Creating a workplace where women can thrive

The world of work has changed – for everyone.

No matter the role you play, whether you work for a large or small organization, public or private, your work is different today than it was in March 2020.

That level of change varies across the board, with some hit with major disruptions, upheaval and extreme difficulties and others not as much.

One final certainty is that women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with working women in particular experiencing greater life disruption and potential harm to mental health than men.

Let’s face it: many of these challenges were present before the pandemic. However, the last 18 months have exacerbated the difficulties. On a positive note, we now have that ‘burning platform’ to begin to address these issues head on.

Silver lining No. 1

I personally like to think of this as the first silver lining of the pandemic. (Yes, there are more!)

Last month I had the distinct opportunity to facilitate a discussion with experts in the field of mental wellness, stress and burnout with a focus on women’s wellness. Our panel shared their experiences through their work, personal stories of challenge, and most importantly, tangible actions we can all execute to better support working women.  

As Kristin Durney shared during our conversation, the World Health Organization indicates depression and anxiety are the largest disabilities we have in our nation: 1 in 4 people globally will face a challenge in mental health in their lifetime.

Even more concerning are those whose struggles go undetected or unrecognized; there are likely more people around us every day who are struggling and suffering yet never reach out for help.

“The biggest issue with burnout is you don’t know that it is happening until it’s too late.” This is what we heard from Julia Arndt, founder of Peak Performance Method, who shared her own experience with burnout.

Like most, she thought she would just rest for a few days and get right back at it and be ‘fine.’ But that approach doesn’t work to overcome burnout.

Through her research, she shared that 9 out of 10 U.S. workers feel regularly burnt out, up 20% from pre-pandemic.

Silver lining No. 2

This gives way to the second silver living: the pandemic has prompted more research than ever before on burnout, stress and its impacts on our day to day health.

Awareness is step one in solving this growing problem.

While the panelists shared surprising data and statistics, they also shared tips and tangible actions to help address these issues.

To be candid, I don’t know that any of them were wildly surprising to me. But hearing them this time was different as part of this overarching conversation surrounding mental wellness, and as a working woman myself. I found myself inspired to make change happen.

Silver lining No. 3

This is my third and perhaps most uplifting silver lining. Just by opening the discussion and talking candidly about the challenges, we are well into our journey to address the work that needs to be done. Whether you are an individual contributor, small business owner, HR practitioner in an organization, or hold another role in a company, we can all make an impact. Here are my personal key takeaways to affect an evolution:

  • Take care of me. Self-care is not selfish. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. As Yasmin Flasterstein so eloquently put it, “Ask yourself, ‘what is my good enough today?’.” By taking care of ourselves and setting boundaries, we become a role model for others to take time to rest, reflect and refresh. This reminded me of the oxygen mask on the airplane – in the event of an emergency, put your own face mask on first and then assist others. It is easier to care for others when you have taken care of yourself first. I really liked how Annie Robinson put it when she said, “Work Life balance pits work against life. Work is just a component of life.”
  • Phone a friend. Call, text, email, ping, instant message, a visit, whatever connection method you choose. Engage with those around you. Ask how they are – really ask how they are. Ask with the intent to listen, not with the intent to respond. Make more, intentional connections.
  • Reframe mental health. Think about how we can change our thought patterns, be conscious of the stigma that is all around us and within us and adjust your language to make people more comfortable. Annie recommended organizations designate someone to think about this work and these challenges. Recently I heard someone compare a dietician for someone looking to better their diet to getting a therapist to better their mental health and wellness.
  • Raise your awareness. Stop and look around. Does your co-worker seem a bit ‘off’? The neighbor you see every day going for walk: have you seen them lately? Are you feeling extra sluggish lately and just not yourself? Julia shared three types of changes that may indicate signs of potential burnout: physical, emotional and performance. If you see something, say something. And if you’re not sure what to say, start with something basic to open the conversation such as, ‘you don’t seem yourself today,” and just pause. Your company may even have resources available in this space through offerings such as employee assistance programs.
  • Small change may have big impact. What someone around you may need may in fact be something you can provide, easily, without a lot of approvals or policy change. Often, especially in organizations, we think big changes are required to help your teams. Look for the small, light lift changes. Take hybrid work, or remote work. For some, working from home for the past year has been a blessing and the way they’ve been able to keep working.

At the same time, it has been a hard adjustment for many others, working mothers included, and in some ways a contributing factor to increased stress and burnout. Juggling kids at home, managing a household and not being able to ‘leave work’ are just a few of the challenges. As we consider a post-COVID world, surveys are indicating hybrid is the way employees want to work. Is it possible to offer a more ‘flexible’ approach to work? If the answer is at all a ‘yes,’ that may just be worth exploring further.

Yes, the world of work has changed. But to give a different perspective, I would offer the phrase, “The world of work is changing.” We will continue to evolve, post pandemic and beyond. I am confident in our collective ability to be ‘better’ in this space of wellness and support working women in particular to change the course. To say ‘it takes a village’ is an understatement; however, change starts with each of us and can begin today.

Author: Amy Freshman

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