Over the past few months, many of us have experienced significant change. This ever-evolving yet constant state is compounded by a steep learning curve while we adjust to working remotely and in ways that are far different than before. Moreover, the tragedies and micro aggressions around anti-Black racism that have gone unaddressed for far too long amplify the stress, fear and frustration experienced by BIPOC employees. As a result, many employees are feeling insecure, disconnected and uncertain about the future of work. Many are struggling mentally and emotionally.
We spend about half of our weekly waking hours at work. It is vitally important to ensure we are doing what we can to make our workplaces (virtual and otherwise) a safer place for our teams. The best workplaces invest in employee well-being, laying the foundation for team cultures that prioritize mental health and embody wellness.
Today, sustained support for employee mental health and well-being is lacking in companies of all sizes. Employers need to commit to making their workplaces safer, more supportive and flexible to specific employee needs. It isn’t easy to balance home and work with a lack of physical boundaries at home. Employees need real and sustained support from managers and employers. Ignoring these issues can cause harm and this cannot be ignored.
Step up and invest in your team’s mental health
Psychological harm at work comes with significant cost to organizations, affecting profit, impact, retention and employee health. Taking accountability for employee well-being and undertaking an internal strategy that centres wellness and mental health at the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it also improves health, engagement, productivity and so much more. As employers and leaders, it is our responsibility to take care of our staff and take action.
So, where and how can we start?
1. Trust employees
Many leaders are struggling with this right now as their teams adjust to working remotely. How can we lead our teams if we don’t know what they’re doing? Micromanaging will not improve performance. Employees who are micromanaged often feel (and are!) overwhelmed, undervalued and ineffective. These are not the conditions that support mental health at work. When I was Executive Director at Unity Charity, I was an intense micromanager. I would even get copies of employee emails so I knew what was going on. However, I completely lost the trust of my team. Once I removed myself from all the emails and stopped micromanaging, productivity improved, and most importantly, so did morale. Trust is the foundational ingredient to building healthier teams.
2. Give up control
The only way to do this is to give employees the space to take risks and fail. You can start by focusing on learning. Letting employees learn through experience allows them to attribute the outcomes to their own efforts. Real responsibility is empowering but to do this we need to give up control.
Before one of Unity Charity’s annual festivals, I gave one of our committed volunteers the most important task, which was driving the event truck to and from the festival. If the truck did not arrive on time and at the right place, the event could not happen. By empowering this person with a major task, giving them full control to plan their routes and train volunteers to load and unload the truck – and not telling them how to do their job – this volunteer thrived. They were early for every event. After this, we continued to give them the “keys to the car” on major tasks. Giving people agency and control in their work leads to a healthier team culture.
3. Celebrate employees
Acknowledging employees goes beyond financial incentive. Paying people fairly is a vital starting point, but it only goes so far in terms of motivation and reducing workplace risk. Through giving timely and genuine positive feedback when employees do something great, you can boost morale. This gives employees pride in the work they do, knowing their efforts are appreciated and valued. At Unity Charity we used to celebrate at team meetings when a staff member achieved a milestone. This created a culture that supported even the small successes. We celebrated accomplishments that often go unnoticed, like completing the annual audit. We also gave gift cards to staff for above and beyond performance as a sign that we were grateful for their efforts.
Employees who feel valued, trusted and acknowledged for their contribution are willing to give more and feel better about the work they are doing. Truly caring for our team and each other makes work a better place to be.
These strategies are a small part of creating a workplace that fosters mental health and well-being. It begins with creating jobs with reasonable workloads, paying people fairly with good benefits and respecting individuals’ needs. Building a culture of well-being is continuous work that leads to healthier employees, deeper impact and increased profit. Creating workplace culture that centres well-being involves an honest evaluation of your organization and employees. It also requires commitment from the top and an investment of time and resources.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed a standard as well as tools and implementation guidelines for Psychological Health & Safety in the Workplace. This is an excellent tool that can help organizations of all sizes (10-10,000 employees) to implement the standard. You can also visit the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website for tools and resources that will help you bring the standard to life at your organization.
It is critical that management and leadership across sectors prioritize their teams’ mental health and safety. The future of work must focus on employee health and well-being; investing the time and resources will help you support and retain your best employees. It is also just the right thing to do.
For many more stories on how we built an innovative culture supporting mental health and well-being, check out my new book at buildingunitybook.com.