We've seen some real progress around mental health in the workplace over the last two years. That progress occurred in part because — as with any policy or initiative that an organization wants to take root — it started at the top, and cascaded down.
Last year, a study by Ginger found 94% of U.S. CEOs personally received mental health support during the pandemic. Whether or not that was a driver for additional empathy, four in five CEOs drew a direct parallel between employee mental health and productivity afterwards.
A Disconnect Between Well-Being Efforts and Results
CEOs clearly took some action off the back of this, but it did not necessarily translate. While “96% of CEOs think they are doing enough for employee mental health … only 69% of employees agree,” the study found. In addition, while “70% of CEOs say they’re accepting of emotional and mental health issues in the workplace, only 35% of employees believe this is true.”
The uneven impact of well-being measures was also captured in a recent EY survey that showed new ways of working increased well-being for 49% of U.S. respondents, but decreased it for 23% of people. Some countries, such as Canada, have a more marked division of fortunes, with an equal portion of respondents benefiting or appearing to lose out.
The lack of uniformity, and the disconnect on mental health and well-being in the workplace is a real concern.
There's been a lingering fear for some time now that some organizations wouldn’t learn from the last two years, instead paying temporary lip service to company culture, employee health and well-being while the business climate favored that approach and then backtracking or returning to the old ways of working once operating constraints eased. Clearly this is a shortsighted approach.
In the Churchillian spirit of not letting a good crisis go to waste, there’s still huge potential upside in hybrid ways of work, for employers and employees alike. There are still some difficult paths to traverse, such as what happens to corporate office space that many organizations have on long leases. These remain challenging discussions. But employers need to understand the blast radius of decisions that prematurely push people to return to offices — it could reduce productivity, or worse, result in well-being impacts that drive good employees to leave in search of better conditions elsewhere.
All of which is to say that mental health and well-being remains a critical input to an organization’s strategic and future planning.
Related Article: Well-Being Efforts Need to Start in the C-Suite
3 Key Considerations for Well-Being Initiatives
The question then becomes how to maintain and improve the mental health, well-being and resilience of employees, to put both employers and employees on the same page as to how valuable an organization’s initiatives and efforts in this field are.
Initiatives in this space tend to fall under two umbrellas: cultural or technological. While we more often hear about how specific cultural values or initiatives contribute to improved feelings of well-being — such as the use of company-wide mental health days — employers shouldn’t discount technology as a well-being enabler in its own right.
1. Culture and Technology Are Interrelated
One of the first things to understand is that technology and culture are interrelated. An understanding of where your business is at culturally is needed to see how technology could impact or improve what that culture is.
2. Keep Employee Needs Top of Mind
Second is that regardless of whether an initiative is technology or culture-based, it needs to be approached and enacted with the needs of every individual employee being front-of-mind. Empathy is a prerequisite for authentic conversations about mental health and well-being. Organizations and decision-makers need to appreciate what people are going through. As we saw from the Ginger research, there are genuine attempts afoot, but some organizations still fall short when it comes to output and action.
Technology can play a positive role here in essentially validating how employees feel and particularly what it is about their work that causes friction — and is therefore a candidate for improvement. The first part is often aided by sentiment analysis and surveys. The latter with process and task discovery that can examine how an end-to-end business process functions and where, in particular, it either breaks down, is cut short by employees or otherwise appears to cause grief. One of the big contributors to improved mental health and well-being is understanding the employee experience in its entirety. Without that understanding, one cannot build empathy, nor create initiatives that land in the right place: that is, with employee well-being firmly at heart.
3. Show You Mean Business by Carving Out Time for Well-Being
The final thing to consider is this: for the greatest chance of success, carve time for well-being and mental health measures out of business-as-usual (BAU). There is no greater way to commit or to show the importance of these activities. Businesses have previously sacrificed 15-20% of BAU time for pursuits such as learning or other activities that interest employees and could also benefit the employer. Time is a valuable commodity for everyone. Whether it is used as downtime, career development or some other related purpose, a specific allocation for mental health or well-being reasons can show employees how they, and their state of mind, are valued.
Related Article: How Approaches to Mental Health in the Workplace Have Changed