As the pandemic dragged on last fall I personally reached a point of burnout. Was I happy and fulfilled? Could the stress from navigating my teenagers' mental health challenges combined with aging parents continue? Would I ever have a "normal" workday again that didn't involve before school tears; countless discussions with my partner about the same topics over and over again (electronics, school, social media, COVID safety); pressure from my job to keep the team intact, happy, and properly compensated; and would the flow of dishes on the counter ever end? It was last fall when I got my own coach to support my needs and it was also around the end of the year that I began to read, listen, and engage with content that resonated with what I, and my team, were experiencing: that mental health needs at work were being ignored and it makes good business and human sense to pay attention.
Prior to the pandemic, the travel industry was booming. Businesses were hiring, training guides, creating new itineraries, and expanding their businesses. The future looked bright, even though there were challenges. The adventure travel industry, which is full of passionate individuals who understand the importance of a healthy planet and people, had sustainability, over-tourism, and inclusion on our minds. Now a new critical issue has taken front and center: the health and wellness of our teams and the people who make the travel ecosystem run.
The adventure travel industry, which is full of passionate individuals who understand the importance of a healthy planet and people, had sustainability, over-tourism, and inclusion on our minds. Now a new critical issue has taken front and center: the health and wellness of our teams and the people who make the travel ecosystem run.
When the pandemic began many of us turned inward, alone in our homes, we began an introspection that often led to either a very healthy, or unhealthy, approach to pandemic living. The businesses that were able to remain afloat despite border closures and travel restrictions had to give staff flexibility to deal with the clash of work and home life combined with an ever-changing set of health and safety rules and regulations that made it nearly impossible for stable hours, meetings, and business to occur.
And now, it is time for businesses to realize this is a crisis and that businesses have a role to play in solutions. Countless articles, podcasts, books, and events have sprung up focused on the role of mental health in the workplace. As an industry, we tend to be positive, hopeful, and passionate but even a pandemic can wear us down. According to Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020, 48% of Gen Zs and 44% of millennials feel anxious or stressed all or most of the time - and this was before the pandemic. Several US-based studies including one from SHRM report that 41% of employed Americans report feeling burned out from their work while a study from Monster, an online employment platform, revealed that 69% of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home. Some of the signs that your team may also be burnt out include: being overwhelmed; thinking their work doesn't matter; feeling a lack of control; and feeling that things are unfair.
Below are several specific strategies and ideas for ways the adventure travel industry can meet the needs of your team head-on.
Values + Purpose - Continue to Live These and Communicate Them
As “the great resignation” continues, people are re-prioritizing what drives them to work; they’re looking for jobs that connect to their values and help them fulfill a purpose. When hiring, you should include a message about your values and your mission. Especially as we reach beyond our normal spheres and communities, looking for new, diverse talent, and people who are passionate about travel experiences and sustainability; your ethos just might be what makes them say yes to a job offer. And, for your team who have stuck with you, remind them of these values so they continue to be motivated and feel there is a purpose beyond their day-to-day tasks.
“Our values become beacons of life for us when everything is changing.” -Moe Carrick, Executive Leadership Coach, Author, and ATTA Associate
Culture of Understanding
Are you checking in with your team regularly? Do your managers have 1:1 meetings and ask about how an employee is doing personally? Work is an important community for your people, often their colleagues are friends and their social life is connected to work life. Your employees are humans, so knowing that you care and are interested in them is important.
Also, do they have someone besides you to talk to? A neutral party, not in leadership or their manager, who can listen, steer them in the right direction, and provide guidance when needed. (In large companies this is often HR but even HR can be distrusted.) Find that perfect person on your team who people like to talk to who is also even-keeled, has conversation in confidence (and is not prone to gossip), and also knows enough about your company’s policies and structure to help or escalate when appropriate.
Lastly, have you done a survey of your team? Do you know how they are doing? A regular survey can be a simple and anonymous pulse check on happiness, inclusion, benefits, team or business concerns they may have, pay equity questions, and more – all of this can uncover a lot and move to a place of understanding. People want to be heard, so ask questions and then make plans to follow up on what you learn.
Resources for Mental Health
It is important to normalize the conversation around mental health. A global study done by the Mental Health Million project estimates that distressed mental wellbeing results in an estimated 12 to 17 days of lost productivity per month. While a Harvard Business Review article shared:
“research showed that while nearly 60% of respondents experienced symptoms in the past year — a number much higher than the oft-cited 20% of people who manage a condition in any given year — close to 60% also never talked about their conditions at work. When conversations about mental health did occur, less than half were described as positive. In fact, respondents were the least comfortable talking with their company’s HR and senior leaders, although senior leaders, including CEOs, were just as likely to struggle with mental health symptoms as individual contributors.”
Parents can be especially affected, 83% of fathers and 69% of mothers need emotional support and community to feel less isolated.
As a leader, talking about your own ups and downs and expressing vulnerability when times are hard, allows your team to understand and show solidarity with you and each other. Encourage story sharing while also understanding that people have different levels of comfort. Some easy ways you can support your team include changing your sick days to include time for mental health; encourage yoga, meditation, and breath practice; consider options such as mental health apps for businesses, like Nivati; or, similar to a gym membership, reimburse the cost of apps such as Headspace, Calm, or others.
Another important wellness issue related to our teams is around flexibility. As we return to work, employees want the option to work remotely or have a hybrid option. Childcare, in our current world, as well as time off for elderly care, has become increasingly important. Creating the space for people to work hours that work with their life instead of against it is meaningful. As travel businesses, this can be hard, however, job sharing is one solution, or providing flexible options on days when it is a possibility.
Physical Health & Nature
As an industry, we are keenly aware of the benefits of physical activity and time in nature for your mental health. From forest bathing to the pure exhilaration of a good hike, encouraging your team to get outside is critical. Walking meetings (perhaps for those 1:1s), giving team time between meetings to stand, move their body, and perhaps do fitness challenges, can foster community, accountability, and reflect an understanding that everyone has the same health needs. Any team who has different abilities or comfort levels can be asked to contribute goals that are meaningful to them and allow them to be included and create more understanding among the team.
In summary, from self-care during the pandemic to team-care through meaningful work, relationships will strengthen and mental health will improve. Sure signs that employee health is good are when individuals feel that their work is appreciated, they are in control of their time, and the stress they feel is reasonable and in control.
Main Image © ATTA / Matt Corliss