How are you really?
Marbral Advisory’s Junior Change Architect Sasha Ogden investigates wellbeing in the workplace, workplace culture and the links between health and productivity.
What does it mean when you ask someone, “How are you?” Is it a greeting like “Hello” or are you genuinely interested in that person’s mental health and wellbeing? Many of us are inherently private people, so answering this question honestly, particularly within the workplace environment, can be quite daunting.
As a society, we are still tackling stigma surrounding mental health, although great strides are now being made to improve attitudes and understanding. The culture of an organisation and its authentic approach to the wellbeing of its people, has never been more paramount for staff retention and recruitment.
Research by The Global Wellness Institute concludes that a vast majority of the world’s 3.4 billion workers are unwell. 76% of us reported that we are struggling with our wellbeing, with only 9% of us having access to some form of wellbeing programme in the workplace.
The World Health Organisation believe that the initial responsibility for action lies with governments. Currently, more than 40% of countries have no mental health policy, over 30% have no mental health programme and around 25% of countries have no mental health legislation. The Government of Scotland launched ‘The Power of Okay – See me’ campaign, which identified the workplace as a common place where challenges occur with stigma and discrimination towards mental health. They commissioned a YouGov survey to 1,165 Scottish workers about their attitudes towards mental health. The results showed that 48% of people don’t tell their employers about mental health concerns for fear of losing their job, and 55% thought that someone in their workplace with a mental health problem would be unlikely to disclose it for fear of being moved or passed over for promotion.
Let’s take a step back. When a person faces a problem in their life, in order to get a sustainable solution, there needs to be focus on the root cause, right? Mental health, defined as ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being’ affects the individual, this is where the focus needs to be directed.
Everyone is becoming more familiar with the small changes they can make to improve their mental health and general wellbeing - it could be eating better (more fruit and veg, superfoods and cooking from scratch) or being more active (walking to work, or taking up that offer from a colleague who’s nagging you to go for a run). It is however apparent that no size fits all. We are all unique and dynamic in our own wonderful way and this makes it challenging for employers, especially when they also have to prioritise juggling business as usual. There is no one blanket policy that is going to cover all mental health matters that arise in the workplace. It’s more important to instil the right culture of openness, transparency and support to allow the right conversations to happen.
The world of work is changing.
With the awareness of mental health gaining traction, many employers are recognising World Mental Health Day on 10th October each year. Research is putting pressure on organisations to overcome challenges and take responsibility for creating a transparent culture to support employees. Health is starting to be seen as less of a cost burden and more as an essential investment. A survey conducted by What Works Centre for Wellbeing found that there is a business case for action (improving the bottom line), a moral case (the ‘right thing to do’) and a taxation case (lost productivity and long-term sickness meaning higher spend on long-term health-care and disability benefits). Furthermore, there’s plenty that can be done by employers to instil a culture of wellbeing and ensure it becomes part of their organisation’s DNA.
As an employee, it is important to become actively engaged in not only your own mental health and wellbeing, but that of other colleagues too, by making the effort to become involved in wellbeing programmes available and sharing personal experiences. A survey from the Global Wellness Institute ‘The Future of Wellness at Work’ revealed that when it comes to what employees believe most constitutes ‘company caring’, the tangible aspects (whether pay or the physical workspace) are actually less important than the intangible aspects (emotional, intellectual and work relationships).
It is necessary to have role models and influencers to help dispel myths and break any taboos that still exist. This year, Prince William announced an exciting new partnership between Heads Together and the FA, which uses the power of football to inspire the biggest conversation ever on mental health. The ‘Heads Up’ campaign reminds us all that mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness. This campaign revealed that the most common cause of death for men under 45 is suicide.
One Jersey company is taking this statistic very seriously. Construction firm ROK have been working with Mind Jersey to undertake mental health first aid training, subsequently leading to the creation of a mental health and wellbeing committee. Their findings have revealed that 45% of sickness absence can be attributed to mental health. James Le Feuvre, the executive director of Mind Jersey, told the Jersey Evening Post that: “Trust and integrity are key drivers of engagement and organisations, like ROK, that support their staff, reap the benefits in terms of loyalty and commitment from all employees”.
To inspire and encourage exercise in the workplace, a Sweden-based apparel fashion brand, Björn Borg, have incorporated a weekly compulsory exercise hour. Other companies have confirmed it’s ok to nap in the workplace, with Ben & Jerry’s adopting this policy more than a decade ago! Their belief is “that a happy employee is a productive employee”.
The link between employee wellbeing and productivity is now more widely understood. There is a clear correlation between higher productivity when employees are healthy, motivated and focussed. “Mental health must be one of the first considerations when drawing up crisis plans, not an afterthought” - words from Rob Smith, Editor of Influence Magazine. Mental health and wellbeing, backed up by clear internal communication and change management, are key factors in determining an organisation's long-term effectiveness and positivity through success.
The challenges and solutions for different sizes of organisation can vary considerably. However, digital solutions are becoming highly instrumental in tackling wellness matters across all industry sectors. Technology can help companies diagnose and manage wellbeing concerns and can facilitate the selection of the right investments to meet future workforce needs. However, technology can’t be used in silo, and it’s important that people remain at the heart of every wellbeing programme.
So, the next time you see someone and say, ‘How are you?’, take a few moments to analyse their response. You could be the one to positively influence them – together we can make change wanted, happen and stick.