Bring Humanity Mental health is at an all-time low, and the workplace is partially to blame.
According to a survey from the nonprofit Mental Health America, 89% of employees say that workplace-related stress and depression are negatively impacting their relationships with friends, family, and co-workers. Less than half feel like they’re getting the support they need at work.
For many organizations, the most urgent question of the next decade is: How do we create a workplace that fosters our employees’ well-being?
To start answering that question, ServiceNow hosted a roundtable of CHROs and thought leaders who are dreaming up creative ways to improve employee well-being: Jen Fisher, chief well-being officer at Deloitte and author of “Work Better Together”; Kelley Steven-Waiss, head of workforce innovation products at ServiceNow and founder of Hitch; Kelly Kent, chief transformation officer at ServiceNow; and Karen Pavlin, chief equity and inclusion officer at ServiceNow. Here’s what they had to say.
When well-being stops at work
bring humanity Pandemic-era innovations have carried over into the new normal. With the advent of remote and hybrid work, employees now have numerous opportunities to get to know their team, work flexibly, and learn on the job. So why are they struggling more than ever?
During the roundtable, the panelists traced the origins of this crisis back to pre-pandemic thinking. “The legacy thinking is that well-being is something that happens outside of work,” says Fisher. This school of thought doesn’t acknowledge the impact of leadership, culture, and workplace habits on employee wellness, she says.
Then came the pandemic. “Every day, we were overloaded by emails and Zoom fatigue,” Pavlin says. She argues that the organizations that thrived during the pandemic put employees and well-being at the center of their decisions, taking steps to mitigate burnout and promote a healthier workspace.
“Smart organizations know that employees need to feel supported,” says Pavlin. “People want to know that their organization’s values align with theirs. If that doesn’t happen, they’ll leave.”
In fact, many are already leaving. A stunning 40% of employees are thinking about quitting their jobs in the year ahead. This revolution has created a greater sense of urgency for organizations to integrate work and well-being. “There has been a power shift from the organization to the employee,” says Pavlin. “The pandemic amplified that shift.”
Bring humanity back
To mitigate the mental health crisis, the panelists agree that organizations have to make a fundamental change. Kent puts it simply: “Bring humanity back.”
According to Kent, people are coming to the workplace with an expectation of an exchange of value. They’re willing to bring humanity something to the table as long as their workplace does the same. “We have to consumerize the experience if we want people to stay,” she says. To that end, organizations must offer best-in-class tools, resources, and career choices—“to create the iPhone experience” in the workplace, says Kent. “In doing so, we’ll tap into that massive amount of value that people have been leaving on the table.”
Bring humanity back is more than just a philosophy. It’s a strategic approach to well-being. The legacy approach to managing a workplace emphasizes personal responsibility. This absolves the organization from supporting its people. After all, if well-being happens outside of work, then the workplace doesn’t have to care whether its people are happy.
“We have to design well-being into the flow of work.”
“Historically, the only way the workplace has supported people is through perks and benefits,” says Fisher. While perks and benefits are important, employers have to go a step further, she says. “We have to design well-being into the flow of work.”
Well-being by design
Digital tools have a huge role to play in bring humanity back. ServiceNow’s Pavlin points out that many—if not most—employees are digital natives. It’s important for them to have access to tools that support their well-being. Pavlin cites apps like Virgin Pulse, a personalized platform that enables employees to improve their daily habits and mental health by working closely with coaches, and Cleo, which offers a similar service for new parents.
Other platforms simply make it easier for people to do their jobs. “If I have to log in to seven different systems to complete the tasks I need to get done, that’s incredibly frustrating,” says Fisher. Apps that use artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) to automate repetitive tasks can do a lot for an employee’s quality of life.
Steven-Waiss was inspired to build a digital talent mobility platform from the ground up because the market didn’t offer anything comparable. “One night, I was sitting in a conference room, trying to grapple with a lot of what I saw,” she says. “Unhappy people were leaving the organization and not getting the right opportunities. When I couldn’t find a solution, I put a team together to build one.”
This AI-based platform, Hitch, helps companies become more inclusive and innovative by pairing people with tasks based on their skills and aspirations. ServiceNow acquired Hitch in June 2022.
Hitch is part of a wave of digital tools empowering people to control their own destiny in the workplace. “If people bring humanity their whole selves to work, that includes their skills and aspirations,” says Pavlin. “As organizations, we have to ask: What are the skills you want to learn? Who are the people you want to connect with? And then we have to bring humanity that to you digitally.”
A shared responsibility
This humanity-centric approach requires new leadership strategies. “Well-being is now a shared responsibility,” says Fisher. “Managers need to lead through the lens of well-being.”
What does this mean in practice? The panelists agreed that C-levels should track employee well-being as part of their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. As it stands, leaders spend a lot of time measuring employee productivity, but not their happiness. “Some of the most productive people I know create toxic teams and organizations,” says Fisher. Instead of zeroing in on productivity to the exclusion of everything else, Fisher suggests tracking both.
Leaders should foster conversations about the challenges people face in the workplace.
But leaders’ responsibility doesn’t end with measurement. Pavlin adds that leaders should take steps to foster conversations about the challenges that people face in the workplace.
“Transparency is contagious,” she says. Pavlin describes a program at ServiceNow called Being You, in which employees from around the globe gather to talk about complex, personal topics. “It really opened our eyes to so many invisible identities, things you don’t necessarily see,” she says.
Over a billion people in the world have some kind of disability, according to data from the World Bank. And many of those are invisible disabilities like depression and anxiety. “What we’re doing from a ServiceNow perspective,” says Pavlin, “is building platforms that allow people to have an equitable experience.”
Leadership isn’t just about technology and strategy, though. The panelists agreed that bring humanity back into the workplace means bring humanity to your leadership decisions. Steven-Waiss says this is why she became a CHRO in the first place, after watching her brother struggle with his own mental health.
“When we talk about bring humanity our whole selves to work,” says Steven-Waiss, “we should ask: How can we be more inclusive to these individuals? They have so much to offer. And we have to do this better.”
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