Are you dreaming of your summer break? Counting down to unplugging from it all? What if we worked in companies we didn’t need to take a summer vacation or holiday from? What if we didn’t push ourselves to the brink of mental exhaustion with the expectation we’d be able to recharge over a long weekend or a week off? If we are physically unable to work (i.e., illness, injury) the expectation is we’ll log off for the day or until we’re well enough to work. But what if it’s our mental wellness that’s out of whack? What are the expectations then?
If we want to encourage healthy behaviors, we need to address and support employees’ physical and mental health.
According to the World Health Organization, mental wellness is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Read that again. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to expect a work environment that supports mental wellness by that definition. And yet, research studies and personal experiences make it seem like finding that environment is an exception. Early results from Opinium's mental well-being study show over 1/3 of respondents feel their employees don't offer anything to support their mental well-being. Do you feel like your work environment supports your mental wellness? If not, here are 3 tips for spurring change:
1. Leverage the Research
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that annually, depression and anxiety costs the global workforce $1 trillion in lost productivity. On the plus side, they also report a 4x return on every dollar put against scaling up treatment to common mental health issues. The SHINE study, out of Harvard’s School of Public Health, is working with major corporations to identify key cultural and operational elements needed to develop thriving work environments. Findings show that well-being indicators are stronger predictors of business outcomes than physical health indicators. Looking for numbers closer to home? Watch for the results of Opinium's UK study as well as the launch of the US version.
2. Burn the Busy Badge of Honor
Burnout is a real thing. And while the WHO may have just recently featured it in its handbook, the topic is not new. We’ve developed a culture where employees try to out-busy each other. Who has the most on their plate? Who was up working on a deck until 12 A.M. and back up at 4 A.M. to prep for their full day of meetings? Who just has to meet this insane client deadline their manager agreed to? We listen to our colleagues’ stories and deep sigh in commiseration.
Instead of commiserating, we should be challenging. If you have team members who are working crazy hours, who show early signs of burnout, challenge them to reassess their workload and identify at least 1 thing they can offload. Encourage and reward your colleagues and teams for asking for help when their plates are full, who work smarter, not longer. In fact, be the first to ask for help. If employees see company leaders working to the brink of burnout they assume the same is expected of them. Only 11% of employees who report having stressed leaders are engaged at work.
3. Prop Up Your Perks
Companies who offer wellness plans report higher employee satisfaction. However, focusing on employee mental wellness doesn’t stop at adding a meditation room or a yoga class once a week. Perks, without an underlying supportive culture, are Band-Aids. A culture that supports wellness encourages employees to openly advocate for the things they need to ensure their mental wellness and supports them when they do. While addressing the larger culture issue at senior levels, make sure you’re doing your individual part to create that environment. How are you showing up every day? How do you manage your own stress? How do you support your team? The good news is, as Anese Cavanaugh recently pointed, “culture is an inside-out job”. We all play an active role in creating an environment that promotes mental wellness.
We can’t address mental wellness if we don’t talk about mental health struggles. We need to create the space for our friends and colleagues to feel safe and share their experiences, like Adam Jolley recently did. We need to unashamedly raise our hands and ask for help when we feel ourselves teetering on the edge and we need to reward others when they raise theirs. By openly discussing mental health struggles we can identify, and implement, support structures for mental wellness, finding ourselves in roles that we don’t need to take a summer break from.