Office Hours: Mental health benefits become the new job perks
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In a matter of months, the pandemic has transformed the way we communicate, where we conduct business, the technology we use and how we juggle home and work life. Every Thursday, Ad Age looks at how these changes are impacting our professional lives.
The mental health of employees has been a very real concern amid the pandemic, as professionals grapple with remote work, childcare, virtual schooling, taking care of sick loved ones and finding a break from constant video meetings. But burnout in the ad world was happening long before COVID-19 lockdowns. Some agencies are using this time to rethink work-life balance and prioritize mental health (October is Mental Health Awareness Month). Atlanta-based agency Dagger, for example, is rolling out new benefits and protocols to help support work-life harmony.
“The focus on supporting mental health is critical. I am glad the pandemic has made that come to the surface a little more, but it is too bad it took the pandemic for it to come to the surface,” says Missy Taylor, chief operations officer, Dagger. “There needs to be a shift in our industry and a focus on what it takes to support the mental health of the team. The agency business can be taxing but also rewarding and fulfilling. We need to figure out how to harmonize those two things.”
Taylor says it takes intentional effort by the organization to create psychological safety where employees feel OK to raise their hands if they need more support.
To help combat mental fatigue and burnout, Dagger is giving employees a mental health stipend in the the form of a $200 Amex gift card, which they can put toward therapy sessions, a subscription to Headspace, pay for their internet connection or whatever it is that makes their lives easier. The agency also implemented half-day Fridays in September to give staffers an opportunity to rest and recharge, whether that means spending time with family or planning for the week ahead. Half-day Fridays will continue through the remainder of the year.
Because there are so few places to go and many are not going on vacations, Taylor says when employees do take days off they are often pulled back into work. To help combat this and give them the chance to unplug, Dagger will adopt two new company holidays where the entire office will be closed. This does not include election day, which will also be a paid holiday this year to allow employees the time to vote.
While Dagger’s offices are open for a maximum of 10 employees on any given day who can come in if they so choose, for the most part the agency is still working remotely. Taylor says they will most likely continue to do so until there is a vaccine. In the interim, Dagger is looking to keep human connection alive with socially distanced company events such as a drive-in movie in the agency’s parking lot.
According to a new study by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence, an HR research and advisory firm, 70% of people, unsurprisingly, have had more stress and anxiety at work this year than any other previous year. The new pressures presented by the pandemic have been layering on top of everyday workplace stressors like meeting performance standards and juggling unmanageable workloads. Not to mention 35% of people say there are working 40-plus more hours each month than pre-pandemic.
Employees want help, with 76% of respondents saying companies should be doing more to support the mental health of their workforce, and are turning to technology to support their mental health. According to the study, 68% of people would prefer to walk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work and 80% are open to having a robot as a therapist or counselor. Ultimately they are looking for employers to provide more technology to support their mental health, live self-service access to health resources, on-demand counseling services, access to wellness or meditation apps and chatbots to answer health-related questions.
“The pandemic has put mental health front and center—it’s the biggest workforce issue of our time and will be for the next decade. The results of our study show just how widespread this issue has become, and why now is the time for organizations to start talking about it and exploring new solutions,” Dan Schawbel, managing partner, Workplace Intelligence, said in a statement.
Remote pay cuts
Remote working could result in rethinking pay structures. Tech professionals have often been paid more for working in more expensive coastal cities, but as it becomes increasingly acceptable to work from anyplace, companies are being forced to reconsider pay scales that are dependent on location of an office, according to Bloomberg.
Recreating the office
Even Microsoft, which has been a beneficiary of remote working, realizes there are downsides to not being in the office. “When you are working from home, it sometimes feels like you are sleeping at work,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO said during The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. Video meetings can certainly be exhausting and they don’t foster the same spontaneous interactions as being in the office. To help solve this, Microsoft is launching Together Mode, a way to put video calls into a virtual space like a meeting room or coffee bar to try to recreate an office atmosphere.
NYC or bust
Madison Avenue’s home in Manhattan might look different post-pandemic. Manhattan office employees are returning to work at a much slower pace than those in most other major U.S. cities, according to the Wall Street Journal, raising a risk that New York will face a more prolonged recovery. While Wall Street bankers and real-estate firms have started trickling back to the office, most lawyers, media and publishing employees and tech professionals are still working remotely. Overall, about 10% of Manhattan office workers were back in the office as of Sept. 18, according to the article.
IAC chairman Barry Diller also has a more pessimistic outlook on the Big Apple. The mogul predicted in an interview on Fox Business that it will be “almost impossible” for businesses to survive in NYC post-pandemic and in the wake of protests following the death of George Floyd.
R/GA promoted Jai Tedeschi as its first VP, global executive director of culture and operations, Ad Age’s Lindsay Rittenhouse reports. In the role, she will focus on ensuring “equity, diversity, and inclusion are prioritized both conceptually and in practice.” She will work across R/GA's operations and talent teams to “enact company change initiatives that bridge organizational silos and align to business needs, client requirements and talent priorities,” according to the agency.
That does it for this week's Office Hours. Thanks for reading and we hope you are all staying safe and well. For more industry news and insight, follow us on Twitter: @adage.
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