Andrew Eppich is the managing director for Equinix Canada, the world’s digital infrastructure company.
The last three years have been tumultuous, to say the least, and led to a huge shift away from traditional business models and toward a new world of work. The ways in which we share, communicate, live and connect were turned upside down as a result of the pandemic, on top of increased instability felt around the globe – and it all took a massive toll on employees’ mental health.
While this period of change has pushed employee wellbeing to the forefront for many organizations, things like economic uncertainty and political unrest still weigh heavily on today’s workforce. A recent report from Manulife Financial shows 71 per cent of Canadian workers said “their mental health has interfered with their ability to work in the past year.”
As organizations begin to figure out long-term remote and hybrid work plans, and many transition back to the office in some capacity, it’s clear that employee mental health needs to be top of mind. Businesses should be exploring ways to adapt their programs to the new challenges employees face today with a holistic approach to their wellbeing both in and outside of the workplace.
Investing in employees’ physical and mental health is good for the bottom line
In the wake of the pandemic, 41 per cent of Canadians reported a decline in their mental health, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association – it became clear that any major shift in day-to-day life can have a negative impact on an individual’s ability to remain focused and motivated. Which is why investing in programs to support employees’ physical and mental wellbeing are so important, not only to help them successfully navigate change, but also to prevent feelings of overwhelm, and ultimately keep them energized and engaged.
In addition, for businesses, poor mental health manifests itself in the form of lost productivity, decreased potential for creativity and innovation and increased employee turnover. According to a recent report from professional services firm Mercer, Canadian companies lose an estimated $16.6-billion in productivity per year because of workers calling in sick, as a result of mental health issues. Giving employees access to resources that address stress and other mental health issues is a key step toward helping employees achieve their full potential.
Meeting employees where they are
Adapting to the new challenges employees face today begins by fostering a culture where every employee can say “I’m Safe, I Belong and I Matter.”
To do this, organizations need to take a personalized approach to wellbeing through targeted listening sessions across all areas of their business. This would include separate sessions for permanent remote workers, to better understand how to connect with their challenges, needs and preferences from afar. Listening sessions can be helpful to understand day-to-day work experiences and create a tailored program that helps teams work together to prioritize their wellbeing and navigate change.
This can manifest in the form of a multifaceted program that includes a variety of daily breaks, reduced meeting days, weekly and monthly wellbeing classes, wellbeing challenges, education and information sessions and other special events.
It is equally important for organizations to develop employee assistance programs to help staff in times of need. These programs can offer employees and their immediate families access to resources, including wellness tools, legal support, financial resources and mental health counselling.
Empowering change together
Leaders can’t foster a great corporate culture alone. Building a culture that advocates belonging and good mental health during times of change requires buy-in from all employees. Employee resource groups (ERGs) can help connect like-minded employees with shared goals to help generate more significant transformation, together.
ERGs are internal community groups open to all employees, formed around an identity that is historically marginalized or has common challenges. They serve to enhance employee experience, foster inclusion, promote cultural awareness and strengthen the business.
ERGs are particularly important for empowering and engaging employees from marginalized communities. For example, a recent initiative from Equinix’s PrideConnect (known as Equinix Employee Connection Networks or EECN) participated in a prelaunch event for the Canadian Museum For Human Rights for a new exhibit, which is dedicated to the violation of 2SLGBTQI+ rights known as “the Purge.” The event provided an opportunity to hear from Michelle Douglas, a human-rights activist and survivor of The Purge, who launched a landmark case in the Federal Court of Canada against the military’s discriminatory policies against 2SLGBTQI+ service members. Opening in late 2024, this exhibition will be the focal point in the museum’s work to engage the public about 2SLGBTQI+ history and rights in Canada.
In addition to ERGs, an organization’s social-impact strategy can also play a pivotal role in making employees feel a sense of belonging and appreciated by creating opportunities for them to give back and make an impact in their communities. According to a Great Places To Work survey, employees at companies with generous and lasting corporate social responsibility efforts during the pandemic were 15.6 times more likely to say their company was a great place to work.
Allowing employees to play a role in shaping a company’s ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) strategy, including helping to identify and support community-driven non-profits and social enterprises, can have an immensely positive effect on an employees’ mental health. For businesses, having employees’ passions help define their priorities greatly improves retention and allows organizations to be more strategic in their philanthropic efforts.
As Henry Ford once said “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.