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Improving mental health through employee wellbeing

Written by Laura Autumn-Cox

Employee wellbeing should sit at the heart of every organisation

According to the UK's Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 7 people experience mental health problems in the workplace. Conditions such as anxiety and depression account for 12.7% of all sickness absences, significantly impacting productivity. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that employee wellness has shot to the top of the boardroom agenda.

What is wellness?

Once upon a time, looking after employee wellness meant sticking a ping-pong table in the office and handing out fresh fruit. Today, we are far more conscious of mental health conditions and the impact they have on socio-economies.

However, despite growing awareness, mental ill health remains one of the world's biggest challenges. Across the world,676 million peopleare effected by mental health issues. In the UK alone, the total cost of mental ill health is estimated at £105bn per year.

Part of the solution lies in improving the mental and physical wellbeing of workers. In the UK, the average worker clocks in almost 40 hours

each week. Spending this amount of time in an unkind environment is a recipe for mental ill health. Humans want to feel valued, listened to, and respected. If our working environments make us feel undervalued, ignored, or bored, then our mental health is bound to deteriorate. It's little wonder that mental ill health is responsible for 72 million lost working days.

A mind to be kind

It's no coincidence that kind companies are also successful companies. The happier someone is in their working environment, the more productive they will be. If organisations treat workers with kindness and consideration, they embed mental wellbeing into their cultures.

One of the biggest costs to organisations is high staff turnover. Finding, hiring, and training new employees eats up valuable time and resources – not to mention the lost productivity while posts are unfilled. Organisations that prioritise wellness retain their workers, reducing turnover and creating a committed workforce. At the same time, they attract new talent, and new opportunities in the form of partnerships and B2B collaboration.

In the words of Lord Mark Price, former Managing Director at Waitrose, “Wellbeing is an essential aspect of employee engagement. In other words, employee health and wellbeing has become a hard economic factor.”

A company of kindness

Patagonia, the globally renowned outdoor clothing brand, exemplifies employee wellbeing. Staff are encouraged to take part in onsite yoga, eat organic food, and attend a programme of inspirational events and talks. They can take up to two months of paid leave to go on environmental internships and, at the company's Amsterdam HQ, they can even access in-office childcare.

After nearly 50 years in business, Patagonia has weathered the storm of retail disruption and maintained brand integrity. Kindness permeates all levels of the organisation, laying the foundations for how employees, partners, and customers are treated. So, how can organisations emanate Patagonia's success, and utilise the power of kindness to improve the mental health of their employees?

Emotionally intelligent leadership

Nobody wants to work for someone who intimidates and belittles them. This is why the suit-wearing, fist-waving boss is headed for extinction. The move from hierarchical, 'hard' leadership towards considerate, 'soft' management skills is something that the most perceptive organisations are striving for. Employee wellness dictates the wellness of the places where they work – employers who treat others with kindness are more likely to build positive relationships and, as a result,

By actively embedding kindness into their leadership style, leaders walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I'm sure you can think of countless leaders who preached kindness but failed to achieve it.

Rather than bulldozing through their own decisions in order to meet targets, leaders need to become emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence can be measured, and therefore it can be improved. Someone with a high Emotional Quotient (EQ) is able to recognise, control, and express their own emotions. They are perceptive of others' feelings and empathise with them. A high EQ score is intrinsically linked to good mental health, which explains why emotionally intelligent leadership creates successful and productive workforces.

Empowered employees

It goes without saying that shareholder engagement is crucial to business success. However, it's become just as important to incentivise stakeholders, who make up the fabric of the organisation. This means giving employees the space to have ideas, act on their own initiative, and be heard. It means using relevant incentives, such as a cycle to work rewards scheme, to keep workers physically and mentally healthy. It means investing in existing employees so they have the skills needed to grow with the organisation and meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

As with emotionally intelligent leaders, emotionally intelligent workers are less likely to experience problems with their mental health. Employees with high EQ scores tend to work well as part of a team, remain calm in testing situations, and interact positively with coworkers and customers. By investing in the emotional intelligence of employees, organisations are they looking after their staff and protecting their bottom lines. Happy employee, happy customer.

Leveraging logistics

Let's not diminish the importance of the ping-pong table and the fresh fruit. These small changes make all the difference between a workplace that engages with employees and one that alienates them. Most people would choose a collaborative working space with a nice view and a fancy coffee machine over a plain desk in a stuffy room with no windows. When workplaces are vibrant, inviting, and interesting, they are more likely to encourage the people within them to be vibrant, inviting, and interesting. The same can be said for the stuffy room. If there's no incentives for someone to go to work, even if it is just a smooth Americano, then they will gradually lose their motivation.

Similarly, thanks to digital channels and remote ways of working, employees don't necessarily have to be chained to a desk. Giving employees the option to work remotely and independently builds trust. As any psychologist will tell you, trust is key to all healthy relationships. Employers who introduce flexible working schemes actively show that they value and trust their workers. People who feel valued and trusted tend to be happier, and therefore less likely to experience mental health related issues.

Through emotionally intelligent leadership, empowered employees, and thoughtful logistics, organisations can combat the mental health epidemic and contribute to societal wellness. In doing so, they foster a culture of kindness that drives not just productivity, but positivity too.  


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