Are we biased when it comes to discussing mental health at work and showing our emotions in an environment that’s essentially professional? Now, more than ever, addressing the unique emotional realities of each individual is becoming imperative if companies are to create a healthy and safe organisational culture for all. Supporting mental wellbeing is good for organisational culture and for building a healthier, more empathetic society.
What will I read about in this article?
What is mental health in the workplace?
We’re living in turbulent times. Economic, social and geopolitical instability continues to affect our collective mental health. Many of us are stressed right now, and not just because we’ve been through a pandemic, witnessing serious international conflicts, the effects of climate change or the consequences of inflation.
We’re facing a particularly overwhelming moment in history at the same time we’re dealing with our own personal stresses and worries. Without effective support, our mental health at work can be compromised and affect us personally and professionally. In previous articles, we have seen how wellbeing is related to the peace of mind and satisfaction a person feels in their life.
In the professional sphere, mental health risks may be related to the content of the work or the type of relationship we have with our colleagues or our manager. They’re also related to the specific characteristics of the workspace or the opportunities for professional development.
But in addition, the work environment can also amplify issues that negatively affect mental health, such as discrimination or inequality based on factors such as race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, social background, religion, age, etc.
To find out more about the impact that the current situation is having on workers, Deloitte surveyed more than 23,000 people in 46 different countries and the results concluded that:
* 46% of Generation Z and 45% of millennials feel burned out due to the intensity/demands of their work environments.
* 44% of Generation Z and 43% of millennials say that many people have recently left their organisation due to workload pressures.
* In both groups, more than half agree that their organisation talks more about mental health now. However, this has not resulted in any significant impact on employees.
* Also in both groups, around 35% of respondents said they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking openly with their line manager about feeling stressed or anxious or about other mental health problems.
“46% of Generation Z and 45% of millennials feel burned out due to the intensity/demands of their work environments.”
The current social and economic context is forcing companies around the world to change their approach to wellbeing. Strengthening the mental health of workers is the great challenge of coming times. According to the World Health Organisation, 12 billion working days are lost each year due to depression and anxiety alone. Two conditions that cost the global economy 1 trillion dollars every year, mainly through reduced productivity.
Is it possible to take care of mental health at work?
A Sonder research on employee wellbeing found that 80% of respondents were more open about their emotions or concerns when leaders talked about their own. And 92% said that support for mental health and wellbeing was an important factor when considering a change of employer.
While organisations have responded with initiatives such as implementing an emotional leadership model, flexible working arrangements or creating workspaces that care for the well-being of employees, more can still be done to ensure safe and healthy working environments.
Change in organisational culture (from top to bottom)
This is not an easy challenge to meet. Not only because companies may or may not be able to give workers’ well-being the importance it truly deserves, but also because, even if this part is well articulated, each person is different when it comes to expressing, caring for, understanding their own mental health and understanding their needs. In other words, the challenge lies in identifying and naming emotions, and also in designing strategies that work on long-term problems.
For this reason, leaders considering mental health at work as an organisational priority and establishing mechanisms to help them understand how their team members are doing may be one of the keys to the issue. When managers seek to be open and share their personal experience, they’re often able to foster an environment of trust and transparency.
“92% of employees indicated that support for mental health and wellbeing was an important factor when considering a change of employer.”
Fear and shame are often two barriers to discussing emotional issues or moods at work. Achieving an organisational culture where these issues can be talked about free of stigma will ensure that mental health problems are addressed more effectively, preventing them from leading to more complex situations.
Ensuring more flexible work
A critical component is how flexibility is addressed. Flexibility has become an indispensable ingredient in balancing work and personal life. Many employees have found the balance they need through the various forms of flexible working that organisations have introduced, such as hybrid working or hot-spots.
A 2021 Salesforce survey showed that 60% of respondents said that psychological and physical wellbeing topped the list of reasons they preferred a hybrid work model.
But it’s not enough just to introduce flexibility, we also need to regulate how it is applied. It’s essential to promote policies that guarantee autonomy, set limits and create norms around communication, responsiveness and urgency in order to build a mentally healthy culture.
Relationships and bonds in the professional environment are key
From a simple “how are you?” to fostering meaningful interactions between team members. Whether people work from home or the office, companies can encourage collaboration and socialisation among colleagues, as well as with managers. Empathy and authenticity are vital in addressing how people in the team are doing and the working relationships that characterise the group.
Safe and healthy work environments are not only a fundamental right, but are also more likely to minimise stress and conflict at work and improve talent retention, job performance and productivity.
Problems such as stress, anxiety and depression have been linked to organisations for decades. Addressing mental health at work, discussing it and implementing measures to help ensure the well-being of employees will be paramount to achieving a healthier organisational culture and society.