By Yara Ohashi, iStock Head of Digital Marketing, The Americas
The onset of COVID-19 flipped our lives upside down last year, bringing conversations around mental health and burnout to the forefront. In fact, employees are three times as likely to report mental health problems now than they were prior to the onset of COVID-19, according to a recent survey by Flexjobs. Not only that, but a further 76% of respondents stated that workplace stress affects their mental health.
While mental health issues were exacerbated during the pandemic, employees across industries have dealt with stress, anxiety and depression long before COVID-19 and will continue confronting these challenges indefinitely, especially as we transition back to “normal” office life. The reality is that we experienced a major lifestyle change last year and reverting back to our pre-COVID habits will be no small feat. In fact, according to iStock’s Visual GPS report, which surveyed 10,000 people and professionals around the world, more than 50% of North Americans anticipate that people will have long-term negative effects from the pandemic, including depression.
On the bright side, however, people are eagerly seeking ways to improve their mental health post-pandemic. According to iStock, 62% of consumers ranked health and wellness as a top priority, regardless of their generation, region, or background. This presents a unique opportunity for internal communications teams, advertisers and marketers to intentionally depict corporate life with mental health and wellness in mind. From emails and office posters to advertisements and more, visuals can genuinely impact the way employees view their mental health and that of their colleagues–which is to say, companies should choose wisely and with wellness as a priority.
Normalize depictions of mental health
According to iStock research, nine in 10 people believe that it’s important to talk about mental health, and also try to take care of themselves emotionally and physically. With employees increasingly prioritizing this in their own lives, it’s important that marketers do the same by selecting imagery that echoes these values, such as an office-sponsored yoga session, for example, or a comfy at-home office setup, as opposed to exclusively depicting a traditional corporate space.
It’s just as important for marketers to use visuals that encourage genuine work-life balance, maybe through an image showing employees taking a walk at lunchtime or enjoying coffee with a colleague (either over Zoom or in-person). Workplace stress can be overwhelming, but by highlighting imagery that alludes to self-care and balance, marketers can demonstrate that they grasp what employees actually need and value, and combat the long-standing emphasis on hustle culture.
Avoid stereotypical visuals
Not only should organizations and advertisers increasingly incorporate visuals around mental well-being, but they should also consider what imagery will resonate with people across the country, especially as we embark on yet another period of change.
For example, visuals suggesting alienation or isolation at work aren’t helpful. By avoiding those stereotypes, we encourage a more authentic representation of what workplaces look like today, one that improves employees’ frame of mind and makes them feel supported by their peers and managers.
Internal communications teams, marketers and advertisers alike should instead focus on selecting empathetic and understanding visuals that highlight the positive aspects of work–from joy and a sense of accomplishment to camaraderie. As we move toward a hybrid work setting, this means understanding that not everyone’s workspace or workday will look the same and reflecting that understanding through communications materials. Some people might continue to work remotely indefinitely and some might head back to high-rise office buildings decked out in business casual attire. Both options, and everything in between, should be included in our visual definitions of work as we move forward.
Keep it accessible
In addition to dismantling stereotypes, it’s crucial that imagery accurately reflects the multitude of people who will interact with it, in all of their diversity. For instance, according to iStock research, nearly 80% of people globally expect companies to do a better job at capturing people’s true lifestyles–with an emphasis on the word “true.” That said, marketers and internal communications teams should avoid opting for depictions that suggest “perfect” people or “perfect” lifestyles or include employees in unrealistic settings.
This is more important than ever in the wake of COVID-19, as people worldwide are emphasizing “feeling good” over “looking good.” This pivotal shift reflects how we’re taking ownership of our health and wellness, and will continue to do so regardless of whether we’re working from home or back in a physical office.