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Organizational Culture and Employees’ Mental Health During the Pandemic

Organizational Culture and Employees’ Mental Health During the Pandemic

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By Dr. Novadean Watson-Williams
Program Director, Information Technology Management and Computer Technology, American Public University

Were you forced to telework as a result of COVID-19? How are you coping mentally? These questions are often determined by the organizational culture you live in.

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An organization of a particular persuasion or personality renders different responses from its members or employees. Robert N. Lussier and Christopher R. Achua note that there are several different flavors of organizational cultures: cooperative, adaptive, competitive and bureaucratic.

Lussier and Achua explain that a competitive culture embraces the need for a win-lose, value-claiming, market-oriented culture, and a bureaucratic culture is very rule-driven and has high expectations for order and uniformity. By contrast, an adaptive culture champions empowering employees and encouraging them to innovate and adjust to environmental changes; a cooperative culture promotes mutual gains and win-win team efforts and activities.

But which of these organizations best fits you as an employee in this pandemic? The answer is: it depends on the individual employee. According to David A. DeCenzo, Stephen P. Robbins and Susan L. Verhulst, a common cause of mental stress for employees is an organization structured by rules and policies and limited opportunities for employees to make contributions and feel viably connected.

Finding the Right Organizational Fit and Improving Employees’ Mental Health

While organizations are primarily designed to support the organization’s mission and strategy, what about the employees? Helping an employee to make that good fit with an organizational culture may minimize potential mental health concerns such as stress, depression or anxiety. These feelings have been amplified by the pandemic and often result in a higher attrition rate.

The Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) Model by Benjamin Schneider is a psychological theory that explains how an employee will pursue a position in an organization and get selected for the position. The employee will then stay or leave the organization depending on the employee’s sense of belonging and values and whether the employee’s principles and expectations align with the organization.

The 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey surmises, “Organizations are investing in many programs to improve life at work, all focused on improving the day-to-day experience workers have. While there is much that can be done to improve work/life balance, research shows that the most important factor of all is the work itself: making work meaningful and giving people a sense of belonging, trust, and relationship. We believe organizations should move beyond thinking about experience at work in terms of perks, rewards, or support, and focus on job fit, job design, and meaning—for all workers across the enterprise.”

The 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends further revealed only “…49 percent of respondents believed that their organizations’ workers were satisfied or very satisfied with their job design.” The survey also noted that many respondents rated their organizations only “somewhat effective” or “not effective” on a number of factors related to experience, such as positive work environment, supportive management, trust in leadership, growth opportunities, and meaningful work. But using technology might help both an employee and an organization address this concern.

Companies Have Long Used Technology for Employee Needs

Many organizational leaders look to technology to address the need for selecting the right employee, ensuring a cultural fit and mitigating potential mental health concerns. Some of these electronic tools include:

  • Recruiting software, such as BambooHR, JazzHR, PCRecruiter and Greenhouse
  • Applicant tracking software (ATS), such as Workday, Taleo and SAP SuccessFactors
  • Personality assessments, such as DISC Assessment, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and California Psychological Inventory (CPI)
  • Programmatic job advertising software, such as LinkedIn, Google AdWords and Facebook
  • Chatbots, such as Olivia, Jobpal and Cora
  • Career page building software, such as Breezy, SmashFly and Harver
  • Recruitment marketing software, such as Talentlyft, Beamery, HubSpot, Pardot, Marketo, ActiveCampaigns and Recroup)
  • Website analytics software, such as Google Analytics, Yahoo Web Analytics and Clicky
  • CVs screening software, such as HireAbility, Ideal and AI Resume Screening

Non-Technical Methods of Improving Employees’ Mental Health

On the other hand, some organizations help their existing employees cope with mental stress by using these measures to address cultural conflicts:

  • Balancing the employees’ workload fairly
  • Developing wellness programs
  • Supporting vacations
  • Providing stress management programs
  • Promoting Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

Deloitte reminds us, “It is no secret that your organization’s culture guides the way your employees behave and work. People and culture lie at the heart of organizational performance and typically drive both success and failure. This means your culture ultimately determines how and to what extent your employees leverage the digital workplace to connect, communicate and collaborate.”

Perhaps the key to addressing employees’ mental health, especially during the current stressful pandemic, is simply the three Cs: Communicate, Connect and Collaborate. With or without technology, people remain the most valuable asset to an organization, so organizations need to take care of them.

Some efforts to embrace and use technology to minimize mental stress, anxiety and other related mental illnesses include making weekly or daily connections via communication platforms such as Zoom. Other technologies include video conferencing, web conferencing, webinars, Microsoft® Teams, Skype, Slack and Google Hangouts. Those who are teleworking use these technologies to interact, share interesting images and backgrounds, and discuss personal and professional topics via direct messaging.

Other organizations are using more seasoned technologies such as emails and telephones to simply call, text, or contact employees and share information to build esprit de corps and camaraderie. The great news is that these technologies allow private and public communication, connection, and collaboration.

Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian lyricist and novelist, contends, “Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbour is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.”

About the Author

Dr. Watson-Williams is currently the Program Director for the undergraduate programs in information technology management and computer technology at American Public University. She serves an aggressively growing department and has over 20 years of experience in the information technology field. Dr. Watson-Williams holds an A.A. in Computer Studies and a B.S. in Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland University College, a B.S. in Social Science Education from the University of South Florida, an M.A. in General Counseling from Louisiana Tech University, and a D.B.A. in Information Systems from Argosy University. 

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