When it comes to employee engagement, the question is: Are we doing enough to support employee mental health? On October 10th every year The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day, helping to highlight the importance of looking after our own mental health and being mindful of people close to us who may also be affected. In recent years the discussion of mental health has become a lot more open than it was previously, for example ITV recently interrupted their prime time “Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions” show with their Britain Get Talking campaign encouraging more discussion between family members to aid mental wellness. We know that mental health affects a lot of people, anxiety and depression in children has risen by 48% since 2004 and when it comes to adults 74% have admitted to feeling so stressed in the last year that they felt either overwhelmed or unable to cope. That is a lot of people that are potentially bottling up mental health issues within the workplace.
Employee Engagement and Mental Health
The dictionary definition of mental health is described as: “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being”. Mental health is just as important as your physical health, but unlike physical conditions that can be clearly seen, it’s not always simple to spot the signs of mental health issues in our employees or colleagues. We often look at employee engagement in terms of ways we can keep our employees happy and motivated, but there are a few things we can also be doing within our employee engagement efforts to support their wider mental well-being. Here are a few areas to look at in your organisation:
Employee engagement: Encouraging the discussion around mental health
The first thing we should be doing is working to de-stigmatise the discussion of mental health within the workplace, and that message should be coming from your CEO right down through your entire organisation. A lot of mental health sufferers feel uncomfortable discussing this openly for fear of other people’s responses, but if you can create an environment where all employees feel safe to speak their mind, share their vulnerabilities and truly be themselves then it will allow you to understand those who are struggling and may be in need of a little more support. You may have a leader who is willing to share their own experiences with mental health with the wider team, or if not you might choose to bring in an external company or individual to share their story and start the conversation that way. The point is, you don’t want an environment where people are afraid to speak up, so make it clear to your employees that it’s OK to speak openly about their mental health. You’ve probably noticed your social media feed at some point in the last year flooded with the hashtag #ItsOKnottobeOK – check it out for some inspiration to get people talking in your company and start shattering the stigma around mental health!
Employee engagement: A clear process to speak up
Just as you want to encourage the discussion around mental health in the workplace, you should also ensure all employees know how they can speak up at those times when they feel unable to cope in order to get the support that they need. This could be through traditional HR channels, or even through a confidential online chat system where employees can share concerns without having to go face-to-face with a colleague to share their feelings. Whatever it is you should make it clear to employees exactly how they can speak up so ensure this is highlighted at induction when an employee starts, through your internal communications to colleagues and even through channels like your office intranet or posters in your breakout areas.
Employee engagement: Find ways to reduce workplace stress
One of the most common mental health concerns within the workplace is around stress, and business leaders should be recognising this and looking at ways to tackle stress before it becomes an issue for our employees. Stress can cause a number of reactions in employees such as frustration, sadness and anger, all of which are extremely damaging for employee engagement, in fact mentalhealth.org.uk believe that work-related stress can account for almost 24 days of work lost for every person affected. In order to reduce stress there are a few things you should be looking at:
Ensuring your employees workloads are realistic - If not look at ways to help such as hiring additional people or sharing responsibility of tasks
Keeping an eye on overtime – Working long hours every week is not sustainable for any employee, so if you find your employees are constantly burning the midnight oil then it’s likely to result in stress. If you notice that certain people are constantly staying late speak to them and see if there is anything you can do to help.
Understanding work-life balances – Sometimes workplace stress isn’t about work itself, but how your employees manage this with their personal lives too. It could be the rush to get in on time after dropping the kids off at school, worrying about dependants who are at home during the day while you’re in the office or knowing that you are going to be stuck in rush hour traffic when you leave every day. A little bit of flexibility can go a long way to improving work-life balance and reducing stress.
Employee engagement: Build a positive workplace culture
Toxic workplace cultures are one of the biggest killers of employee engagement, and in some instances can even cause mental health problems for your employees. Whether it’s a bad manager, negative comments or a cliquey group of employees, your culture can quickly make an employee feel upset, lonely or unsupported, so you should always be making conscious efforts to build a positive workplace culture. Social contact is one of the main psychological experiences that promotes mental well-being for an individual, so make sure you are encouraging this through social events, team building and time every day for employees to relax together and speak to each other.
Employee engagement: Check-in with your employees
Just as we have mentioned that you should always highlight the channels for employees to speak up about mental health, it’s also really important to remember that not every individual is going to feel comfortable approaching you with a concern. That’s why you should make a conscious effort to check in regularly with employees to keep on top of employee well-being. You may want to appoint a group of “check-in” employees and arm them with relevant information around topics like mental health and employee well-being so that they are able to speak openly with employees who are struggling. As with any topic of this nature it’s important to also understand that you might not be best placed to tackle this internally, so where required get external help or ensure you can point your employees in the direction of useful resources.