"The conversation around mental health and wellbeing has become a nationwide topic of discussion - and there appears to be an increased willingness to be vulnerable in the workplace.
Brene Brown describes vulnerability as being the “core, the heart, the centre of meaningful human experiences”, so it’s about time that the era of ‘hardening up’ in the workplace and leaving your ‘baggage’ at the door is coming to an end.
Many companies are now investing in programmes targeted at employee wellbeing, recognising that happy people help drive a business to success. These programmes certainly have their place but investing big money into one-and-done speakers and wellbeing days is not essential to create valuable change in the wellbeing of your people - great news for our SMEs across Aotearoa and the Pacific.
Here are some low cost, high impact changes that can make a meaningful difference when it comes to helping improve your business culture and the overall wellbeing of your people.
Belonging is a human emotional need and helping your people feel like they belong to something bigger is the perfect place to start supporting employee wellbeing. Connecting with others and feeling like you belong in turn enhances positive emotions and performance at work. Be creative about the ways you can encourage colleagues to get to know each other. Ensure you are providing opportunities that include all your staff - not just the regular Friday night drinks crew. Get to know your people - really know them. Learn who they are as a whole person - including who they are away from the office.
Create an open, transparent workplace where people can talk about their problems and feel comfortable to call their colleagues ‘friends’. The better we know each other, the more likely we are to notice when something has changed, allowing us to offer support and help direct them towards helpful resources. This nurtures a collective responsibility for ourselves and each other. Never underestimate the power of culture, remember culture eats strategy for breakfast. If you create a space where people feel valued, they will do valuable work.
Some days you just feel mentally exhausted, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s okay for you and your employees to feel that way. In many situations, you only have to be at your best when your best is needed. Don’t expect your staff to be perfect.
Think of mental health in the same way as physical health. If someone came into work with their arm in a sling, accommodations would be made for them. By the same token, employees need to know there will be no judgment or repercussions if they voice issues with their mental health.
If your business model allows, consider the flexibility of letting people work from home occasionally. Assess your meeting culture, set meetings at times that suit your people, and use technology to allow people to dial in.
Technology means we aren’t tethered to our desks anymore, and sometimes that little bit of freedom means people can take care of other things in their life that are also important to them. Recognise also, that even when flexible working is offered, there is often a fear around how commitment may be perceived - so model it from the top.
The more we talk about and accommodate self-care, the more we allow there to be greater openness and transparency about it. Ultimately, you want to create an environment where if people are struggling, they know they can be open about getting the help they need.
There’s no shortage of online resources that employers (and employees) can draw on to create a workplace that promotes physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Be the employer who not only encourages people to seek such knowledge but also helps them find it and use it when they need it.
In particular, the Mental Health Foundation has brochures, posters and other assets that promote the importance of maintaining good mental health in the office, highlighting the behaviour and practices that helping wellbeing flourish.
Lifeline is a 24/7 helpline for people needing immediate support. Ensure your employees know they can reach out to Lifeline – even when they’re on the job – by calling 0800 543 354 or texting ‘help’ to 4357.
The Xero Assistance Programme (XAP) is another initiative currently in pilot and designed to provide Kiwi SMEs with support. Through Xero’s global provider, Benestar, those in the pilot programme have access to face-to-face, phone and online counselling.
Finally, it’s important to have an understanding of the pulse of your business so that you can track how your people and any new initiatives are going. This needs to be done on a regular basis too. Doing a yearly staff survey isn’t enough to really get a gauge of culture and true belonging.
Instead, consider a simple way to poll your team every three months with the same questions - it doesn’t need to be many, just five or so on a scale of one to ten will show you trends over time. Ultimately, it’s not important where you are today; it’s important that you see positive change over time.
There are hundreds of ways to build a happier, healthier workplace. Making a conscious decision to implement such changes, however small, is the first step to achieving that goal. You may just make yourself a better leader - and person - too."