Mar 27, 2023
Finding wellbeing in the workplace
Like many Americans, Boston-area resident Jeffrey Dale had a professional reckoning during the COVID-19 pandemic that inspired him to change jobs – an occurrence so common over the last two years that it has been deemed “The Great Reshuffling.”
Dale, who worked as an editor, switched to a fully remote position, but soon found himself feeling isolated and unmotivated, straining his mental health.
“For me, there was an aspect of not being physically with my coworkers that created confusion and awkwardness,” Dale said.
He started a new position in February that offers more support and social contact and has already boosted his spirits, he said.
“I feel so much relief,” he said.
Dale isn’t alone in seeking a change – and then another.
Near record numbers of American workers are actively seeking or open to a new job. And those jobs are changing– some are now partly or entirely remote, many offer new responsibilities as staffs dwindle or swell, and all are shifting priorities to meet the needs of the moment.
Those new opportunities are exciting, but anxiety and uncertainty can accompany any change, noted Dr. Tracy Mullare, a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts psychiatrist.
“So many people are in transition now, whether they’re starting a new job, or staying with the same job and returning to a hybrid or in-person approach. As exciting as it is that the world is opening up and as great as a new job can be, transitions are a mixed bag. Considerations of mental health are so important.”
- Mullare said
Coverage spoke with Mullare and other experts about how employers and employees can prioritize mental wellbeing in our new environment.
Find the right fit
Identifying the work model that’s most compatible with your own mental health needs and productivity can help maximize well-being, said Mullare.
“Some folks have really found working from home has improved their quality of life, and others have really felt socially isolated,” Mullare said. “So, knowing what the expectations are and looking into opportunities that fit what works best for you and your family is very important. You may want to choose a company that offers flexibility in when and where you work.”
For those who work remotely, Mullare recommends setting up a workspace that is separate from living space.
“Think about where the workspace is set up, figure out where that real estate and where the workspace starts and ends, so you can leave that workspace when you're done,” she said.
And if you’re commuting to work, unplug when you get home. Those boundaries help maintain work-life balance that is essential for good mental health.
“One thing that is really important when starting a new job is preparation,” Mullare said. If you’re returning to the office or starting an in-person position, consider mask-wearing policies in the office, commute time, vaccination or testing requirements, to name a few. Those issues can be sources of anxiety, and giving yourself time to prepare and ask questions can help.
Employers can support new employees by providing clear communication about expectations, and resources to answer questions – including about new technology.
“It's OK to ask questions of your supervisors if you’re struggling to log into a new system – that’s very common,” Mullare said. “Employers can instantly help reduce a new employee’s anxiety level by setting them up with the proper IT support.”
Work-life balance matters even more than compensation to job seekers right now, LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report found. That means employers have to be mindful of everything their teams are juggling outside the office as well as at work, said Natalie Danahy, Blue Cross’ senior benefits manager.
“Our company thinks about our culture of wellbeing in four ways -- physical, emotional, financial, and social -- and we offer tools for each,” Danahy said.
- Caregiving: “We have subsidized backup child and elder care should regular care arrangements not be available for staff,” Danahy said. “We also offer subsidized virtual tutoring for kids who may need extra help in school, and access to a database where people can look for sitters.” For the first 20 months of the pandemic, recognizing the strains families were under, the company even offered healthy free family-size dinners that employees could take home each week.
- Mental health: Blue Cross offers free access to Learn to Live, which provides online cognitive behavioral coaching for issues including anxiety, stress, sleeplessness, and substance use. “We felt it’s important that some of these resources are available to family members of our associates as well,” Danahy said. For two years, the company also has been holding biweekly mental health webinars featuring psychiatrists including Mullare.
- Finances are a key source of stress for many, so the company offers personal financial coaching and advising for all employees, as well as an optional student loan repayment program.
- Fitness: The company’s rewards program provides cash for healthy habits, and allows employees to join in challenges – for instance, encouraging walking, meditating and other practices.
The pandemic has changed the work world for good, and healthy companies recognize that, said Deborah Varao-Martin, senior director for associate relations at Blue Cross.
“There's a different level of expectation out there now,” Varao-Martin said “We've been through this very dramatic event as employees and humans, and as employers we've got to help people find new, flexible ways to flourish.”
Are you a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts member who is looking for a therapist? Call 1-888-389-7764 or use our Find a Doctor & Estimate Costs tool to find licensed therapists.