To mark World Mental Health Day, Pam McGee at STEM Women explains why compassion is key to workplace wellbeing.
Workplace burnout is now officially recognised by the World Health Organisation as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ and we see the phrases ‘Great Resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’ all over social media, so it’s safe to say that employee wellbeing should be high up on every organisation’s agenda right now.
For those who are underrepresented in the workplace, and especially in leadership, it’s even more important to take practical steps to address workload imbalance, unconscious bias and the rise in microaggressions, which disproportionately affect them and can take a psychological toll.
People of colour, those with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community, women and those with caring responsibilities are particularly in need of support, and the key to this is compassion.
Accepting someone else’s experience, and believing them even when their experience doesn’t match with your own, is what underpins a compassionate approach. And dealing with burnout and toxic behaviours requires compassionate action rather than words or statements.
How the pandemic affected workplace wellbeing
Much current workplace tension has stemmed from employees’ experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic; whilst many faced isolation, others dealt with complete overwhelm, in some cases leaving them with unresolved trauma.
Deloitte’s Women at Work 2022 report explores how women around the world rated their workplace satisfaction and career confidence during this period of intense change. The findings reveal rising stress levels, underreporting of harassment and microaggressions, and tension caused by a lack of support for flexible working.
More than half (53%) of respondents said their stress levels were higher than a year ago, 46% said they feel burned out, and 33% had taken time off work due to mental health challenges.
As those in the UK now face dealing with the cost-of-living crisis, stress levels are likely to increase further. Adding to this a rise in acts of exclusion and subtle discrimination (often referred to as ‘microaggressions’) can create a tipping point which results in losing good employees. Over half of the women surveyed by Deloitte are looking to leave their employer in the next two years, with burnout cited as the most common reason.
Of course, the pandemic has also affected those entering the workforce even before they begin their careers, as demonstrated by STEM Women’s research into student and graduate attitudes to their future employment.
In 2020, 60% of respondents who took part in our whitepaper research said that the pandemic had affected their future career prospects. In 2021, this number remained high, at 59%, meaning that additional support is needed throughout the transition from university into employment.
How do you bring wellbeing to the workplace?
Many employers have recognised the decline in workplace wellbeing, but responses vary. Wellbeing-related activities or e-learning courses can be well-meant, and effective in some cases, but don’t always hit the mark when there are underlying issues around work/life balance and company culture.
Conversely, women who work for organisations who are genuinely committed to supporting wellbeing and creating an inclusive workplace report higher levels of career satisfaction and confidence, creating a competitive advantage for those employers.
STEM Women’s whitepaper ‘Understanding the Gender Imbalance in STEM’ has highlighted the increased importance which jobseekers place on diversity and inclusion – in 2019, 74% of respondents felt that workplace belonging was of very high importance, rising to 83% in 2020 and 89% in 2021.
At STEM Women, we work with many organisations who are not only seeking to increase the representation of women in their workforce, but are also dedicated to building a truly inclusive workplace through their organisational culture and policies. A compassionate approach doesn’t mean having to take on someone else’s burden, but actively listening, believing them, and being willing to take practical steps to address their concerns.
Despite the current cost-of-living crisis, pay is not the only factor when it comes to workplace satisfaction and career confidence.
Reducing workloads, dealing with toxic behaviours, and simply asking ‘what do you need?’ can allow underrepresented employees to be heard and acknowledged in a way that truly benefits their wellbeing and increases their confidence levels.
That said, salary can be an indicator of fairness and respect, as well a way to relieve stress around cost-of-living, so it’s well worth taking steps to address an organisational gender pay gap.
Other practical steps can include support for flexible and remote working, clear routes for progression, a fairly allocated training budget, ensuring that employees’ work is accurately recognised, and being an active ally to women in the workplace.
For example, making sure that women are involved in the design and development of new policies around hybrid/remote working, have equal opportunity to speak up in meetings, and are assured that reporting of toxic behaviour will be dealt with fairly. These are all practical ways to demonstrate genuine care for employee wellbeing, and to increase the confidence of women in the workplace.
At STEM Women’s recruitment and networking events, we hear from women in STEM roles who are keen to share their career journeys and experiences with students and recent graduates, – of late, many of these STEM role models are rejecting the idea of ‘imposter syndrome’, and are instead claiming their own achievements and talents with greater confidence.
It’s hugely encouraging to see this confidence being fostered by inclusive organisations, channelled into diverse leadership and inspiring the next generation of women and non-binary people entering the workforce.