Earlier this year, Amazon did something worth applauding. This new benefit was introduced by the trillion-dollar company to improve mental health for 950,000 of its employees (including warehouse workers).
The benefit, known as Resources for Living, provides employees and their family members with a certain number of free counseling sessions, crisis and suicide prevention support, and an app that includes mindfulness instruction and computerized cognitive behavioral therapy.
“Providing access to–and awareness around–mental health care is a critical responsibility for employers,” Beth Galetti, senior vice president of People eXperience and Technology for Amazon, said in a company announcement about the program. This new program will remove stigma and barriers to help our employees feel supported and safe during the pandemic.
Galetti explains why Amazon’s decision is so important on its own. Amazon has long denied that the warehouse and corporate workplaces it operates are toxic. They have been accused of being punitive and extractive and even discriminatory. The New York Times published a troubling portrayal of JFK8 in New York City, where pickers claimed they raced for online orders, and had difficulty interacting with supervisors when their management software failed them.
This was a nightmare for workers: constant demand, limited control over work schedules and conditions and little empathy from the higher-ups. Therapy can be sought for many reasons including grief and parenting difficulties, trauma, mental illness, grieving, or even psychological distress. Amazon workers who are negatively affected by their company’s policies may be seeking therapy because they believe that the workplace is filled with stressors. This can cause anxiety, depression or burnout or worsen the existing distress.
This is what drives the long-overdue, broader corporate awakening to the importance of mental health for employees. American companies know that they have a problem with their wellness, yet most don’t take the necessary steps to correct it.
Companies should not look at the negative aspects of leadership, poor or ineffective training, or policies that place emphasis on productivity, but instead focus their attention on improving employees’ mental well-being and mood. While therapy and other resources for wellness can help you survive a difficult or stressful work environment, what is really needed to be changed in the workplace?
What is happening behind closed doors __S.17__
Amazon is just one example of many businesses that have embraced the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. They’re a great perk for employees, especially corporate workers.
Nike recently offered its staff in the U.S. a week of paid leave before Labor Day. One manager described it as a way to relax and unwind. Bumble, a dating app, also gave employees a week-long vacation in June to aid with burnout. Last year, the software company Zendesk signed onto Modern Health, a popular platform that offers employees access to coaches, licensed therapists, and “self-service wellness kits.” As the pandemic unfolded, Google gave its employees more days off and a one-time $500 “wellbeing” bonus to spend on whatever helped them relax and reset, in addition to other resources, like video tutorials on how to be more resilient.
Although such policy changes can lead to glowing press coverage or celebratory press releases they do not address deeper cultural issues. Google employees, for example, have said it’s common for managers and human resources to respond to complaints of discrimination and harassment by urging the accuser to seek therapy or go on medical leave for mental health reasons without sufficiently investigating their claims. Google denies that there is a practice at Google of providing counseling rather than probing complaints.
H.R. “When you go to H.R. That ultimately means communicating that you are the problem.” A former Google manager said she was subject to harassment while working at the company. Mashable was provided a list by Google of policies and initiatives that support mental health in employees during this pandemic. These included coaching via the company’s online platform for learning and development to enable managers to have more meaningful conversations about employee well-being with their employees.
3 things that employers can do differently now
The same approach is used time and again by Dr. Leslie Hammer (Ph.D.), a psychologist at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences. The Band-Aid approach is used by companies to emphasize the importance of exercising, healthy eating, and other lifestyle habits, but they don’t stop to examine how policies can contribute to employee dissatisfaction and poor health.
Hammer says that “a lot of people are worried that it’s kinda a blame the worker-approach”. Hammer has worked for many years researching workplace organizational change and is the codirector of Oregon Healthy Workforce Center.
It’s up to you to take care of your well-being, not the workplace. It’s easier than it sounds. It is much easier to simply say “Ok, I know what. You go and make lifestyle changes that will improve your mental health and make you feel happier.”
Many people worry that this blame-the-worker approach is being used.
Hammer’s research and others have shown that there are three factors that play an important role in the well-being of employees: decreased work demands, increased employee control over when, where and how they work, as well as better social support.
Hammer disagrees with Hammer’s conclusion. Hammer says that the workplace must reduce risks to employees’ mental and emotional health in the same manner as we do to their physical safety. Employers should understand that employees need to be given a fair workload and have the ability to control their work schedules and conditions. Managers must also learn to show empathy and flexibility to workers. Hammer found that employees are more likely to be satisfied with their job, to feel engaged, to have a positive outlook on life, and to experience higher levels of satisfaction and turnover.
Hammer conducted research in a variety of settings, including information technology offices, grocery stores and nursing homes. She and her coworkers often teach supervisors a technique she developed called family-supportive supervisor behavior. They rely on empathy to increase emotional support and logistical resources that allow for flexible scheduling. These are creative management techniques that help employees adapt to new challenges like long-term or temporary absences.
This training includes role-modeling by supervisors. Managers set the tone, and often those in these roles are not given any training on how to effectively manage others. They interact with employees based on their past experiences or personal communication styles, which can be hostile, dismissive or demanding. Supervisors may take their anger or helplessness out on direct reports if they are not meeting unrealistic expectations. Employee well-being is largely dependent on the company’s culture and its business model. It also depends on whether managers and supervisors are supportive. Although therapy can be helpful for individual employees, it cannot fix their problems.
Hammer’s group is exploring the value of “sleep leading”. Hammer’s research shows that if senior executives and middle managers demonstrate the importance of good sleep habits, it will help improve employees’ sleep.
Hammer states that high-control productivity scheduling and monitoring of performance are not conducive to employee health or well-being.
Hammer stated in an email follow-up that “the practices of tight control over workers’ schedules and behavior lead to higher levels employee stress and strain through excessive performance pressures and inability to adjust work hours as necessary to accommodate other life and responsibilities like parent or child care.”
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos seemed to acknowledge the seriousness worker complaints in his April letter to shareholders. This was published after a failed unionization drive at an Alabama fulfillment center.
Bezos wrote, “I believe we need to be doing a better job of our employees,” and described Bezos’ company productivity goals not as unreasonable, but “achievable.”
Mashable asked Amazon if it offers training for managers or its executive teams in areas like sleep leadership and family-supportive supervisor behavior. The company replied that everyone participates in onboarding. The training programs are focused on developing and coaching talent, creating inclusive and high-performing teams and making decisions with “high velocity”. The company stated that there was training in empathy and well-being, but it did not provide any further information.
How to Start at the Top
In the first month of the pandemic, the video conferencing company Zoom went from 10 million daily meeting participants to 300 million. In the midst of unprecedented growth, and the pressure to connect hundreds, of millions more people locked down or quarantine, Zoom’s chief people officers Lynne Oldham said that Eric Yuan asked her this question: “How can we help employees?”
Oldham conducted focus groups with her staff to learn about the needs of employees. The focus was on caringgiving. Oldham said that the conversations she led brought out both laughter and tears. She and her colleagues learned a lot from these conversations about the importance of empathy when supporting and communicating with employees.
To help managers respond and listen to pandemic-related issues, the company created an internal empathy program called “Connecting Through Conversations”. Human resources encouraged managers to take advantage of the training, even though it was not mandatory. Oldham said that the company wanted all employees to feel safe to share their problems with one another.
Zoom also rushed to onboard and hire workers in order to satisfy demand and relieve the stress of rapid growth. Before the pandemic, Zoom had provided Lyra to its employees. This platform connects individuals with licensed therapists and also offers a goal-setting and meditation app. It also added TaskHuman access during the pandemic. This app allows users to connect with professionals to help them manage stress and self-care.
Zoom already offers training programs called “Managing Happy”, and “Leading Happy.” It focuses on how one’s behaviour affects others, regardless of whether they are customers or coworkers.
Oldham says, “We speak about happiness and delivering joy to customers as well as to employees.” These are the principles that inspired us to create our internal programs.
Zoom’s employees, both former and current, know how well the company is living up to the brand. However, there is a lesson to be learned from its approach to employee well-being. It must begin with the leadership team and the culture of the workplace, and not add new benefits to the workers. If policy changes are not made, it can have the unfortunate effect of “wellness washing” — dressing up — an environment that is inherently hostile for employee happiness.
“I believe that training leaders in supportive behavior is absolutely necessary.”
Although it may sound foolishly optimistic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health both recommend starting at the top. The two federal agencies promote “Total Worker Health” approaches to employee safety and well-being. This means that you must eliminate workplace hazards and conditions that can lead to injury or illness in the first place. Then, it is necessary to replace those unsafe practices with more safe ones. Finally, redesign your work environment so as to maximize safety, well-being, health, productivity, and overall well-being. Encourage personal behavior changes as the final step.
Business leaders are reluctant to acknowledge that they have a problem or that their managers lack empathy. Or that the business model that they use may be detrimental for employee health, despite their financial success. The obstacles to “total worker well-being” are fear of failure, and the immense difficulty of looking inward.
Hammer says, “I think that training top leaders in supportive behavior is exactly where we should be.”
Publiated at Sun, 12 Sep 2021 03:33:41 +0000