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There is a perfect storm brewing in the global workplace, as dual crises are impacting employees around the world.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently warned us about the global mental health crisis. He referenced a World Health Organization report estimating that nearly 1 billion people are suffering from mental health conditions. Unfortunately, most will go untreated.
Guterres says, “Services may be unavailable or unaffordable. Stigma also prevents people from seeking help.”
At the same time, there is another crisis gaining momentum in the global workplace. The human energy crisis is a result of the external and internal impacts compounding over the last three years, producing considerable strain on millions of employees' energy, enthusiasm, and mental health.
Kathleen Hogan, executive vice president for human resources and chief people officer of Microsoft, was compelled to write an article for Fast Company on the significant challenge at hand for employers.
She writes, “Today, I believe we are facing a “human energy crisis” that is taking a toll on employees. From the warehouse, to the sales floor, to the office, workers are languishing, feeling burnt out, and exhibiting emotional detachment. These feelings demonstrate that people everywhere are struggling to maintain balance in their work and personal lives.”
While there has been significant attention and resources focused on the crisis of global energy costs, the dual crises facing our workforce necessitate a paradigm shift in the priorities of many leaders.
It’s essential to determine the root cause of the human energy crisis and the relationship between energy depletion in the global workforce and the global mental health crisis.
What is the global human energy crisis?
The human energy crisis is a measurable strain on workers (the human capital that fuels our economy) caused by the unrelenting pressure to perform at a higher level with less (resources, flexibility, training, or support).
It’s the classic “do (much) more with less,” at a time when many corporations are using go-to buzzwords like “agile”—while in truth, their shareholders are demanding greater profitability.
For many employees, the beginning of the global pandemic meant longer workdays, increased stress and anxiety, and the blurring of what was once a well-distinguished line between work and home life. These are just three factors among a list of workplace stressors far too long to mention in this article alone.
“Evidence of the Human Energy Crisis is affecting the working world in dramatic fashion,” says Hogan. “Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen the workday span increase more than 13% and after-hours and weekend work are up 28% and 14% respectively.
“On the human level we've seen languishing, depleted surge capacity, and a global mental health crisis.”
The impact on mental health
The increased burden of higher demand on employees’ output (and energy), while simultaneously balancing family responsibilities, exceeds what many have available to give.
To meet the heightened demands from above, people are sacrificing their physical and mental health and family.
The significant drain on human energy leads to burnout, diminished performance levels, and feelings of frustration, irritability, and fatigue—contributing to negative mental health impacts and behavioral changes.
The World Health Organization categorized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” (not a medical condition) in 2019.
The steady depletion of human energy in the workplace can be manifested as a continuous cycle, where one professional challenge or setback seamlessly leads to another, and another. Employees might describe it as a downward spiral that begins in the office and predictably moves to our home life, affecting behavioral health and, ultimately, relationships, parenting, and friendships.
When the downward spiral bottoms out, employees can find themselves completely disengaged from both their jobs and their families. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, there are three million fewer Americans working today compared to February 2020.
How deeply is this crisis affecting the workplace?
Employees around the world are operating beyond capacity. They are exhausted, burned out, anxiety-ridden, and mentally unhealthy. They’re also shifting more and more of their energy from their professional to personal lives.
Here are a few startling statistics to help shed some light on the impact of the global human energy crisis and global mental health crisis:
1. According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index, a global survey of 20,000 employees:
- Workers have a new “worth it” equation. 53% of respondents—particularly parents (55%) and women (56%)—say they’re more likely to prioritize their health and wellbeing over work than before.
- 48% of employees and 53% of managers report that they’re burned out at work.
2. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace survey found that:
- 44% of employees say they experienced stress “a lot” during the previous day.
- Fewer than 25% say they felt their employer cared about their wellbeing, which is the lowest percentage in nearly a decade. This is resulting in decreased engagement, higher burnout rates, and more employees looking for new job opportunities elsewhere.
3. A recent study conducted by McKinsey found that “one out of every three employees surveyed say their return to the workplace had a negative impact on their mental health, citing feelings of anxiety, depression, or general distress.
4. The State of Mental Health in America (2023) report from Mental Health America (MHA) found the following:
- 28% of all adults with mental illness reported that they were not able to receive the treatment they needed. Most reported they do not receive care because they could not afford it.
- In the U.S. there are 350 individuals for every one mental health provider.
How can HR leaders help employees navigate the global energy crisis?
Employee wellbeing and positive mental health outcomes are crucial to the success of every organization.
They can become stagnant, fall behind the competition, and potentially lose customers and market share when workers struggle with elevated levels of stress and anxiety, low energy, or burnout at work—and don’t have access to the right resources or support system to address them appropriately.
Defeating the human energy crisis in the workplace—and creating a new kind of human energy sustainability—requires a reassessment of the serious impacts (illuminated in the statistics above).
This essential first step can inform a new holistic approach to establishing a healthy workplace culture, defined by a renewed focus on the mental health of the entire team, not a single employee.
5 strategies for re-energizing your organization
Here are a five proven strategies HR leaders can implement to re-energize their workforce:
- Be cognizant of (and compassionate for) how the past three years have impacted the mental health of your employees.
- Encourage open communication channels, honest conversations, active listening, and authentic understanding from HR and People leaders to help demystify and minimize the stigma around mental health challenges.
- Provide confidential self-screening materials for symptoms of mental health disorders or burnout, available in common areas throughout the workplace.
- A flexible or hybrid work schedule is another highly effective strategy to re-energize employees. According to a 2021 study by the American Psychological Association (ASA), 34% of workers say that flexible hours would improve their mental health. Flexible work schedules can promote better work-life balance, increased job satisfaction, and greater employee engagement.
- Offering an innovative EAP to your employees, with fast and easy access to high-quality mental health benefits, is a game-changer. Spring Health is a mental wellness benefit that can enhance or replace your standard EAP, helping your teams through mental health crises.
Workplace wellbeing delivers positive ROI
A shift in workplace culture that bolsters the wellbeing of your employees provides a demonstrated return on investment for the entire organization.
When employees feel better supported and more valued, they are:
- Mentally and physically healthier
- More productive and efficient
- More invested in a long-term career path within your organization
- More inclined to achieve their departmental or organization-wide goals
- More likely to identify and support peers that may be exhibiting signs of mental health challenges
- More willing to take on greater challenges and leadership roles
- Less likely to underperform in their role, cause a conflict, or miss work due to mental or physical illness
Wellbeing at work is a requirement for high-performing teams, and an essential part of a successful recruiting strategy. Here are three ways to encourage workplace wellbeing at your organization.