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How To Create An Environment That Inproves Mental Health At Work

One of the most critical functions of any business in the 21st century is to ensure that employees are in a good headspace (and therefore more productive). In this article we take a look at some of the strategies that employers can use to promote mental health at work and that you can suggest.

“A company’s employees are its greatest asset and your people are your product.”

Richard Branson

As millennials we are all too familiar with the exploitative nature of the modern work environment, the amount of time we have to put into our jobs to survive, the presence of social media and technology, as well as the adverse effects that it’s had on our mental health.

And beyond this, we are a generation that seems to be prioritising creating employment rather than gaining it, according to Bentley University. So should we not be the generation that also breaks the cycle of the monotonous, soul-destroying 9-5 work life? Can Millennials prioritise a healthy work environment over profits? It’s a question that we probably won’t have answer to for some time, until we truly have control over businesses and industries around the world. However, we can identify some issues that exist in the typical modern workplace today, thanks to the World Health Organisation‘s report on Mental Health and Substance Use, in which they provide a list of key factors contributing towards a toxic workplace, which are:

  • inadequate health and safety policies;
  • poor communication and management practices;
  • limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work;
  • low levels of support for employees;
  • inflexible working hours; and
  • unclear tasks or organisational objectives.

So how do we fix this?

Start with substance abuse

It may seem somewhat counter-intuitive to start with substance abuse, considering that this is something that you’d think occurs outside of the workplace and you have no control over. But this is not true, substance abuse in the workplace is actually remarkably common.

Moreover, a lot of substance abuse is associated with a stressful work environment… and it leads to poor performance, and disciplinary procedures that creates an unbreakable cycle that has undesirable consequences not only for your employee, but your company as well.

So, do yourself a favour and create a protocol for substance abuse. This is not about punishing or firing employees, but rather to encourage them to be forthcoming with their issues and seek help. Include provisions for rehabilitation programs in your company healthcare plan and do everything you can to make sure your employees feel supported and like they actually matter to you as human beings. In short, allow them to treat the condition they are afflicted with, rather than make them feel ashamed and like they should be punished for it. And, if your employee turnover rate is cut, productivity rises and your employees are simply, happier, you may find out that it actually benefits your profits in the long-run.

Communication & Feedback

Employees that feel like they’re being listened to and that feel like they have a role to play in which direction the company is taking are happier, more productive, less antagonistic employees. Your policy in the work place with regards to communicating with employees, taking in feedback and actually implementing the proposals that they suggest, can be a genuine game changer.

If your employees are listened to, if they play a role in the decision making process, they feel like they have a personal stake in the success of your business, rather than being just a simple cog in the machine. They feel valued, their work feels more fulfilling and they become more productive and are less likely to let their work suffer as a result of externalities, such as an issue at home.

Diet & exercise

Like it or not, your employees have lives that extend beyond the eight hours they spend behind their desks every day. And a massive part of their daily experience, in the office or outside of it, is determined by their physical condition. A healthy mind requires a healthy body and, as an employer, you should be encouraging your employees to exercise frequently and follow a healthy diet plan. No question, some employees will look at you like you’re crazy if you come up to their desks and tell them to lose 5kgs, so don’t do that!

However, a company-wide policy that you’ll pay, say, 20% of their gym membership fees or if you give away grocery vouchers for wellness stores to employees who meet certain KPIs… Anything of this nature, even an in-office (if we every go back to the offices) gym, if you have the cash to burn, can go a long way towards creating the ideal physical foundation for a mentally healthy employee.

Daycares

With so many more women in the workplace today, childcare is a genuine challenge. And moms and dads will be far better off if they know that there’s a nearby childcare facility that is within walking distance of the office, which is reliable and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg available to them. Not to mention, employees in your company with kids of similar ages are more likely to socialise and get on and it can go a long way towards creating the “family environment” that every employer boasts about but rarely cultivates.

It also means that sick children won’t radically disrupt any given employee’s workday, and knowing that their boss cares not only about them, but their children gives them that extra sense of affinity towards the company and an added layer of loyalty and willingness to go the extra mile.

Flexible work

As noted in the WHO report, one can improve the state of mental health at work by making working hours more flexible and therefore opening space to create a better work-life balance. But, since the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything, we have been forced into making this decision anyways, with people working from home and therefore ‘flexi-hours’ are now the order of the day. However, most employers have taken advantage of this and capitalised on the situation, expecting people to be available to work from seven-to-seven – sometimes literally getting a 12-hour day out of them – rather than giving people objectives and deadlines and the freedom to structure their week’s working hours and meetings accordingly.

People are now working over-time hours more than ever. And the opportunity that the Covid-19 pandemic gave us to create flexible working hours has fallen by the wayside. But your business need not make the same mistake. Consider a four-day work week or giving people the opportunity to do eight-hours of work at whatever point in the day they please, whether it be 9-5, 8-4 or 9-2 and 4-8 – whatever variation on a 40-hour working week they prefer. This will make for happier employees that are able to focus better on their work, with fewer distractions or mental barriers hindering their progress.

The future of work is in our hands

Again, Millennials have become the generation that has to tackle the long-standing legacy of toxic workplaces. We’re the first generation that will truly be tackling the issue of mental health at work, all while we navigate the disruptions brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and climate change. The latter two are inevitable issues that we don’t have any real answers for right now, but improving mental health at work is an equally important and an easier challenge to tackle. It is therefore on us to take a relatively small (yet still big) step forward to prepare workers for the mental challenges that will be brought about by the disruptions ahead.

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