During the pandemic, stress and burnout moved to the center of our conversations about workplace health, and employee well-being quickly shot to the top of nearly every company’s agenda.
When I launched Thrive Global in November of 2016, the topics of stress, burnout, and employee well-being were still on the fringes of our conversations about work. As Thrive grew, so did awareness about employee well-being and resilience. More and more company leaders were in once we’d show them the science demonstrating a direct connection between well-being and productivity.
Meanwhile, stories about stress and burnout steadily moved from the lifestyle section of newspapers to the business pages. In 2019, the World Health Organization declared burnout to be an “occupational phenomenon,” and added it to its international classification of diseases. As each year passed, more and more people became desperate to change the way they work and live. And then the pandemic hit. Suddenly stress and burnout moved to the center of our conversation, and employee well-being quickly shot to the top of nearly every company’s agenda.
The new normal
Leaders now realize that employee well-being isn’t just something that’s nice to have — it’s an essential strategy for success. Companies are aware that human qualities like focus, empathy, collaboration, and resilience are critical to being able to thrive in times of uncertainty and disruption. But as the past year has shown us, we can’t access these qualities when we’re stressed or burned out. We can’t engage in strategic, long-range thinking when we’re just trying to make it through the day or the next hour.
Now, as we are preparing for an uncertain hybrid future, it’s clear that employee well-being must be the foundation on which we build the workplace of the future. And what’s also clear is how limited and inadequate our pre-pandemic thinking about well-being was. Well-being is not a warm-and-fuzzyperk. It’s not about ping pong tables, in-house DJs, catered buffets, or healthy snacks in the common area, as valuable as those can be. It’s not something we give ourselves as a reward to make up for burning ourselves out.
Working towards the future
With most companies moving to an ever-evolving hybrid model of work, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine work and productivity — not going back to the way things were, but shaping an employee experience that prioritizes human skills: empathy, resilience, collaboration, team building, and creativity. It’s clear that the workplace of the future is going to be defined by constant change. And it is equally clear that these qualities are what allow individuals and companies not just to navigate uncertainty and change, but to grow, get better, and thrive.