A few months ago, I was talking with an EHS professional about the safety processes and procedures he implemented to help his staff through the pandemic. He mentioned that his next priority is making sure staff are doing well on a personal level. “I want to ensure that they are taking care of both their physical and mental health now that we are past the immediate concerns. That is my top goal this year.”
There are several paths that EHS professionals will be taking to help their workforce post-pandemic. I discovered a couple of interesting approaches in my recent conversations with Robert Allen, CEO of New Dimensions Consulting Services, and Vic Strecher, professor of public health at the University of Michigan and CEO of Kumanu.
“As companies did a great job pivoting during the pandemic, they must continue to do the same when it comes to self-care,” Allen says, adding that because of the high levels of stress and burnout, self-care should be given top priority. “As individuals, and as companies, we need to examine our levels of stress and chart a new course.” He describes the process as the 4 Rs: Retreat, Reflect, Replenish and Regroup.
In stepping back to reflect on a company’s culture to examine if it’s healthy, Allen provides the example of a leadership session that was quite lackluster and not achieving the intended purpose. After receiving permission from the COO, Allen took over the first 10 minutes of these meetings. Allen played music and posed ice breaker questions, which captured everyone’s attention. Eventually, the first 10 minutes of the meeting turned into a meditation segment that brought stress levels way down. “The leadership of this company enjoyed the new atmosphere and brought that to the managers and down the line of the organization,” Allen says. “It was a true culture shift.”
A useful tactic to formalize a changing culture is to gather and analyze data. Allen suggests taking a quick survey to ask employees specific questions with specific measurements:
- How is your stress level using a scale of 1 to 5?
- What times of the day do you feel more stress?
- How is your work/life balance?
- How can the company make your time at work better?
The results can expose old ways that are not working and lead to ways to readjust and improve.
Along with taking the emotional temperature of the organization, there is an underlying core issue that needs to be understood as well. People need to look at the root cause of their existence, Strecher says. “Dig deep past the answer that you are going to your job to support yourself, your family, your loved ones. Is there a larger, greater purpose to the work you are doing?” Strecher asks.
This question, an existential one to be sure, is what many people across the country are asking themselves after trying to come to terms with the pandemic. They are examining their lives, and many are questioning whether they are finding meaning and purpose in their jobs.
“Pointing out that work has a purpose can cause a number of things to happen,” Strecher says. “The soul-level satisfaction in finding purpose in how you spend the majority of your day changes your behavior. If you feel what you are doing matters, then you become more engaged. An employee with a purpose brings their best self to work. They take better care of themselves by eating better, working out and choosing less risky health behaviors since the lack of purpose are often at the root cause of these behaviors.”
Allen offers a new approach to helping employees tackle these issues: a goal coach. “Using a goal coach takes away a stigma that many people have about discussing their mental health,” Allen says.
Mental health is now showing up in safety standards as well. As one EHS Today reader commented: “As we consider the outcomes of the ISO 45003 standard on the psychological safety and health, we are reminded that everyone within the organization has a role to play. Leadership and management can have a profound effect on the workforce and can provide guidance on the critical issues important to the human performance of the organization. Together, the result can improve human relations and capacity.”