If there’s been one positive to come out of this year, it’s that attitudes to mental health in the workplace have shifted. The benefits of empowering employees to look after their own mental health aren’t just ethical or moral – it also makes commercial sense. Since 2020, business leaders have seen the stark impact poor mental health has on engagement, productivity, and employee happiness. A business is nothing without its workforce, so making your employees well-being a strategic priority is, unsurprisingly, key to performance.
We as an industry are still learning how to implement, productise and be responsible for workplace wellbeing, but the first agreement to be made here is that post-pandemic wellbeing has a dramatic bottom-line cost to organisations should they not be demonstrably proactive and responsive to workforce psychological and physical wellness.
What’s more, employees increasingly want to work for companies that have ‘cultures of care’. Historically, when employees feel they have organizational support and wellbeing resources, they’re more likely to recommend their company to a friend, less likely to leave, and more likely to be engaged. The pandemic saw a seismic shift in how employees want to work in the future and their employer’s expectations, and as companies come out of the pandemic and focus on growth, they will need to prioritize employee wellbeing to meet their business goals. So, how can they do it?
Balancing business objectives with employee expectations
Successful businesses have clearly articulated goals. These could be around business growth or profitability, customer service, efficient operations, or retention of employees. The pandemic has thrown the latter into the spotlight more than ever. People worldwide have taken the last year or so to reflect on what they truly value in work and life and make big decisions on the back of that. Leadership at many organizations is starting to take note of this shift, too. According to Brandpie’s CEO Purpose Report, 98% of CEOs agreed that the new generation of talent has expectations that challenge previously established norms of employee experience. So, misaligning on emerging expectations will have a direct cost to organizations
Emerging from the pandemic many people are (perhaps justifiably,) reluctant to return to the status quo. They expect more flexibility; safe spaces to work; higher job satisfaction; and a better work-life balance. According to EY’s Work Reimagined Employee Survey, more than half (54%) of employees would even consider leaving their job post-pandemic if it didn’t allow for some flexibility in where and when they work. While remote working this year hasn’t always been plain sailing, CIPD found that it has supported people’s mental health and stress levels overall.
To attract the best and most diverse talent, HR and business leaders need to take this moment to empathize with the unique needs of each group in their organization and prioritize the wellbeing of every employee. They need to develop a new working model with workers in mind: involve them, ask about their needs, and nurture a more progressive culture to suit their needs.
Putting wellbeing at the heart of retention
After a year that’s challenged our psychological, physical, and social wellbeing in life and work, employee wellbeing needs to be right at the heart of businesses’ retention and productivity strategies. Simply put, if employees aren’t happy with their work environment, they’ll go elsewhere, and ensuring employee happiness requires far more cultural and moral investment than any time before the present
As a first step, organizations need to evolve their mental health strategy from reaction to prevention. While reactive services like Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are still invaluable to those who need them, HR leaders need to think more clearly about how they can foster a working environment that prevents mental health problems before they develop. It’s time instead to start thinking of employee mental health the same way we think of physical health – as something that takes constant, consistent preventative action.
Digital tools can enable employers to measure employee wellbeing while providing proactive mental health support at scale. Traditional mental health initiatives typically only support the statistical 1 in 6 employees who will experience mental health challenges each year. But technology can empower employers to take an ‘always-on’ approach to support the 6 in 6 – and at a relatively low cost, too.
For example, workplace mental health platforms can give employees the tools they need to measure and manage each part of their mental wellbeing – psychological, social, and physical – at all times, enabling them to spot signs and symptoms of mental anxiety before they become more serious problems. Simultaneously, employers may access the anonymous and aggregated mental health data for their workforces, allowing them to spot trends and make more informed decisions around their wellbeing strategies. By supporting healthier workplaces, businesses can improve performance, inspire cultures of openness, and bolster their external reputations.
The crucial role of values and authenticity
This year, work has become more human. Many of us have met our colleagues’ pets or families virtually or seen inside each others’ homes. We have supported one another through the ups and downs. The shared vulnerability of this time has offered employers an opportunity to bring real authenticity to company culture and transform work for the better. In fact, Microsoft’s study found that, compared to one year ago, 39% of people are more likely to be their full, authentic selves at work, and 31% are less likely to feel embarrassed or ashamed when their home life shows up at work. HR and business leaders need to bring this same authenticity to their wellbeing strategies.
Organizations with ethics, integrity, and genuine values are more likely to retain their top employees and attract new talent. According to Inc, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 and they’re looking for socially responsible employers. To ensure businesses are creating genuine change, leaders can measure their company’s overall wellbeing and identify problem areas. This data means leaders will always have something to compare results to, and base their decisions on. It also helps businesses to keep themselves accountable and productive in their journey to building more mentally healthy and resilient workforces.