This article is authored by Gordana Landen, CHRO at the Adecco Group.
When’s the last time you had an honest and open discussion with your employees – or manager – about wellbeing and mental health?
At the start of the pandemic, “mental health” and “wellbeing” became buzzwords for governments, global corporations and health systems. After all, our Reset Normal research showed in 2020, these key issues were affecting workers more than just about anything else.
Since then, mental health and wellbeing have only become more pressing issues. In 2021 our data showed that 74% of global workers expected companies to increase their focus on mental health.
In 2022 nearly half of workers globally (49%) report being concerned about suffering burnout but only 17 percent take a sick day when feeling mentally unwell or burned out.
Last year, I wrote about the “one size does not fit all” when it comes to mental health. I encouraged companies to build a holistic approach to wellbeing that considers their own employees’ needs.
This year, it’s time to build on the conversation of mental health and wellbeing for organizations across the globe. It’s time to empower employees to take accountability for their own wellbeing -- and enable leaders to build a team where wellbeing is integrated into each and every aspect of the working day.
The science behind wellbeing
Do your employees understand what you mean when you say “wellbeing”?
Your employees might think of wellbeing in terms of meditation or yoga classes. Though these techniques can be part of the overall wellbeing approach, they are certainly not the only way for improving mental health in the workplace. The question is: do your people know this?
Let’s first consider the science behind wellbeing and build on the awareness of why it matters so much. Dopamine is an essential part of our brain – and wellbeing. The brain triggers dopamine in the reward centre when it comes across positive emotions. This is essential for daily brain functions for all day-to-day activities.
Being low on dopamine can negatively impact emotions, thinking and behavior. How do we prevent this as individuals? To start, we can incorporate a healthy diet, proper sleep and regular exercise. But other activities and a safe, supportive and healthy environment can also generate positive emotions that release dopamine. Think being mindful, smiling, socialising, and being kind to others.
How does dopamine affect wellbeing, then? Well, positive emotions that trigger the neurotransmitter dopamine have plenty of benefits. People will do their best work when they are in a positive state of mind, for one.
Studies including those from the Cleveland Clinic and psychologist Barbara Fredrickson have supported these findings.
Starting regular conversations on wellbeing
When you understand the foundations of wellbeing, the next step is all about empowering your team members to take accountability for their own wellbeing.
I recommend leaders start regular dialogues with their teams about wellbeing. It is important to understand each team members’ needs, set expectations about working conditions and role model good behaviours.
Leaders need to first create an inclusive and safe space where people can open up about the topic. Of course, talking about how people are really doing – whether that means their mental health, their desired level of social interaction or just understanding what dopamine is – can be sensitive, difficult and uncomfortable.
Leaders can use tools, like employee engagement surveys, to support these conversations without putting individuals on the spot. Using data from such surveys can help leaders understand where the team may need support, drive more meaningful conversations and even track progress.
Furthermore, it is so important to normalise conversations about wellbeing. Having these conversations on a regular basis will make it easier to have more difficult conversations down the line, when people may feel more stressed out or may be facing something more serious. It shows leaders care and are open to talking.
Regular conversations allow leaders to enable healthy ways of working. Consider these examples:
Tap employees’ strengths: People tend to feel more satisfied, more engaged and ultimately perform better when they use their strengths, according to the Langley group and other research. With regular dialogue, leaders can better understand employees’ skillsets and assign each team member accordingly. This will lead to a more productive team and positively impact team members’ mindsets.
Understand what works – and what doesn’t: Do your team members like the informal social element of meetings, like talking about their weekend? Understanding your people’s preferences can help you identify what works and what doesn’t – and understand why.
Empathy for personal situations: Every employee is different and their preference on discussing personal situations at work can vary. Understanding these differences can help leaders accommodate their people if possible. Does your team lead need to pick up their kids at 4 p.m. or take an hour off each week for therapy? As we continue with hybrid work and flexible working schedules, trying to connect on this level can have a positive impact on wellbeing and ultimately performance.
People leaders can also role model wellbeing best practices. If your team see you answering emails or joining meetings on your time off, whether you’re sick or on holiday, they will feel like they must do the same. It's up to you to demonstrate what it means to take care of yourself, in the context of work. In fact, our Global Workforce of the Future research shows that employees need to feel encouraged to take time off when feeling unwell -- no matter if it’s physically or psychologically.
These regular conversations between managers and non-managers can help talent retention and general employee satisfaction. Our Global Workforce of the Future 2022 Report reveals that employees are largely missing out on career conversations, training opportunities, and internal opportunities. So leaders can also integrate other important topics into their regular catch ups.
Organisational support for leaders and employees
Leaders play a critical role in wellbeing. Companies need to equip their leaders to manage and advance wellbeing within their teams. In many organisations, for example, development programmes and coaching help leaders and managers fill this gap. That’s why it is so important to ensure wellbeing is integrated into these programmes. As already mentioned: employee engagement surveys can help start team conversations and track progress.
It’s not entirely up to leaders though. Companies as a whole need to share tools and resources for their teams to advance wellbeing initiatives. That means employee trainings, a hotline for employees to get help with psychological issues, toolkits, sharing in employee town halls, and more.