentals, businesses run the risk of a long-term crisis. Continuing down the slippery slope of stress, exhaustion, burnout and poor mental well-being. Not only would this impact productivity and commercial performance, but it could also lead to low team morale and staff turnover.

But, it's not all doom and gloom! Evidence suggests that things are improving – 57% of employees agree that their employers have more respect for mental health issues compared to a year ago. Companies are looking to reduce excessive stress and pressure in the workplace, as well as looking for ways to improve employee’s mental well-being through innovations and providing benefits that really matter.