By Lina Arshad
For most of us, work takes up a great proportion of our week. In fact, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report revealed that, in total, US employees spent an average of 7.74 hours of their day working in 2021—with men averaging 8.06 hours and women 7.34 hours per day. Gender differences aside, for those who work either part- or full-time, there’s no denying that this is a substantial chunk of time solely dedicated to work commitments—and more often than not, this is time where we have learnt to put our personal lives aside and “act professional”. But doing this shouldn’t come at the cost of sparing your mental health.
And, with our Nigel Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: Microsoft 365 and Azure Edition 2023 revealing that over two-fifths (44%) of permanent Microsoft professionals have experienced burnout in their current role, it’s clear that many professionals across the globe are neglecting to take care of their mental health and workplaces aren’t doing enough to prevent this—nor to reverse this before it starts to take its toll on their teams.
But neglecting to do so can result in a poor work-life balance for your employees, which can then have a further knock-on effect on their mental health, impacting their ability to fulfill their duties to their usual standard.
In this blog post, we’ll be explaining what good employee mental health can bring to both your business and their overall livelihoods, as well as sharing our top tips for supporting them in the workplace.
Any smart leader knows that an organization is only as strong as its workforce. And while this includes a team’s skillsets and individual and collective strengths, one fundamental factor that underpins all of this is your team’s mental health. And more specifically, the importance of your team being mentally healthy and being encouraged to look after, and prioritize, their own well-being.
But why is it so important? Below, we’ve listed some key reasons why you should be promoting good mental health within your workforce.
The benefits of good employee mental health:
1. It demonstrates care and understanding that attracts and retains top talent
2. It boosts productivity and motivation
3. It promotes a diverse and inclusive company culture
4. It helps employees deal better with change
5. It reduces the cost of doing nothing
Good employee mental health is the backbone of your organization—without it, your company simply can’t thrive and grow. But growth and profits aren’t the only factors to consider when looking at the benefits of prioritizing your employees’ mental health.
Here are five benefits good employee mental health can bring to your business:
There’s no doubt you already recognize that people are your biggest asset, so it makes sense that their wellbeing should come above everything else. Not only does this make business sense, but it’s the right and most moral thing to do when you’re in charge of people and is a sure way to show them that they are valued and cared for.
But what exactly are the positive implications of this? Well, one massive benefit of prioritizing your employees’ mental health is that as well as retaining your current workforce, it also makes it much more likely for you to attract professionals to your organization. And given that our report found that professionals would consider changing their jobs to be part of a healthier company culture (31%), to pursue a better work-life balance (17%), and a desire to work remotely (15%), it’s clear that there’s plenty of scope for attracting fresh new talent to your company by showing them just how much you value their wellbeing.
We all want to feel valued, and showing your people that you care about their mental health is one way of doing this. Not only will it demonstrate that you understand the impacts poor mental health can have, but it’ll also prove to them that your main priorities don’t just lay with making the business money or company growth—and that you acknowledge them as the beating heart behind any of that.
Mental health has long been a hurdle for workers across the globe, with the World Health Organization finding two of the most common conditions, depression and anxiety, cost the global economy as much as $1 trillion USD each year—predominantly from reduced productivity. Similarly, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Work and Well-Being Survey 2021 found that nearly 3 in 5 employees (59%) experienced negative impacts of work-related stress—up from 1 in 5 in 2019. The effects of this stress included a lack of interest, motivation, or energy (26%), difficulty focusing (21%), and a lack of effort (19%).
But the good news is, all these effects can be stopped in their tracks with the right actions. The same APA study found that as many as 87% of employees thought actions taken by their employer would help improve their mental health. A healthy worker is a happy worker—and those that are better satisfied with their jobs will be willing to work harder for their organization.
Better diversity and inclusivity are aspects that the global workforce is constantly striving for, and the actions you take within your own organization to encourage this can help make all the difference. And although mental health doesn’t discriminate, research has shown people from certain diverse backgrounds are more likely to be exposed to certain situations which make them more predisposed to poor mental health than others.
For example, the American Psychiatric Association has reported that those from race/ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities are more likely to suffer with mental health problems due to a lack of accessible support options, with stigma driving these issues in most cases. But with a United States Census Bureau report from previous years estimating that by 2044, more than half of all Americans will belong to an ethnic group, it’s highly likely that your teams will have even more opportunity to become diverse as we move towards the future. But if you’re not properly supporting them, don’t be surprised if they don’t stick around.
The way we do things has changed immensely over the past couple of years, with the number of businesses investing in digital transformation skyrocketing. In fact, research from McKinsey reports that 9 in 10 businesses think their business model needs to change in 2023 or are already in the process of changing it. This highlights the immediate need for change but, despite this, many organizations are still being met with internal resistance towards these crucial operational changes like digital transformation.
As humans we’re naturally creatures of habit, meaning change can be a hard adjustment for any of us. But for employees who struggle with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, change can feed into the disorders and worsen them. This is a great example of highlighting the impact a lack of support can have on your workforce, but specifically on your employees who struggle with mental health issues. Knowing what to do and how to approach the subject of change sensitively can make all the difference.
Failing to support your employees’ mental health can cost your business in more than one way. For one, when employees are dealing with personal issues, they may need a helping hand with their workload, and failing to recognize this can mean missed deadlines, inaccurate work, or project delays. These things won’t just impact your productivity but can also damage your reputation as both an employer and in your field.
The longer your employees who are struggling with their mental health are made to work without extra support, the more likely they will have to go on sick leave—or worst-case scenario, quit altogether. This can demotivate your remaining staff if they’re left to pick up the extra work with no incentive, and they may also feel uncomfortable having watched their colleague struggle and be offered little to no support.
Supporting employee mental health is crucial if you want to truly show you value and care about the talent on your team—and of course, if you want to avoid any operational mishaps.
There are so many ways you can encourage productivity and motivation within your workforce, while showing care and compassion for your employees’ mental health.
Ways to improve employee mental health and wellbeing:
1. Create an open culture that encourages conversations around mental health
2. Invest in training
3. Allow flexibility and be inclusive
4. Be willing to reallocate work among the team
5. Encourage direct employee input
Your people are your most important asset, so knowing how to navigate circumstances when they are experiencing poor mental health is crucial. The more you support them, the more they’ll be likely to work through difficult periods.
Here, we’ll be sharing our top five ways of supporting mental health in the workplace in a little more detail.
Your employees look up to you, so setting a good example and encouraging conversation about mental health is crucial, so that your employees feel they can talk about their own with openness and no judgement.
This may include holding team meetings where you talk about the importance of checking in with one another, as well as sharing some telltale signs that someone may not be doing very well mentally. You may also want to talk about the possible provisions that could be put into place to help alleviate any additional stress or pressure—this can help to demonstrate that you’re not just taking performative actions but that you have practical plans in place in case they need them.
We’ll all struggle with our mental health at one point or another, so being open with your team and letting them know when you don’t feel 100% will encourage them to do the same.
When you openly talk on this subject, you remove the stigma associated with mental health and show that struggling mentally isn’t anything to be ashamed of, nor does it mean you’re any less of a professional.
Because of how different we all are as people, our experiences with mental health can also differ hugely—making it hard to know everything about it. However, there are people who will be specialists in handling workplace mental health and can offer your teams training in this area
Although every mental health training provider will have their own training topics already established, you can expect most programs to include:
Most good courses will also have employer- and employee-specific mental health advice. For example, they may have a module that focuses on how managers can grow their confidence in talking about mental health with their team members. Similarly, there might also be modules on how employees can deal with a return to work after a period of extended sick leave for mental health issues.
The challenges that come with certain mental health disorders can mean your employees need you to be flexible and willing to adapt processes for them to be as comfortable as possible. For example, if you operate a hybrid working policy, allowing your employee to work from home full-time can be a step in the right direction while they work on healing themselves. When you don’t feel your best, it’s often the case that you need some alone time, and if doing this means you’re allowing your employees to feel better, sooner, it’s well worth doing.
Similarly, enforcing flexible start and finish times can mean you’re allowing those with mental health issues to work as and when they feel best doing so. For example, in winter it’s not unusual for people with S.A.D to feel worse when they finish their shifts when it’s already dark. By giving them the option to finish earlier and make up their hours elsewhere, you can alleviate their symptoms and improve their coping abilities.
Plus, with our report finding that 43% of Microsoft professionals are already being offered the chance to work from home five days a week anyway, you could be catering for a much wider target audience within your workforce, including working parents.
When somebody is struggling with mental health issues, they often won’t feel like themselves and this regularly includes not having the capacity or concentration levels to take on as much as they usually would be able to. In situations like this, it’s important that you’re understanding and work with the rest of your team to reallocate work or request extended deadlines on their behalf to give them less urgent tasks.
This doesn’t mean passing over a mountain of work to other employees, as we know from our report that burnout is a real problem within the tech industry—with 44% of permanent Microsoft professionals reporting that they’d experienced burnout in their current role. Instead, by reallocating more urgent tasks to those who feel able to pick them up, extending deadlines where possible, and being willing to adapt your team’s workload, you’ll have a much happier and more motivated team on your hands. Plus, if an employee who is currently struggling feels the support from their teammates, they’re also likely to be more willing to do the same for them if needed in future.
Everybody’s mental health struggle looks completely different, and for that reason, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that can be taken. So, while there are some measures many businesses could benefit from, for example by allowing flexible working hours and locations, the people who will know best about what you should be offering are your employees themselves.
Encouraging frequent direct employee input is important in ensuring you’re creating an approach to employee mental health struggles that matters and has an impact. And you shouldn’t just wait until problems come up to solve these.
Hosting workshops, focus groups, and even team meetings to discuss what would better support your employees’ mental health as it is right now, is a smart idea and will help to futureproof your team. That being said, there are many external stimuli that can cause people to experience poor mental health but ensuring that work isn’t one of them will alleviate additional stress and make life more manageable for them.
As an employer, you have a duty of care to look after your employees—and particularly those who struggle with their mental health and need extra support. By actioning the advice in this blog post and creating your own strategy towards dealing with employees’ poor mental health, you can ensure you’re a great employer to work for.
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