Forget yoga classes, gym memberships and mindfulness apps. More and more organisations are realising that beyond ticking boxes, these do little to address mental health issues at work.
Yet many continue to employ these band-aid solutions instead of attending to issues at source which are unfortunately shoved in the “too hard” basket. Since the pandemic, mental health support has gone from a nice-to-have to a business imperative.
Organisations lacking confidence in addressing this “too hard” basket, need to grab the bull by the horns and acknowledge the problems they face, as a first step. Identifying causes of workplace mental health issues with a view to actively solving them could work better in their favour.
A growing body of research shows that aside from macro-stressors such as the state of the economy, business conditions, and heavy workloads, workplace mental health issues are fuelled by poor communication practices and a lack of support from or connection with one’s colleague or manager.
Let’s face it. Unhappiness at work can often be attributed to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Some might say the problem has been exacerbated by remote work. However, having more meetings with your hybrid teams is not the only answer.
What’s important is the quality of professional interactions and how workplace culture is manifested on a day-to-day basis.
THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE
Some of the issues we’ve encountered with clients include managers who don’t know how to deal with conflict in their teams. Another issue we cite is employees at various levels who are unable to manage themselves, their colleagues or their superiors to get work done effectively and purposefully.
A healthy workplace has a balance of everything. For instance, a culture of aggressive confrontation is detrimental but so is a culture of non-confrontation.
As a client shared recently, in her company, incompetence was ignored simply because managers did not know how to speak constructively with underperforming employees. This meant competent employees had to routinely pick up the slack, leading to burnout.
This company failed to understand the basic premise of performance management – reward behaviours you want and punish those you don’t want. They had their management philosophy upside down. Competent employees were being punished.
Another client shared that several proactive individuals in his firm who routinely raised valid business or operational issues were labelled “difficult” or “toxic” simply because having to face hard truths made others uncomfortable.
Those perceived as “difficult” or “toxic” were silenced, even though all they wanted was the best for their teams and organisation. The situation took a toll on their mental health and several of them quit.
The inability to have hard conversations also meant that business issues were left unresolved and the organisation ultimately suffered.
THE VALUE OF SELF-LEADERSHIP
In the medium to long term, organisations that want to raise their game with a more sustainable approach to workplace mental health will have to empower employees at all levels with self-leadership tools.
This reduces hierarchy in organisations, giving individuals greater autonomy to make their own decisions and perform at peak, regardless of stressful workplace situations and business conditions.
Remember when your parents gave you decision-making power as a child? Perhaps they let you decide which restaurant to go to for the family dinner on Sunday. The realisation that they trusted you to do so was probably indescribable.
In the organisational context, autonomy equips individuals at all levels with the skills to lead themselves and their teams healthily.
Micro-managing breeds helplessness, leaving individuals static and stuck when facing challenging situations. It cages people in. They feel a fence around them, closing in on them more and more over time. Wouldn’t it be more helpful for organisations to help their people grow and eventually, remove the fence in their mind altogether?
It is the fastest way to create and nurture employees to be driven and purposeful in executing their roles. They need to own it enough to be decisive and take the necessary actions to manage themselves, each other and their superiors.
This will free up those in senior management roles to be better culture setters, mentors and coaches instead of just people managers. Of course, they need to also be equipped with team management skills and know when to step in to take performance to the next level or to resolve conflicts when they arise.
Ultimately, all employees need to feel the consequences of their actions on the organisation and their own careers, and run with passion.
BEYOND SUPERFICIAL COFFEE SESSIONS
For this to materialise and be sustained, a culture of trust and transparent communication is essential. Instead of relying on coffee sessions during which superficial conversations reign, engage your employees in ways that actually resonate with them.
This process begins with an honest audit of existing issues and an exploration of employee-identified solutions. These should be aimed at elevating employees' mental states to accommodate various workplace situations and engender healthy professional collaboration in tandem with the demands of business conditions.
Workplace productivity increases as individuals become healthier within healthy corporate cultures. Such efforts are transformative, not only for the individuals within the organisation, but also for the business as a whole.
Human Resource professionals have the capability to sow these seeds. They have to discard their old ways. Instead, focus on methods to empower people to lead themselves and in turn, others effectively.
These are available in the Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Executive Communication toolbox. Organisations that employ these methods experience and embody positive transformation.
Tackling issues in the “too hard” basket is easy once you put your mind to it. Yoga classes, gym memberships and mindfulness apps can only go so far.
Sylvia is a qualified Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) Master Trainer. She started her business in Sydney and is now based in Singapore.