After a 2020 of many firsts, business leaders are finding themselves in uncharted waters with their employees. As the mental health implications of the pandemic set in, entrepreneurs are left wondering what they can do to support employees and create a mentally-healthy culture during such a difficult time.
Social isolation, general worries about the global situation, their dependents, relatives and loved ones, or their health and economic situation have all played a role in affecting workers’ mental health. Not to mention “Zoom fatigue”.
A July 2020 survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America reported that 75% of workers have experienced burnout, and 40% of those polled said it was a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic has impacted many of us in deeply personal ways, and it can be uncomfortable to talk about these issues at work. Whether it’s concerns over their own health or their family’s, the challenges of raising school-aged children in a pandemic, or simply finding a quiet room for working from home, we have a new window into our employees’ personal lives — and new opportunities to care for them in the totality of their lives.
Purpose-driven leaders know that we’re not serving the full potential of our teams or our organizations when we neglect issues of mental health.
As business and HR leaders, we are all looking for a “magic pill“ to stop this mental health epidemic as it threatens to ravage our businesses.
It has to be safe, practical, affordable and scalable for our organizations. Starting with us.
But is mental health a new issue because of Covid?
As far back as 2016, mental health and neurocognitive disability (including depression, stress and burnout) was already being coined by WHO as the #1 health epidemic of the 21st century in the developed world (615 million sufferers worldwide), and the #1 cause of productivity loss in the corporate world ($1 trillion per year on a global scale).
Already pre-Covid, WHO estimated that every $1 invested in treating mental health led to a fourfold return in terms of productivity.
In 2015, a Stanford study had looked into how workplace stress affects health costs and mortality in the United States, they found that it led to spending of nearly $190 billion — roughly 8% of national healthcare outlays — and nearly 120,000 deaths each year.
But despite these astounding figures, mental health used to be viewed as a taboo topic in the workplace. The pandemic is changing all that.
Now we can read a plethora of quotes along the lines of Simon Sinek’s January 15th post: “our employees are human beings, not just functionaries. Companies do have some responsibility when it comes to the mental health of their people”.
So if not the pandemic, what is the root cause of this mental health epidemic of the corporate world?
As highly driven business leaders in this fast-paced society, we don’t find the time to take care of ourselves, our teams or our family.
As a result, we are experiencing dis-connection on multiple levels.
By dis-connecting ourselves from Nature, we have gradually dis-connected from other people, from our purpose and ultimately from ourselves. Our societal systems and participation in them is creating more separation and isolation each day.
It has become increasingly clear: this dis-connection leads to dis-ease and such dis-function in the very workplaces we keep aiming to optimize.
By 2050, 70% of humanity will be living in urban areas, thereby accelerating the feeling of dis-connection and dis-ease that Humans are suffering from.
As urbanization accelerates, and technology leapfrogs, this dis-connection is only get worse.
And now the pandemic has compounded the problem…
Would Nature be a solution?
Nature might at first glance seem like an old banal way to cure a full blown health epidemic. But science only now provides us with a detailed understanding of how Nature’s health benefits work. And the evidence, based on more than 900 publications, is truly compelling:
- Recent findings have shown how we are all hardwired in our DNA for connection with Nature. This has proven the “biophilia” hypothesis.
- When one or more of our five senses interact and reciprocate with “active ingredients” from Nature, our brain enters into a frequency called alpha waves, and a whole chain of mental and physiological benefits follow.
- Some of these “active ingredients” from Nature have been identified (e.g. fractals, phytoncides, bird songs, tree bark, microbacterium vaccae), and each corresponds to one of our five basic senses.
- Mental health benefits include: busting stress (cortisol), increasing positive emotions, reduction in fatigue and anxiety, improvement of depression symptoms, better sleep quality.
- Physiological benefits include effects on immune, cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous and endocrine systems.
- Alpha waves is the frequency (also called “relaxed wakefulness” or “flow”) where we process information 500,000 times faster than in traditional beta waves problem-solving mode. They also restore our “executive attentional control”.
The new evidence is so solid that even physicians in the US and Canada (www.parkprescriptions.ca) are now starting to prescribe Nature.
In Japan and South Korea, Shinrin Yoku has already been a full-fledged public healthcare intervention for many years.
After sleep, diet and exercise, Nature is now recognized in 2021 as one of the pillars of health!
What are the other advantages of Nature?
- Cheap and widely available
- Practical: an urban park is enough to connect with Nature.
- Scalable: group Nature immersions are more effective than individual ones.
- Safe: easy to maintain safe distance when teams reconnect in Nature.
- Transposable: biophilia can be integrated into office life by integrating elements of Nature.
When I became a victim of the dis-connection epidemic, I travelled three continents to be mentored in a variety of Nature connection practices, from Shinrin Yoku (Forest Bathing) to Animal Tracking.
Reconnecting with Nature not only restored my health and changed my lifestyle.
But what I did not expect was that it would equip me with tools that I use daily in my business life. Nature connection unlocked my intuition and expanded my capabilities in problem-solving, decision-making, creativity and learning.
As an entrepreneur who dedicated his life to healthcare innovations, I had to take a deep dive into the science that underlies what I had experienced.
What came out of this research is an evidence-based Nature connection process that maximizes the benefits of Nature for business leaders and their teams: for Wellbeing, and for Performance.
It’s called Natural Leadership and it’s based on guided multisensorial Nature immersions.
So when we revisit Richard Branson’s famous quote ”clients do not come first, employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients” from a 2021 mindset, can we afford to neglect tending to the Nature connection needs of our teams?