Life’s Uncertainty Has Sparked A Mental Health Crisis At Work

In October 2022, United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued guidelines to promote employee mental health at work. Murthy’s team developed the framework in response to an alarming decline in employee well-being. For example, 76% of workers reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in 2021, an increase of 17% from the previous two years. Extreme stress costs us nearly $200 billion in medical payments each year, and causes more than 100,000 unnecessary deaths. Today at work, we are very unwell, very anxious and very overwhelmed.

In parallel, we hear about the changing nature of work – the rise of automation and the constants of change. Volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity, growing increasingly larger every day, threaten our well-being and productivity. there is no precedent for both motion either Type The change we face in the workplace today—is what we call the twin test. Yet few, if any, acknowledge this new reality and design as a major contributor to diminished well-being.

Read more: In some workplaces, it’s okay to not be okay anymore

Successfully navigating this speed and this type of uncertainty (not only to survive, but to take full advantage of it to thrive) requires a unique set of emotional, social, and cognitive skills. Understanding these two dimensions of the challenge can prepare us to respond.

white water world of work

About seven years ago, our colleague, futurist and former chief scientist at Xerox John Seely Brown, began describing this phenomenon as the “whitewater” world of work. “To my parents,” he says, “the typical career trajectory was like a steamship—fire up the engines and go full speed ahead…but today’s graduates should be more like whitewater kayakers, Analyzing and reacting to changing currents quickly, knowing and trusting themselves so they don’t panic.”

If we are to regain our position, we must understand what we are up against. First and foremost: how fast are these rapids? How soon do we need to be ready to paddle?

By most estimates, the year 2020 still represents the first chapter in our new world of work. job displacement today, but beginning The pace of change is progressing two to four times faster than the peak of industrialization in the 1900s. And this pace is only accelerating. As of 2018, an estimated 71% of total labor tasks were performed by humans and 29% by machines. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, it will replace 50% of the labor performed by humans and 50% by machines.

What about personal experience of that transformation? Said differently: “How fast will the change I personally experience happen?”

Industrialization brought generational change. The white water world of work changes so fast we’ll feel it within Each generation, many times over. Hard skills already expire every few years. The World Economic Forum, which tracks the evolution of market demand for specific skills, estimates that we will have to completely reinvent ourselves every 10 years. We would learn new job skills, only to see them become unusable, or transferred to machines. We will reinvent ourselves again and again. And our children and our children’s children can expect to do the same.

If we accept this reality and take it to heart, the project of building well-being in the workplace is not about passing through a single era or a single change. It’s about being ready for all the changes to come.

The nature of change is also different from what we know

Not only is the pace of change dramatically faster today, but the change itself is of a different kind from what we have known in the past. This complex type of change first attracted interest in military and policy circles at the end of the 20th century. For example, the VUCA acronym, often used today to describe our business environment, was originally coined by military leaders to describe the unpredictability of changes beginning with the end of the Cold War. The soldiers had to be prepared for:

  • Volatility: Unpredictable, volatile challenges of unknown duration
  • Uncertainty: unexpected events with surprising potential
  • Complexity: the sheer number of interacting variables affecting events
  • Ambiguity: The ambiguity of the cause and effect of driving events

Many leadership training outlets offer VUCA-based tools to help leaders be successful in our world of work.

About a decade before VUCA, planners originated the related concept of “wicked problems”. Unlike simple problems in mathematics or sports such as chess, wicked problems are difficult to solve because of incomplete or conflicting information or changing requirements. Wicked problems, by definition, have many causes and lack a single “right” answer. Terrorism, poverty, and global warming are all examples of wicked problems.

Presenting our daily dose of VUCA and wicked problems technology spans all industries and forums. It sits in our homes and in our offices, enabling information sharing and getting things done faster. Today, nearly 5 billion people are online. It’s 5 billion points of origin, 5 billion points of mutation. Each of us sits among these billions of waves every day, deciding which ones to pay attention to, which ones to ignore, and which ones may signal a life-changing change that should lead us forward.

We are horrified in the face of such unstable, impractical change. Nauseous at best, scared at worst. Humbled by the complexity we have created, but can no longer control.

The psychological toll of whitewater

Whitewater is not for the faint hearted.

We, all of us, are losing and regaining balance quarterly with new tools, new markets, new intelligence. Today we know much more about the negative consequences of these conditions for our health than we did about labor changes in the past.

Employment instability, for example, and lack of job control—common by-products of VUCA—create psychological disorders, poor health outcomes, and hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year. Real unemployment still has worse consequences. When we lose a job, our physical and emotional health tanks: blood pressure, arthritis, and heart attack go up significantly, as do depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide.

Another big risk is that automation intense Implications for human loneliness More of us will spend our days with “co-bots” instead of people. Remote work causes social isolation, and the rate of loneliness in the US has doubled since the 1980s. Loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression. It is more harmful to our health than obesity, and as bad for us in terms of mortality risk as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were not convinced that the new world of work was threatening our health. The pandemic shattered this illusion. The dramatic increase in mental health needs among employees as a result of COVID-19 has created a crisis for those in charge of organizational health. Employees referred themselves to unprepared, overwhelmed service centers. Some companies tried to provide support to the people they laid off; Most companies were too busy trying to figure out how to help workers still on the payroll.

Our employers are at a loss like all of us. We didn’t grow up to work in Whitewater’s VUCA, and yet here we are. We know that if we do not act, many more will suffer. We can continue to do exactly what we did with our mental health response to COVID-19—wait until the damage is done, and respond with mitigation.

Alternatively, we can use our unique advantage, namely: how modern scientific knowledge thrives in uncertainty. What positive behavior scientists have learned over the past 30 years about the psychological drivers of well-being and how to build on them gives us hope to weather the storm that lies ahead today. Without this science, we would remain vulnerable to psychological suffering. With this science, we not only have the opportunity to avoid losses, but also become stronger.

excerpt adapted from Tomorrowmind: Thriving at Work with Resilience, Creativity, and Engagement—Now and Into an Uncertain Future by Gabriela Rosen Kellerman and Martin E.P. Seligman, published by Atria Books, Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2023 by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin EP Seligman. All rights reserved.

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