How Managers Can Prioritize Employee Wellness

The focus on stress levels and a positive work/life balance has never been greater. Is your company doing enough to protect employees’ mental health and retain top talent?

Here’s an eye-opening stat: a recent study by Ginger, a leader in on-demand mental healthcare, found 96% of CEOs think their companies are doing enough for employee mental health — yet only 69% of employees agreed. The same study reported 48% of workers have experienced high to extreme stress over the past year.

 

So, what gives — especially given the fact company leaders know self-care and stress management positively affects overall performance and productivity?

 

Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found 75% of employees believe stigma around mental health still exists in the workplace. In fact, company leaders ranked “reducing stigma” last among 11 wellness priorities they’re working to address.

 

Change starts from the top. To reduce fear and shame, leadership must be open about their own mental health struggles and remind their teams it’s OK to not be OK. As Ginger CEO Russell Glass puts it, “As we strive to create a world where mental health is never an obstacle, employers have a critical role in de-stigmatizing mental health and ensuring their teams know how to get help.”

 

Changing the narrative is just a start. Here are more ways company leaders can prioritize workers’ well-being:

 

Offer Flexibility

The pandemic ushered in the socially acceptable hybrid work model — and many companies, including Slack, Spotify and Apple, say they are never going back to full-time office work. While total remote work isn’t feasible for every company — at Candor, we enjoy a hybrid work model — offering flexibility regarding where employees fulfill their daily duties typically is. Studies show a flexible approach to working has a positive effect on a team’s overall alertness, blood pressure and wellness. In one survey, a whopping 83% of surveyed workers said they preferred a hybrid work model. Moral of the story? Companies that don’t allow flexibility may have trouble recruiting and retaining top talent.

 

Schedule Team-Building Activities

A study from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council revealed the feeling of social isolation is a big trigger for mental illness. While remote work certainly has its benefits, it can be a double-edged sword. Regularly bringing your whole team together builds collaboration, reduces stress and helps people feel connected. Candor schedules quarterly outings (check out the fun we had on the pickleball court) and yearly retreats to encourage camaraderie and give everyone a break from the high-stress PR world.

 

Incorporate Periodic Company-Wide Mental Health Days

We live in a high-performance culture, which often involves working more than 40 hours per week — and it’s literally killing us. A study by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization found strokes and heart disease have increased 29% since 2000, and the likelihood of developing these health issues are substantially higher for people working 55+ hours per week.

 

Consider setting aside one day per quarter — or more, depending on the size of your company — where the office shuts down. LinkedIn gave employees a week off last year, and Teuila Hanson, LinkedIn’s chief people officer, reported how inspiring it was to see everyone return to work rejuvenated and recharged. Candor closes early the day before a holiday break, which is a much-appreciated chance for a little extra R&R.

 

Additionally, remind your team to actually use their vacation days — and state clearly they’re allowed to take time off to protect their mental health. Atitudes around this are shifting in the PR industry, with 23% of practitioners in 2020 saying their mental health wasn’t a valid reason to take time off compared with 33% in 2019.

 

Overcommunicate When Possible

Workplace stress often results from a fear of the unknown. A Harvard Business Review study with Qualtrics and SAP revealed employees who thought their managers were poor communicators were 23% more likely to struggle with their mental health. The same study found 46% of workers said their company hadn’t proactively shared available mental health resources. If your organization doesn’t currently offer wellness resources, it’s time to reexamine priorities. Even doing something as simple as partnering with an online mental health service like Spill — which can be embedded into Slack or Microsoft Teams — will go a long way within your organization.

 

It’s also important for leadership to be open and transparent about staffing or structural changes, especially with a recession looming. Additionally, remove stress where possible by setting expectations about workloads, when people are needed in the office, etc. Especially for Type A employees, the ability to plan ahead and know what’s on the horizon (as much as possible) will hopefully keep the team’s blood pressure down.

 

Schedule Check-Ins and Listen to Needs

Periodic check-ins help employees feel connected to management and give them a chance to voice concerns or needs. Candorites, for example, meet quarterly with our supervisors to review performance and discuss ways in which we like to grow. My supervisor always ends the meeting by asking, “How can I better support you?” This small gesture makes me feel heard and valued. I also know my supervisor isn’t just listening to my needs; she’ll take action.

 

Research backs this up — psychological benefits are improved when leaders solicit employee feedback and use it to inform decisions. Plus, when employees feel like they have a voice in their organization, they’re more likely to stay in their jobs.

 

The pandemic shined a much-needed light on the consequences of poor work/life balance. Organizations which don’t take action to improve their team’s overall wellness don’t just risk a stressed-out workforce — they risk losing quality talent.

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