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Make Your “New Normal” Workplace Compassionate

As the world’s workforce starts making the slow journey back to the workplace during this very tenuous time, caring for our well-being has never been more important. Radical changes to our work and personal lifestyles over the last few months has forced many of us to put our self-care programs on the back burner — and the consequences are beginning to show.


In fact, according to a recent employee wellness survey, which The Wellbeing Lab conducted with George Mason University Center for the Advancement of Wellbeing and Dr. Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne, nearly half of workers polled don’t feel confident to care for their well-being right now. The survey asked 1,000 United States workers to find out how they’re feeling, functioning and looking to the future.

Almost as many respondents expressed reservations about returning to the workplace, concerned about the environment they will be facing. And only about a quarter of those polled actually expressed feeling positive at the prospect of returning to work.

With numbers like that in mind, it’s important to recall years of research that strongly indicates the “quality of our relationships” is the number one predictor of our overall well-being. It’s a concept that’s difficult for both managers and employees to wrap their heads around at a time when they are being told to “socially distance” and when happy hour with colleagues takes place on a crowded Zoom screen.

It begs the question: are managers and company leaders adequately equipped to handle the psychological needs of their returning employees right now?

The Wellbeing Lab survey revealed a lot about how workplaces should open back up. Among other concerns, 90% of American workers reported a “significant increase” in their struggles since the beginning of the year, which has affected job performance and well-being. More revealing, only two out of 10 felt comfortable about discussing those struggles at work. That stat probably explains why less than 6% of American workers would turn to their HR team if they are struggling, except when it came to workers worried about losing their jobs, then HR teams and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services became the most likely place workers turned to for help.

The “Wellbeing Report” also revealed that expressing care, compassion and appreciation are the three most under-utilized, affordable and effective tools every business leader has freely available to them. Studies have found that when leaders express care for their people’s well-being, show compassion for their struggles and let their people know when and why their efforts are appreciated, levels of employee well-being, connection and performance are all positively impacted.

By way of example, associate professor Mandy O’Neill’s research has found that when leaders prioritize the creation of a “positive emotional culture,” their teams are more likely to have better performance, better customer service and be more innovative. However, an ongoing culture of negative emotions often leads to burnout, absenteeism, poor performance and high turnover.

Teaching business leaders the skills to increase their own well-being and genuinely connect and coach their teams through challenging times positively impacts individual performance, team cohesion and organizational effectiveness.

This is why caring for your workers’ mental and physical well-being should be a key part of your company’s “new normal.”

About the Author

Michelle McQuaid Bio Image

Dr. Michelle McQuaid is the cofounder of The WellbeingLab. She is the author of the book “Your Wellbeing Blueprint: How To Feel Good & Function Effectively At Work.”

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