The 3 pillars to a happy & healthy workplace
There seems to be this assumption in our culture that going to work borrows from our reserves of health & happiness, like some kind of weird transaction “I’ll give you some of my happiness if you pay me this much money every month”. There’s this equilibrium of days off and money in return for health & happiness – or is there?
With 1 in 6 workers experiencing a mental health issue at any given time, stress, depression and anxiety responsible for almost half of working days lost in the UK and younger people in work facing higher levels of mental health issues; it seems that there isn’t an equilibrium after all. And lets face it, even if there was an equilibrium, it’s a pretty rubbish one.
Is it beyond the realms of possibility that work could actually contribute towards a person’s health and happiness, we actually enjoy going to work and don’t dread that Monday morning alarm?
When we factor in things like staff turnover, absenteeism, presenteeism (turning up to work while ill), low productivity or poor quality work output and consider that all of these are impacted by staff health & wellbeing, it’s easy to see the business case to invest in improving these.
But we’re not looking to reinvent the wheel here and it doesn’t need to take tens of thousands from the company coffers. You probably already have tools and systems in place that can be tweaked and integrated to incorporate health and wellbeing to help you build a good picture of the current state of play and make necessary changes. Things like HR data, staff surveys and appraisals are all great tools when in comes to this.
But first, lets look at building that picture. As the title of this article suggests, it can be broken down into 3 key areas.
– Mental health
– Organisational culture
– Employee experience
These may each sound like big areas, and you’d be right but it’s well within the realms of possibility and also time well spent when you factor in the potential returns.
What an organisation says and does about the mental health of its staff speaks volumes about its culture and values.
We all have mental health, every single one of us. I like to think of it as a fuel gauge, as the challenges and harsh realities of life are thrown our way, the drank starts to empty. But there are ways to top the tank up again, the problem is? There’s no visible gauge to see and all to often the needle in people’s tanks are dangerously close to the red, or even off the end (you know when your car says 3 miles range left? Yeah, that!)
If a company and its staff aren’t equipped to identify when tanks are getting low and take steps to fill them back up again then mental health issues in the workplace are inevitable.
The key Factors that influence mental health at work include:
Attitudes towards mental health- How is mental health viewed in the organisation? How is it spoken about? How is it perceived? If someone chose to speak up about their mental health challenges would they be viewed as strong or weak? Are employees aware of what to look out for? Both in themselves and their colleagues.
Policy & strategy – What is the company policy on mental health? Is it ‘we encourage positive mental health’ or does it actually outline how you encourage it and what the organisation does about it? Is your mental health policy congruent (I love that word!) with the other company policies or do they tell different stories when it comes to wellbeing?
TIP: if your policy contains headings similar to the headings in this article, you’re off to a great start!
Confidence of leadership – are line managers trained? Do they just need awareness training or mental health first aid training? Would they know what to do if one of their staff asked about mental health? Do they have clear guidelines on mental health?
Available support – What support is available for staff? Does the organisation provide any form of stress relief or coaching to staff? Do you have mental health first aiders available whenever the workplace is open? Have you for coaches or counsellors available? Or maybe a good employee assistance program (I say good because there are some terrible ones out there!)?
Prevalence of mental health problems – Do you know how many of your staff have mental health issues? Are detailed records kept on sickness absence? Are staff suffering from stress or burnout? Do you take steps to identify hot spots of mental health issues at work? Is there a certain role, task or area that has a higher risk of mental health issues?
The culture of an organisation is often overlooked because it’s not a tangible thing that can be seen, nor is it something that’s regularly spoken about. It just kind of sits there in the back seat. It’s always there, whether you know it or not, but it has a huge influence on your organisation and the direction it’s heading in.
If employees and the outside world can see that an organisation not only has great values but also lives up to them, it not only retains existing talent but also encourages new talent and clients towards the organisation.
Key factors here include:
Work/life balance – Arriving early, working through breaks and finishing late might look good on an appraisal report to some people but how long can they keep it up for? Do employees feel compelled or expected to do this? Are they checking work emails in their personal time? People have a finite amount of energy, attention and patience. All of that expended in the workplace means nothing left to give to family or friends.
Vision – Where is your company headed? What is everyone working towards? Is it just more money for the people at the top or is there a shared goal that everyone can invest in? Do staff know that what they’re doing every day is a step closer to something meaningful or are they just waiting for closing time to come round?
Change – Are staff involved in change around the workplace? Do they have any say, or does it just happen, and they need to get used to it? Whether it’s new equipment, organisational structure, initiatives or work content, just walking into work one day and being told ‘this is how it is now’ is unlikely to get buy-in or help staff feel like a valued cog in the machine.
Communication – Is communication open and effective? Are leaders open about what’s happening and do the opinions of staff count? Do staff have access to the information needed to do their job and do they have access to further support if needed? If a staff does share something is it listened to and acted upon?
Relationships – Is the workplace a supportive environment? Are people treated as people and not just assets? Does the organisation promote positive behaviours? Are there toxic relationships? Are incidents of bullying or discrimination just swept under the carpet to protect personal interests?
Inclusion – Do employees feel isolated due to the nature of their work – such as night shift or remote workers? Does the organisation take in to account ethnicity, gender, disability, religion or age? Imagine if you worked for a boss who didn’t celebrate Christmas, so they insisted you worked straight through the Christmas period.
An employee who feels values, supported and like what they do is meaningful you’re bound to have better levels of wellbeing and productivity. This is the difference between employees looking forward to Monday morning, turning up energised and dreading the Monday morning commute, maybe turning up and doing the bare minimum while complaining at how crap it is.
Workload – Are workloads and deadlines reasonable? Is it realistic to expect an employee to do what has been asked of them? Are employees involved in planning their workload and how to do their job?
Clarity – do employees understand what’s expected of them? Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined and how what they do fits in to the vision? Or are people’s jobs changing frequently with goal posts moved and new expectations thrown in ad-hoc?
Personal & professional development – Are employees able to grow, learn and develop or do they feel like they’re stagnating? Is there clear opportunity and avenues for progression?
Management – Do managers communicate expectations clearly? Do they reward the capabilities of staff and praise good work? Do they utilize the skills of staff? Do they create opportunity for development and learning?
Work environment – Is the workplace safe? Is it comfortable? Is there somewhere to get away from the coal face for a break? Is it somewhere where employees might be exposed to stressful or traumatic events?
Personal issues – Everyone has a life outside of work, and whether you like it or not this often has an impact on the workplace. Are managers aware of issues affection employees such as illness, bereavement, finances or other stressors? Are managers trained to deal with these issues and does the workplace support people who are experience issues in their personal life?
Look, I get it, this all sounds like a lot. And you may be thinking “I haven’t got time for this” but here’s the thing – we make time for what we prioritize. And once you appreciate the huge benefit that placing a priority on health & wellbeing has on an organisation, you’ll suddenly find yourself making time for it. Employees are the single greatest asset and likely the biggest liability (in terms of cost) your business has. Gone are the days of hiring someone and letting them crack on, because that creates the false belief that I spoke about right at the start of the article, and THAT is what could be holding your business back from achieving that next level.