There doesn’t have to be a crisis looming in order to put the mental health of your people first. In fact, by putting your people’s wellbeing first and foremost, you will increase productivity, morale, and even business outcomes. If you want to boost your business, there is really not many good, solid, in-house ways to do this that compare to making sure you put your people first.
The trouble with many leaders is that they think a team-building day once every six months, or a beer on a Friday afternoon is all that it takes. In reality, supporting employees in the workplace, especially around mental health, is a never-ending exercise. It most certainly is not a one-size fits all endeavour.
I was speaking with someone very close to me the other day, and they were telling me a terrible story about their employer. They have been going through a crisis in their personal lives, and as such their general mood has been affected. The boss is a typical command and controller, who loves to use sticks instead of carrots, and who rules the with an iron fist. My friend approached them asking for support, someone to talk to, a morale booster, or really anything that might have ‘helped’. They were met with an extraordinarily cold response, and told that they could have support “if they sold more”. This discussion happened on RUOK Day, and they were not okay.
Many leaders don’t realise that sometimes the workplace can become an escape or safe place when there are troubles in one’s private life. It is similar to heading home after a brutal, stressful day in a command and control workplace, and feeling that short burst of relief as you flop onto the couch, safe in your own space.
In these situations, employers can hold a lot of responsibility. It’s also true that external influences can come at any time; employers should work towards creating that safe, warm and welcoming environment at all times. You never know when it might be needed.
So, how does one create such an environment, and support your people?
Interestingly, it’s not as difficult as you might think.
Morale boosting is not a part-time exercise
While parties, weekly pizza and beer, or the inevitable holiday gathering are often fun and exciting times, they are not the be all and end all of employee morale. Employee surveys through most large enterprises find the following trend: employees want more say in what they are doing, how the company is run, and why they are doing the things they do. It makes sense to give them more control, authority, and autonomy; they are hired as professionals to do a job. They are in the work every day and talking to clients, knowing first-hand what needs to be done to succeed. Give them a say, and it will go a long way to boosting morale.
It is the law that a healthy, safe working environment is maintained for all employees, and this does include mental health. We never know what someone might be going through, so providing that safe place makes sure that we do our bit. Safety should be the absolute least that any business provides, as a basic human right. It’s incredible that in this day and age, some business leaders need to be reminded of this fact. It’s not hard either: zero tolerance for bullying, intimidation, and violence. The next step is empowering employees, giving them a sense of worth. Both perpetrators and victims want to have a say, or feel like they are able to simply ‘get on with it’. Empowering them will remove a need to lash out, and safety in the workplace will come as a result.
It’s rare that anyone volunteers the fact that they are having a hard time or are in a crisis, until it is far too late. Here is where communication and warmth are key. An open environment where people are encouraged to try and fail is the most supportive way to encourage communication. This encouragement builds a dialogue between employees, and will lead to more personal interactions. Do you feel comfortable talking to someone you barely know about something deeply personal..? I didn’t think so. Creating and building a comfortable environment where talking about anything is actively encouraged opens the door much wider to talk about problems when it is needed.
Job security isn’t a game
So many employees live in fear of losing their jobs, and everything that comes with that. Mortgage stress, family stress, and career gaps affect people in ways not many like to admit. Using job security as a carrot to do more isn’t a carrot: it’s a stick in the worst possible way. One could even perceive it as a blind threat of sorts. Instead, celebrate failure and try to make sure that everyone is okay when things go bad. Not making a sale, missing a deadline, losing a client, or simply calling in sick should not be a source of stress for anyone. It should be reframed as an opportunity to discover how to better ourselves and the business.
Leaders lead, managers manage
Leaders are the ones that recognise every single problem that happens under their watch is in some way a failure of the system to accomodate diversity and change. Managers will typically look to a more reactive or defensive stance, sometimes even saying that whatever happened was their employees fault. Little do traditional managers realise that the system in which their employees operate is of the manager’s own creation. The manager has the power to make changes that benefit or become detrimental to employees and customers. Blaming an employee because something has happened is a failure to take ownership of these facts. A better way is to lead by example and work to congratulate employees for trying, support them in their failures, and lead the way in making changes that benefit not only the people, but customers as well.
Never forget that happy, healthy employees will always be more productive than otherwise. It’s good business to enable them to thrive.