By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
We know that the talent gap is the number one challenge businesses are grappling with at the moment – but are you ignoring the importance of better addressing mental health as part of the solution? If the frontline workforce is in short supply, turning a blind eye to the ways your existing employees are becoming overtaxed and burned out will only exacerbate your talent headaches.
The impact of COVID and the realities of the Great Resignation are putting mental health conversations at the forefront for more business leaders, which I see as a positive. Learning how our employees and prospective employees are struggling, what they need, and making an effort to provide better support isn’t a philanthropical venture, it is progressing our treatment of people to the way we should be treating people.
I remember on episode number one of the Future of Field Service podcast, Tony Black who was then with Otis Elevator said, “Our field technicians are our company’s most treasured resource.” A statement like that is great to say, but meaningless unless you are taking actions that prove you genuinely mean the words.
Bringing these conversations to the foreground not only normalizes a topic that shouldn’t but still does hold some stigma, but it allows business leaders to begin the process of brainstorming what needs to change. The Service Council and ProntoForms recently hosted a session on mental health, which featured insights from various companies on what issues they are seeing and how they are taking action.
During the session, it was shared by Darcy Gruttadaro of the Center for Workplace Mental Health that younger workers are particularly at risk for combatting mental health struggles. “There’s been a quadrupling and tripling of anxiety and depression starting from March 2020,” she says. “The hardest hit age group is 18- to 29-year-olds, so if you have young employees in your workforce they are at great risk.”
The Challenges of Mental Health in Field Service
There are a number of variables that make mental health in field service difficult to address. First, there is that stigma remaining related to the topic and it takes commitment, time, and effort to eliminate that and normalize the conversation. Second, there are aspects of the job that do cause stress and strain that are entirely unavoidable – so sometimes companies feel as though their hands are tied. And finally, as stated during The Service Council’s session, mental health is challenging to assess and track.
“Looking at it holistically…we are in COVID, people are not in their best form, so there are some factors there. Even if you can’t see it in data, you have to accept that mental health and wellness is impacting behaviors,” says Alisha Eilers, Segment Safety Manager for North America Manufacturing & Service at Hobart Service. Alisha is absolutely right that even where we don’t see data around these issues, we have to understand they are there. This recognition allows for more proactive measures in addressing issues before they become notable events.
I recently hosted a Focus Group with the Future of Field Service Advisory Forum, which is a group of IFS customers who come together regularly to share insights and build collective knowledge, where we discussed human centricity and mental health in detail. Some of the additional challenges that surfaced in that conversation are that overtime and utilization levels are at all-time highs, the restrictions and logistics of navigating COVID have caused burnout, the nature of all-remote work breeds isolation and disconnect, and it can be difficult not to adopt a defeatist attitude with so many employees leaving the workforce.
What hopefully gives you a sense of comfort is that the challenges you may be experiencing are shared by many others. What hopefully is sinking in, though, is what that means in terms of the importance of addressing this topic more strategically, more proactively, and more thoroughly.
Tactics to Improve Employee Mental Health
So, how do we do that? Like all complex topics, there’s no simple answer or one-size-fits all approach. However, here are a few thoughts from my Advisory Forum, myself, and some former podcast guests that are a great place to start:
- Realize that the only way to normalize mental health and get your employees to open up is to lead by example. In this podcast with Linda Tucci, Global Sr. Director of the Technical Solutions Center at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, she discusses how she prioritizes mental health in her leadership and how that has had an impact on her teams being more open with her
- In addition to leading by example, recognize that the efforts to incorporate mental health dialogue into the workplace are better served in frequent, subtle doses versus a once-a-year flailing attempt at a guest speaker or dedicated day. In this podcast with Jordan Argiriou, Director, Service Solutions APEC at QIAGEN, we discuss how he’s normalized the discussion by genuinely caring about his teams, getting to know them better as people, and adding casual conversations to each interaction
- While leading by example and incorporation into daily interactions are important, so too is a formalized objective around making progress in mental health as part of employee wellness. As such, companies from my Advisory Forum are creating programs, putting this focus into leaders’ individual objectives, and discussing in every one-on-one
- Be cognizant of the damage one toxic leader can do to your organization. Particularly when you have a manager who is in charge of all-remote technicians that don’t interact with one another or other leaders often, if that manager has toxic tendencies, they can isolate their entire team and really thwart any well-intended efforts you have
- Remember the immense value in ensuring your frontline employees feel relevant, valued, and recognized for their contributions – as one leader in the Forum said, “so often, the simple is lost.”
- While it can be challenging, if you have employees choosing to leave whether for a change of occupation altogether or a similar role at a different company, avoid the defeatist attitude, celebrate their contributions, and wish them well. This shows you value your employees as human beings and not only for their contributions to the business, and it leaves the door open should their situation change
- Find ways to combat isolation that frontline workers often feel. Many ideas were shared in the Forum, from face-to-face team events at least once a year to small gifts to FaceTime calls at random to check in to ride alongs to personal notes in the mail and many more. The key point is that there is always, always a way to personally acknowledge your workforce and make them feel part of the bigger team and mission
What would you add to this list? I hope you’re thinking about it, because I do believe this topic is so very important to better address. As Jim Woolly, Director of Service Operations at KONE Canada said during The Service Council’s session, “If we can get this right, think of the tremendous impact. Think of mindfulness and bringing meaningfulness as part of our employment strategy. People are asking now: how do you take care of me?” We all need to become better at answering that question.
To access the full Service Council session, visit here.