Retaining Top Talent by Supporting Mental Health and Wellness at Work
Did you know that poor mental health and work-related stress now accounts for over half of absences in the workplace? Last year, in the UK alone, 15.4 million working days were lost due to conditions associated with poor mental health and wellness. More people are taking “sick days” to work on mental well-being (versus taking days off to address physical illnesses or injuries), resulting in costs of up to $1 trillion in lost productivity for the global economy. Looking at these alarming figures, it’s clear that poor mental health and wellness at work is a significant and urgent challenge which HR and leadership must address – and fast. And with these topics being top of mind for HR managers in 2019, we’d like to share a few ways to support mental health and wellness at work, in order to better retain and attract top talent.
Develop and enforce mental health policies
According to a study by Deloitte, 72 percent of workplaces have no mental health policy – the major reason for this being that mental health policies are often hastily born out of reaction to internal incidents or negative experiences within the organization, rather than already existing as a proactive and preventative measure. In order to dispel the perception that anxiety, depression, stress, and other related conditions are private or shameful matters which employees should discreetly handle on their own time, organizations must make mental health in the workplace a shared concern along with open resources and policies to act as preventative measures.
Without the proper policies in place, organizations are failing to see mental health and wellness at work as a priority; they don’t always regard mental well-being as important as, say, an obvious physical injury. Every organization benefits from healthy and happy employees, and showing that the well-being of your workers is a priority in your organization helps attract and retain top talent. By uncovering the goals, needs and desires of your team and organization, you can take the first step to developing effective mental health policies and wellness strategies.
When developing a policy or searching for opportunities to improve mental health and wellness in your organization, consider these points listed as top risks to mental health by the World Health Organization:
• Inadequate health and safety policies
• Poor communication and management practices
• Limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work
• Low levels of support for employees
• Inflexible working hours
• Unclear tasks or organizational objectives
Create diverse work spaces
Diverse teams call for diverse work environments – and all diverse teams include a healthy mix of different personalities like introverts, ambiverts and extroverts. Forcing everyone on your team to work in a loud environment may keep the extroverts happy but will mentally drain your introverts. And extroverts may feel lonely and excluded when not given the freedom to converse and interact with colleagues openly. Not to mention the quality of work, engagement and productivity will also be negatively affected when your team is struggling and working in an environment that doesn’t cater to an individual’s authentic self.
A study by Quartz showed that 99 percent of employees in open-office plans reported that “their concentration was impaired by various types of office noise.” These noises include ringing telephones, loud outbursts from colleagues and background conversations. The study also reported that workers found conversations by colleagues in the office more distracting when they were not directly related to their own projects. Large tech companies like IBM and Microsoft have studied the effects of their open-office plans, and moved to providing a variety of seating options featuring smaller team spaces and isolation rooms. Results showed increased productivity at both of these companies.
Try providing a variety of working spaces, where everyone’s needs are considered and work can be completed comfortably. Some workers may prefer to sit on a bean bag near a window, close to natural light, while others may prefer to work standing up for parts of the day. Some may prefer retreating to a private room for some peace and quiet, whereas other employees may prefer a large hall where calls and conversations can be taken openly, without the fear of disturbing nearby colleagues.
Create a culture of psychological safety and autonomy
When workers feel trusted to handle their own responsibilities, it makes them feel empowered, safe, appreciated, and ultimately helps to create a positive culture of autonomy and confidence in the workplace. But fostering a sense of autonomy among a team first starts with good leadership. Leaders who listen, engage their employees and create psychologically safe environments are sure to experience a happier and healthier team in which every member feels trusted and supported.
A two-year study on team performance by Google revealed that the highest-performing teams listed psychological safety as a top priority. They discovered that this type of security helped team members feel comfortable with being vulnerable in front of one another. This means that team members feel good about speaking their minds with less fear of criticism, flexing their creative muscles, and taking more risks, which can often lead to positive breakthroughs and new solutions for their team.
A leader’s job is to provide guidance or support when necessary and ensure psychological safety for his or her team, but not to micromanage. Micromanaging sends out implicit “I don’t trust you” messages to a team, and adds to feelings of powerlessness, depression and anxiety which overwhelm workers who don’t feel psychologically safe or trusted to carry out their jobs well.
Encourage work-life balance
Work-life balance all comes down to flexibility and making work integrate seamlessly with real-life matters. Employers who can allow for versatility will have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent. In the modern workplace, however, flexibility can take many forms. It’s important for managers to know the needs of their team in order to ensure “flexible working conditions” work well for both employee and employer, at no cost to the organization’s bottom line.
What works for some employees may not work for others. For some workers, flexibility can mean working remotely several days of the week, especially in the instance of child-rearing; and for others, it can mean starting or ending work at particular times of the day to allow for trickier commutes, or passions and hobbies outside of work that keep individuals feeling inspired and human. At the end of the day, those who are granted the freedom to perform on their own terms (within reason) – in ways that will allow for both productivity, but still in alignment with who they are as people, and their unique values – will be happier, healthier, and more loyal.
Offer soft skills training
Poor “soft skills” can affect an organization in many different ways. Lack of conflict resolution skills can lead to tension among employees, cause unnecessary delays and create stress. Poor communication skills can also lead to misunderstandings, resulting in unsafe work environments, increased expenses, low production and a higher turnover rate. In many cases, poor well-being goes unnoticed at work due to lack of proper soft skills training. When managers detect a problem, many are also reluctant to approach the issue because of a lack of understanding on how to best approach the situation or fear of blurring professional and personal relations.
Train managers to support their teams
When working with a diverse team, your choice of words or methods of communication can make or break a delicate situation. Improved soft skills can help managers remain mindful in tough situations and help them connect more positively with their team. The right emotional intelligence may help them determine the appropriate approaches – everything from the best time of day to talk to a struggling employee, to nuances in language, to the appropriate environment for the difficult conversation. With language training programs in place, improved communication can help break down barriers related to discussing mental health issues, helping your team feel more safe at work.
Consider the following when training managers to support mental health and wellness at work:
• Practice active listening
• Address discrimination and bullying
• Communicate mindfully and sensitively
• Determine different methods of preferred communication for each team member
• Approach certain issues at the right time and place
• Check in with colleagues informally and regularly ask how they are doing
• Train managers how to mentor people, not only manage responsibilities
Once managers feel safe identifying issues and approaching their team members, it may also be necessary to evaluate whether the issue stems from the workplace or the home. A study by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found that a demanding workload, a feeling of lack of control, and/or an unsupportive environment also contributes to anxiety, stress, and depression at work. Providing employees with the proper training and giving them more control over their learning and development can provide them with a sense of purpose in their work and will ultimately alleviate work-related stress which contributes to functional and productivity losses.
HR and leadership should also ensure that all employees know how to access the care and support they need, even if they do not wish to disclose their issues or concerns to their team.
Take care of each other
Improved levels of wellness and mental health are associated with better work performance, but they can also help improve the level of staff retention, encourage greater levels of creativity and innovation, and enhance the reputation of a company. The psychological capital of your organization is an invaluable resource which should be recognized and cared for throughout the year. Organizations that promote mental health and wellness are also more likely to increase productivity and reduce absenteeism while benefiting from the associated economic gains. Ultimately, if you take better care of your employees, they’ll take better care of your business.