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In early June, the staff team at Next Stage decided we were ready to connect again in person. We were all in various stages of vaccination and felt we were at a place where it made sense to take our weekly staff meetings off Zoom.

Our destination of choice? Well, of course, Community Matters Café, the place to see and be seen if you are at all connected to social impact in the Charlotte region. On any given day I’m likely to see multiple people I know (cue the Cheers theme song), and so it has also been my go-to spot for coffee over the last two months when catching up with folks in my network face-to-face. It is typically a happy place I’m excited to visit.

Except this past Friday, when I had a pang of dread creep in to my morning routine. Pulling into a parking spot, I looked on the passenger seat next to me and saw something I had hoped to put behind me.

A mask. My cloth, Esty-purchased constant companion through much of the pandemic. I bought a six-pack last summer and had carefully retired them to my sock drawer after getting the second stab.

“Oh boy, here we go again…”

Been There, Done That

The Delta variant of COVID has “gained new energy” in Mecklenburg County in recent weeks, according to Public Health Director Gibbie Harris. Along with it has come “rising case numbers, rising test positivity rate and the increase in hospitalizations.”

For my part, I was once again back to bumping fists with folks throughout the past week, however still walking around mask-less, resolute that we had moved past the worst of it and were “steadily getting back to normal.”

That was, until Friday and the return of my trusty mask.

I hate to be a bummer this Monday morning, but the ritual of masking-up brings to mind a question – what else should we expect to return in the weeks and months to come? I’ll admit we bought an extra six-pack of toilet paper at the store this weekend, noting that sanitizer and disinfecting wipes were in strong supply, at least for now. A little digging this weekend found late-stage summer camps cancelled or going back to digital engagement and CMS debating the merits of mandating masks as kids return to the new school year.

My mind flashed to all of the parents of young children I know – hardworking people who have shouldered so. damn. much. over the course of the last 16 months. I’d noticed in many of them of late a return of the brightness behind the eyes. This news of the delta variant is likely to sting them significantly.

How are you doing, folks? No, really, are you okay?

Who Takes Care of the Caregivers?

Over the last week, mental health has once again entered the public’s consciousness. Many headlines were made when gymnast Simone Biles opted out of Olympic events citing her mental health. Social media has been awash in debate about her decisions, showing a frankly absurd amount of apathy for the extreme pressure placed on individuals in the public eye, much less the G.O.A.T. gymnast competing in an off-year Olympics due to a worldwide pandemic.

Biles opened up about her decision on Instagram earlier in the week: “It’s honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind and body in sync,” she wrote. “Literally cannot tell up from down. It’s the craziest feeling ever. Not having an inch of control over your body.”

Who else can relate? I’ll admit to some really low moments over the last year and change, moments when it felt like the world was crashing down on me and I just needed a time-out. I’ve observed these moments in virtually everyone I know – clients, colleagues and family members alike.

In the world of social good, it is a particular challenge. Who takes care of the people tasked with taking care of others?

It brings to mind the conversations I’ve had in the last couple months:

  • The program staff leader who sees the end of the eviction moratorium this week as the beginning of a new, horrible phase of pandemic impact…
  • The advocate nonprofit chief executive of color caught between the demands of the job with the growing certainty that the inequity impacting the community is systemic…
  • The board of directors (who all have important day jobs) banding together to gird a struggling nonprofit through a period of significant change and challenge…
  • The CSR executive working overtime to engage the company’s employee resource groups who are seeking values-aligned solutions to challenges of identity in a new DEI landscape…

We know so many are feeling professional burdens right now, with disrupted supply chains, talent shortages and work-life balance challenges creating daily hurdles. But for the social good community, where hope and inspiration are needed to foster volunteer and donor buy-in, the constant barrage is taking an even bigger toll. It is an existential concern that honestly keeps me up some nights.

A Focus on Emotional Well-Being

It is high time we hit pause and looked inside our institutions to check-in on the mental health of the people our community counts on to take care of others. Why? Because we’re probably not doing enough of it.

We discussed the importance of emotional wellbeing as a part of The Social Good Report 2021: Profit & Purpose, featuring the work of Willis Towers Watson (WTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth.

According to Karyn Tindall, Client Relationship Director at WTW: “Our research shows that almost 90 percent of employers feel their senior leadership sincerely cares about employee wellbeing, but only 50% of employees agree,” Tindall said. “The pandemic has created a spotlight on this issue, and bridging the gap is critical to achieving greater employee engagement and being a destination employer in the future.”

No matter your sector or field, caring about your employees’ mental health is just smart business. WTW’s Global Benefits Attitudes Research finds that those struggling with wellbeing miss 12 more days per year due to presenteeism (e.g. the lost productivity that occurs when employees are not fully functioning in the workplace) and two times more likely to take time off due to unexpected reasons during the pandemic.

Eddie Gammill, PhD, RN, wellbeing expert and clinical strategist at WTW highlights that the wellbeing challenge is critical to both employers and employees: “Employers have an increased focus in areas like behavioral health while employees also have an increased interest in wellbeing, reporting their top concerns as emotional wellbeing and social wellbeing/connecters.”

The ‘Hit Pause’ Checklist

Worried your team might be teetering on the edge? Here are a few steps you can take this week toward promoting workplace wellness:

  1. Simply Ask – It is hard to know the toll of the pandemic on your team if you never ask, and anonymity can be important to get at honest feedback. Employee listening and sensing surveys are a critical tool in the toolkit for determining how best to increase employee wellbeing.
  2. Formalize Flexibility – Workplaces everywhere had to shift significantly with stay-at-home orders and the challenges of childcare. Many believe the expectations of employees are permanently changed and it might be time for employers to consider hard-wiring flexibility into the handbook. (For inspiration, check out LinkedIn’s recent announcement)
  3. Discuss Time Off – Planned time away can make a big difference for employees juggling work and life challenges, but it can feel like a luxury given the heavy lift occurring currently in workplaces. Proactive discussion of time away helps the employer plan and gives the employee a milestone.
  4. Launch an Anti-Stigma Campaign – The vitriol directed at Simone Biles this past week suggests we have a long way to go in eliminating the misconceptions of mental health in the workplace. Destigmatizing mental health challenges gets a boost when employers embrace open dialogue.

In the meantime, pack a mask, folks. We can defeat this virus but we have to work together, and that includes promoting vaccinations for employees. Otherwise, we should get used to that feeling of “oh boy, here we go again…”

Written by: Josh Jacobson, CEO, Next Stage


ABOUT NEXT STAGE

The current set of challenges for many business and nonprofit leaders are unprecedented and overwhelming – workforce changes, the impacts of the pandemic and social change.

For companies, Next Stage believes that the social impact efforts that already exist within their walls offer low-cost, high impact solutions to many of these challenges. We help purpose-focused business leaders build, leverage and expand social good efforts to build positive company culture, improve the bottom line and create a next generation workforce – all while making significant community impact.

For nonprofits, changes are coming fast including increased need, changing service models and shifting social priorities that require increased nimbleness and innovation. Next Stage partners with nonprofit leaders to design strategies and processes that help navigate change to create real community impact. We believe in creative problem solving for maximum, system-wide impact and we’ll be there every step of the way.

Interested in how we can help? Reach out to us to learn more: info@nextstage-consulting.com