According to research, around 15% of people in the workplace have symptoms of a mental health problem, and many more experience periods of poor mental health. This makes promoting mental wellbeing in the workforce an important issue for employers to tackle in 2022.
Mental wellbeing in the workforce – what’s going wrong
Fortunately, open dialogue around the importance of workplace mental wellbeing is becoming more common, both individuals and employers have a growing awareness of what they can do to intentionally prioritise wellbeing, manage stress and facilitate rest
However, research from CV Library indicates that many people are still not getting the support they need. A significant 60% of respondents reported feeling embarrassed disclosing mental health concerns to their employers, and over three-quarters said that organisations were not as supportive as they could be.
Here are seven ways employers can better support mental wellbeing in the workforce, penned by business leaders.
1. Intentionally facilitate mentorship
“To get the best from people, and to truly make them feel supported in the workplace, it’s essential to create a culture which makes your team feel part of something, and encourages a sense of belonging”, argues serial entrepreneur Adam Strong. “One straightforward way to do this is to consciously build connections between people and set up structures for mentorship”.
Mentorship encourages people to work together, collaborate and build community. This is essential to prevent feelings of isolation in professional settings, but also to ensure that individuals have others to lean on. ”I believe coaching and mentoring is like oxygen; you can’t survive very long without it.”
In practice, Adam recommends identifying the people who can help individuals achieve their goals and encouraging them to approach them for advice. Alongside that, promote delegating the activities you’re weaker at. “This reduces the pressure on the individual and overall, frees teams up to support each other in a more meaningful way”.
2. Create space for team recovery
Recovery is essential to positive mental health, and yet this is often traded off against our ‘always-on’ culture that considers continuous focus key to optimum productivity. Lesley Cooper, management consultant and founder of WorkingWell, is keen to highlight that recovery should be viewed as an investment in the next performance wave.
“The need for periods of recovery can be dismissed as weakness, but in fact, knowing how and when to rest is a true developmental strength that equips both individuals and organisations for future ventures,” she says.
Team recovery is a great way to build strong relationships, ensure everyone feels supported and has a place to voice any concerns, she adds. Cooper also suggests that you could schedule 10 minutes before the ‘meat’ of the meeting to just chat to each other. “This will nurture valuable bonds of friendship by celebrating successes and laughing at funny moments, building team trust and psychological safety.”
“Importantly, this will help decompress those who were in meetings immediately before, a common feature in the hybrid working environment. Those 10 short minutes will prevent overwhelm and increase focus on the task at hand, protecting your team’s wellbeing. Psychological safety means people are more likely to raise any mental health challenges and it prioritises primary intervention that prevents issues from ever occurring. The risk of burnout should never be ignored for the sake of a ‘can you take the heat’ or ‘work until you drop’ culture, it’s unsustainable. Instead, recovery should be acknowledged as an imperative part of the work process”.
3. Develop team resilience
We will all face challenges at some point in the workplace, but it is a leader’s responsibility to ensure everyone in the workplace is equipped with the resilience skills necessary to prevent overwhelm or lasting damage to our mental health, argues Christy Kulasingam, management consultant and founder of In.Side.Edge.
“There are many resilience skills that can be learned from sporting elites,” he says. “Reaching the heights of elite sport is fraught with challenges and they have to build the tenacity to get back up and carry on in the face of adversity. Leaders should also work on this with their teams by building resilience skills into personal development plans. You could invite sportspeople into your business to discuss their resilience journey.”
He recommends leaders embed relaxation techniques, sign-post support services, reframe how teams approach failure and promote physical wellbeing as well to help employees build up the resilience of elite sportspeople and minimise the impact of stress.
4. Limit the stress ripple-effect
For Martin Boroson and Carmel Moore, directors of the One Moment Company, stress can quickly have a domino effect. “When you personally become stressed, many leaders then inadvertently pass this stress onto others, who then pass this onto others in turn. We call this “stresscalation”,’ says Moore.
“This might be you raising your voice unnecessarily in a Zoom call, not giving tasks enough time and pushing that urgency onto others, creating false urgency or speaking abruptly with others – all of these raise the stress levels of team members unnecessarily and impact the mental health of others,” he continues.
“Whose fault the stress is or where it might have come from doesn’t really matter at that moment. What matters is what you do next so this stress is not multiplied by the next person. Leaders have a key role to play in role-modelling how to manage stress in a healthy way and ensuring top-level stress does not trickle down and cause undue harm to others” says Boroson.
5. Create safe spaces and listen
Interestingly, when asked “employees are able to ask questions directly to senior management” for the Inclusion 247 Accelerating Inclusion Research Report, 73% of organisations answered “yes”, 11% answered “no” and 16% “didn’t know”.
Whilst this is encouraging, it begs the question of why people continue to struggle to speak up with so many organisations purporting to be inclusive. People are less likely to speak up about their concerns about mental health or workplace discrimination when organisations operate a tick box approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B), as a consequence this can lead to poor mental health.
“Organisations should implement a system whereby employees have an independent safe space where they can go and raise concerns without fear of retribution or detriment”, argues Teresa Boughey, founder of Inclusion 247.
“For example, in the NHS there is a system called ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ (FTSU) with the board getting regular reports on emerging ‘themes’. In addition, the FTSU has full access to Senior Leadership and has the authority to seek assurance that changes are being made.
“These safe spaces are essential for creating a culture of openness and transparency as well as protecting the mental health and wellbeing of individuals and teams. Adopting such an approach can increase inclusion and the sense of workplace belonging. Trust and psychological safety are important as well as listening to learn and not listening within the intention of arguing your point” she adds.
6. Break the cycle of perfectionism
Much of the stress experienced within organisations is fuelled by perfectionism and the fear of failure. Even when the answers to a challenge are unclear, many fall into the trap of pushing ahead blindly in the hope that things will eventually work out. That’s why of the key traits to maintaining good mental health in the workplace is to encourage people to be both humble and curious, explains Matt Spry, strategy consultant and founder of Emergent.
“We must accept that we don’t know everything. Being a leader doesn’t mean that we have – or are expected to have – all the answers. The willingness to accept this, and say “I don’t know”, is a powerful first step. Many other people have trodden the same path as us, however how much we like to believe our own journeys are unique. We can all learn from those who went before us. Being honest about what we don’t know is just the first step.
“Next, you need curiosity. You not only want to do things better and solve problems but be interested in how others approach similar challenges. If you aren’t interested in solving the challenges you face, who will be? Between books, blogs, podcasts and videos there is so much information easily accessible you are sure to find something relevant if you take some time to look.”
7. Nip ‘superhero syndrome’ in the bud
Creating desperate situations that need fixing and being called upon to be the fixer creates a superhero syndrome. Superheroes in the workplace relish the attention bestowed upon them, and they end up being more reactive than proactive. “For many firefighters, they simply don’t want the drama to stop”, explains Margo Manning, a leadership and development consultant and author of The Step Up Mindset For Senior Managers.
“It is very common for superheroes to take on a martyr personality whilst secretly loving the attention. The superhero/martyr likes to tell everyone who will listen how others only ever come to them with issues, yet if people started going elsewhere, they would be greatly offended and annoyed.
“The reality is that it takes a lot of energy to sustain the effort required to be a superhero. Whilst initially the business will be appreciative of the help, that will only be sustainable if the individual is able to carry out their existing requirements in parallel to the firefighting. I have yet to observe anyone balance both the job with their superhero ego successfully.
“From prioritising rest to setting realistic, measured work targets and embedding strategies for diversity and inclusion, there are many ways for workplaces to help support men’s mental health. Regardless of the organisation, team size or sector, there are always intentional things that can be done to help employees open up, share their concerns, battle fatigue and prevent potential overwhelm.”