March 3, 2024

There’s a mental health disconnect between executives and remote workers

The wellbeing of employees is becoming central to the effectiveness of hybrid work policies, as suggested by recent survey research from Information Services Group (ISG). But a worrying trend is appearing: Leaders are overestimating their employees’ well-being, leading to decisions that may negatively impact it. I call this discrepancy the “Well-being Paradox.”

The ISG survey of more than 200 global IT and enterprise executives showed that 81% of executives view mental health as a top employee concern and a key factor in their organization’s decisions around remote and flexible working. This underscores the importance leaders are placing on mental health in the hybrid work model.

However, the survey also revealed that executives are less confident in their ability to enhance the overall employee experience. This suggests that while leaders are aware of the importance of mental health, they aren’t equipped to address it effectively.

The survey also highlighted the positive impact of remote work on work-life balance and talent acquisition. Most respondents said remote work has positively impacted the work-life balance their enterprise offers as well as their ability to attract talent. This suggests that flexible work policies can contribute to employee well-being and organizational success.

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However, over the past year, as organizations have transitioned back to the office, what I call a “Macro-Micro Disconnect” has emerged. Executives focus on the macro picture, overlooking the micro picture of their employees’ well-being. Viewing the return to office from a macro perspective, they see it as a remedy for isolation and disconnection, expecting it to boost morale and improve mental well-being. This tunnel vision can lead to a distorted understanding of the workforce’s actual state of well-being.

In fact, a survey from Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence reflects this with 77% of executives believing that workers’ mental well-being improved over the last year. Contrastingly, from the employees’ micro perspective, the return to the office has introduced new stressors like commuting, readjusting to the office environment, balancing home and work life, and concerns about health and safety. Only 33% of employees in the same survey feel their mental well-being has improved. Further, only 27% and 30% of employees feel their social and financial well-being, respectively, have improved, reflecting the pronounced discrepancy between the executives’ macro view and the employees’ micro experience.

Leaders must recognize this Well-being Paradox. They must understand the impact of work on well-being and take steps to mitigate it.

The Deloitte survey suggests that managers who interface directly with employees on a daily basis play a pivotal role in improving well-being. However, they often face organizational obstacles such as rigid scheduling requirements and lack of necessary skills. Only 42% of managers feel “completely” empowered and capable of helping their company achieve its well-being commitments.

To address this paradox, leaders need to embrace “human sustainability,” focusing on making employees healthier, more skilled and more connected to a sense of purpose. This involves offering workers more flexibility, opportunities for career development, and ensuring equitable pay.

Companies that resist enhancing workforce well-being will struggle to compete for talent. In the era of hybrid work, employee well-being isn’t just a metric — it’s a mandate. Leaders must ensure their policies reflect the reality of their employees’ overall health, focusing on objective measures and outcomes.

The surveys underline a significant disconnect between executives and employees concerning employee well-being. Work-related stressors pose significant obstacles, and many employees consider leaving their jobs for ones that better support their well-being. Prioritizing employee well-being and human sustainability is essential to retain and attract talent. It’s time for a wholesale reconsideration of flexibility in the workplace.

Gleb Tsipursky serves as the CEO of the hybrid work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts and authored the best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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