When COVID-19 unleashed its devastating impacts on workplaces around the world, worker well-being was already on shaky ground. In late 2019, a survey conducted by the HR Research Institute found that fewer than half of American workers considered their workplaces “positive and non-toxic,” and one in five had changed jobs in the past five years because of a negative company culture.
By the end of 2020, Americans’ mental health was at an all-time low. Even with the arrival of COVID vaccines, many people are still struggling with stress, exhaustion, anxiety, depression and—uncertainty about what’s next.
At Red Havas, we examined the trends emerging from the pandemic and helped our clients draft campaigns to support their workers. We also reevaluated our own policies. Internal surveys showed about 20% of our teams were struggling with burnout.
Depression is the leading cause of poor health and disability worldwide, according to the WHO. The office is an ideal place to address these issues, as work can have an outsized impact on a person’s mental health—while mental health has an outsized impact on worker productivity.
At Red Havas, we’ve implemented several employee-focused initiatives:
1. Two monthly summer days each month. We’re adding summer vacation days to existing PTO, and enabling employees to take those days by reducing workloads.
2. Delayed-start Mondays. We’re easing the transition from weekend to workweek by giving employees the flexibility to delay the start of their workday until 10 a.m.
3. Conscious communications. After-hours emails and texts keep us from being able to mentally leave the workplace behind. We’re encouraging our employees to avoid communicating with their colleagues about work on weekends and evenings.
4. Walking meetings. It’s vitally important to get up and move during the workday. We’re emphasizing breaks from the desk and encouraging employees to have walking meetings.
5. A hybrid future. Many of us embraced remote working, but it got tiresome, too. As pandemic restrictions ease, we want to give our employees the best of both worlds. We’re moving toward a model that will allow Redsters flexibility, encouraging two to three days in the office each week.
6. An hour to REDjuvenate. We’ve asked employees to take one hour per week on the clock and use it to actively improve their physical or mental health—for example, by learning a skill, reading a book, volunteering or getting exercise.
7. Additional mental health resources. We’ve given all employees access to the Headspace app for relaxing and meditating, and free counseling resources.
Employees are making the most of these programs, but it has to be supported from the top. Recently, I used my REDjuvenate hour to run around Central Park while listening to a news podcast. I got back to work an hour later with renewed vigor and ready to crack on with my day and shared the experience with the team.
After a year of trying to survive, now is the time to consider how we can again thrive.
James Wright is the global CEO of Red Havas and global chairman of the Havas PR Global Collective