The changing pandemic-induced priority shifts for leaders

A 2021 US future workforce survey of more than 200 HR leaders(conducted by Lyra Health, Boston University and Future Workplace) identifies the following top 5 strategic priorities for 2021.

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The changing pandemic-induced priority shifts for leaders

A 2021 US future workforce survey of more than 200 HR leaders(conducted by Lyra Health, Boston University and Future Workplace) identifies the following top 5 strategic priorities for 2021;

Compare this with the results of last year’s survey where neither ‘Employee Wellbeing and Mental Health’ or ‘Managing Remote Workers’ came close the top 5.

There is much talk of a looming ‘mental health crisis tsunami’ when you look at some of the discussions on priorities in the workplace due to the many challenges of this pandemic.  It is dramatic language for dramatic times. In Australia, Gartner VP of Research & Advisory, Aaron McEwan says the combination of increased work pressure, longer hours and a blurring of work/home boundaries will all contribute to the ‘tsunami’.

Recent research  shared by World Economic Forum has found that about half of working adults globally say they have experienced increased anxiety around job security (56%), stress due to changes in work routines and organization (55%), feel lonely or isolated working from home (49%) or have difficulty achieving a work-life balance (50%) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Workers are 3 times more likely to report mental health concerns than before the pandemic”.

In a 2020 study of 1,000 American workers, 80% said they would consider resigning from their current position for a job that focused more on employees’ mental health. Four million Americans quit their jobs in April this year in what some social scientists called the “Great Resignation”.

In an Australian first, an employee recently won a worker’s compensation claim after suffering a psychological injury because of his excessive workload.  

McEwan says “We’re beginning to see the emergence of psychological health being treated in the same way as physical safety.” The pressure is growing on organisations and leaders to act. This requires an alignment of all leaders, boards, culture, management processes, policies and more.

“Workplace leaders have an opportunity (and obligation) to address the mental health & wellbeing of its employees”.

- Jeffery Tan, CEO of Jardines MINDSET Singapore

The opportunity to prioritize mental health has grown exponentially in a post-Covid landscape, and leaders in Singapore are seizing it by working together. Former NMP Anthea Ong has catalysed a movement through WorkWell Leaders, a group of CEOs that meet regularly to discuss mental health and its impact on the workplace. Complex and critical problems require collaborative approaches like this movement.

Another collaborative response has been announced this year in the The Global Business Collaborative for Better Workplace Mental Health. It is the first business-led initiative of its kind designed to advocate for – and accelerate – positive change for mental health in the workplace on a global basis.

The initiative is led by founding partners – Unilever, Deloitte, HSBC, BHP, Salesforce and Clifford Chance –  whose vision is a world where all workplace leaders commit to taking evidence-based action on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, enabling their workforce to thrive.

What are the cultural signals that enable safety or stigma around mental health in organisations?  How are we modelling vulnerability from the top?    How are we developing our leaders’ability to navigate these uncertain and complex times?   And how do we support individuals and teams to thrive through adversity?

Research from the field of positive psychology provides a valuable lens through which to understand how people can cope with, and grow through, times of crisis.

Take the following small steps and increase mental wellbeing in your teams

1. Meaning and Purpose

A recent McKinsey survey found that employees are five times more likely to be excited to work at a company that spends time reflecting on the impact it makes in the world. And recent research conducted during the pandemic shows that meaning in life buffers against COVID-19-specific stress.

2. High Quality Connections

Good quality moments of connection at work act as social boosters that contribute to individuals’ capacity to endure, cope and potentially thrive in challenging times.

Where teams experience such connections, they tend to have higher levels of psychological safety, greater learning and knowledge creation, more extensive collaboration, and increased resilience. This could be as simple as taking moments to be really present as you connect with team members or make time in team meetings to genuinely check in.

3. Practicing Gratitude

Studies have proven gratitude strongly predicted happiness during the pandemic.  There is also evidence of increased immunity, and increased positive emotions.


At Capability Group we have created a number of resources available for you and your organisation that support mental wellbeing with tangible takeaways that build on the above practices.

Download the free resources here

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