Looking after your people
Research by Mind, the mental health charity, suggests that each year one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. Furthermore, the charity found that over 42% of workers had considered resigning from their job because of workplace stress. Here, Director of Employment at Beyond Corporate Law, Lucy Flynn, discusses how culture, care, environment and management all play a role in looking after your people.
When it comes to work, most employees will say that it’s very important for them to feel valued as an individual by their managers and their peers and to have their contributions recognised. The benefits of looking after your workforce are well known – it reduces staff turnover, increases productivity and loyalty, reduces sick leave, and strengthens customer relationships. Coupled with this, employee expectations post-pandemic have expanded a long way beyond free fruit in the office kitchen and employers’ focus on employee wellbeing is swiftly moving into sharp focus amid the “great resignation”.
Organisational benefits such as employee healthcare policies, fair pay packages and flexible working as standard are becoming much more common, but having such things in place does not always equate to employee wellbeing. Without an environment, a culture and management practices focussing on employee wellbeing, it is difficult to see any real improvement.
It sounds simple, but providing a clean, accessible, well-lit, and appropriately appointed physical working environment goes a long way to showing employees that they are valued as does:
- Ensuring that employees are provided with the necessary tools and equipment to properly perform their role, that this equipment is well-maintained and that employees know where to go for help if it doesn’t work
- Arranging the workspace in a way which suits the work being done, and having space for employees to have breaks away from workstations, eat and drink, meet privately and work quietly or collaboratively as necessary
- Investing in quality office furniture which is comfortable and well designed
- Keeping the workspace free of clutter
- Adopting décor, temperature and an office layout which encourages the desired level of comfort and interaction in the workforce
Mutual trust and confidence go to the heart of the employment relationship and a culture of trust and openness in which employees feel that their needs are taken into account and that the company is an ally, not something to be feared, starts with its leadership.
As employees spend much of their time at work, it is not surprising that a toxic working environment can be hugely damaging to mental health. Good management often goes hand in hand with good mental health in the workplace and good managers can often spot some of the more obvious signs of a mental health problem in a team member or colleague, such as increased absences from work, increased tiredness, decreased engagement with colleagues, or not looking after their appearance as they normally would.
Employees who are encouraged to communicate, share ideas, and discuss challenges with their managers are more likely to feel engaged and connected to the business and managers feel more connected with those employees. Simple steps like adopting an open-door policy across the board and encouraging managers to regularly catch up in person with the individuals in the team with a view to offering encouragement, praise or support can do wonders for employee engagement. When employees are made to feel like they can speak openly without judgment and that their manager or colleagues will listen rather than judge, and try to help where possible, this helps to build a culture of trust and mean employees are more likely to be open if they are struggling.
Furthermore, providing clear guidance to employees regarding role and duties, setting manageable workloads, clearly communicating KPIs and celebrating achievements of individuals and the business can not only prevent burnout and make employees feel secure, it can encourage them to thrive.
To this end some organisations are investing in training in the softer management skills, such as effective communication, active listening, time management, collaboration and goal setting; all of which can help them to create a safe and positive working environment; other organisations are adopting a policy of offering – or in some cases mandating – mental health days to enable employees to focus on relieving stress, relaxing, having fun, and preventing burnout; all of which demonstrates to employees that they are valued and valuable.
A Caring Workplace?
Awareness of mental health is increasing, but fear of stigmatisation and lack of support and understanding from colleagues are still among the top reasons people give for not telling their colleagues about their mental health problems.
The bottom line is that many people experiencing mental health problems keep their feelings hidden because they are afraid of how other people will react.
However, relationships are key to mental health, and as trust and engagement flows down from the top of any business, managers who take the time to get to know the individuals in their team not only build good relationships but show by example how they expect their team to behave; i.e. in a friendly, communicative, open and supportive manner.
Research also shows that when employees have friends at work, and feel that their colleagues are one of the positive aspects of their job, this can in turn promote feelings of engagement in the business and a sense of meaningfulness in the work they do.
As such, encouraging employees to build friendships with colleagues by providing opportunities for social events and group activities and supporting collaboration when it comes to work tasks can help build valuable camaraderie.
The culture of an organisation flows from its leaders, but the engagement of everyone in that culture is essential for it to be truly effective. A good working environment is the responsibility of everyone in it and those businesses that consider the below points are often those which have the most engaged, loyal, productive and healthy employees.
- Are clear and transparent on their purpose and values
- Pay fairly, appraise and reward success, encourage work-life balance and manage workloads
- Take the time to get to know the individual people who work there
- Support and encourage their leaders to “live” the culture
By Lucy Flynn