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7 Ways Leaders Can Improve Employee Experience and Mental Health

Friday April 5, 2024

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Mental health at work is gaining increasing attention. Not only is it associated with higher levels of employee engagement and retention, but its benefits also translate into positive outcomes for an organization.

Despite this, many employees still struggle with their mental health. Data has suggested that these challenges are most prevalent for younger and historically underrepresented employees.

Employers must support mental health throughout the entire employee experience to retain an engaged and productive workforce.

Here’s an overview of the importance of mental health at work, as well as seven practical steps leaders can take to improve it.

The Importance of Mental Health at Work

In the U.S., approximately 40% of workers say their job has harmed their mental health. This number increases to 47% among employees aged 18-29.

Despite the high number of employees who struggle with mental health, employers often fail to provide adequate resources to address them. 24% of employees say there aren’t accessible mental health resources at their workplace, and 33% don’t know.

Furthermore, Gallup research reveals that 44% of employees across the globe report high levels of stress.

These statistics are alarming, especially since positive well-being is associated with a host of benefits.

These benefits include:

Higher Levels of Retention

A rising number of employees choose to leave jobs for mental health reasons, many of which are related to the workforce itself.

Research from Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that approximately 68% of Millennials and 81% of Gen Zers have left their jobs for mental health reasons.

Improving mental health at work can reverse these patterns and increase employee retention.

Increased Productivity

It’s estimated that approximately 200 million workdays each year are lost due to mental health challenges.

Gallup estimates that employees with poor mental health have up to four times as many unplanned absences from work. This costs global companies approximately $47.6 billion annually in lost productivity.

This means that investing in employee mental health isn’t just important for the employees but also for the company’s bottom line.

Better Firm Performance

A recent Oxford study found that there’s a positive correlation between high-performing companies and high levels of employee well-being.

This includes:

  • Higher firm valuation
  • Higher gross profits
  • Improved stock market performance

While business performance shouldn’t be the primary motivator for improving employee well-being, it’s a benefit.

 

7 Ways To Help Boost Employee Metal Health

Prioritizing mental health goes far beyond ensuring mental health coverage is offered as part of a benefits package. It starts with identifying stressors to mental health in the workplace and finding ways to address them.

Here are seven ways you can help improve employee well-being at work.

1. Improve Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is the belief that employees can speak up and take interpersonal risks without fear of punishment.

It’s natural for people to want to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. This is particularly true in cultures where speaking up or admitting mistakes is punished. When employees are afraid of admitting mistakes or challenging the way things are done, they feel higher levels of stress and anxiety.

To combat this, seek to improve psychological safety. According to Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson, three ways leaders can improve psychological safety include:

  1. Framing challenges as learning opportunities: Encourage experimentation and don’t punish mistakes, but treat them as learning opportunities.
  2. Actively inviting participation: Specifically request opinions from employees, and don’t humiliate them for their ideas but treat them with respect.
  3. Appreciating vulnerability: When an employee admits a mistake or provides negative feedback, express sincere appreciation and act constructively on that feedback.

Teamraderie’s Psychological Safety Team Journey, co-created with Amy Edmondson, can improve psychological safety on your team by helping your team learn open communication, teaming, inclusivity, and risk-taking.

2. Cultivate Belonging and Inclusion

Inclusion is incredibly important at work. When employees feel like they belong at an organization, and they have a voice, they’ll likely feel a greater sense of well-being.

Research from McKinsey reveals that inclusivity is 5x more likely to improve mental health than access to mental health resources.

Many organizations have a diverse group of employees, but not every company focuses on ensuring everyone feels like they belong.

According to Gallup, 82% of employees feel appreciated and included when their team recognizes their unique strengths. They’re also 3x more likely to feel respected, valued, and comfortable being themselves.

Teamraderie’s Recognizing Strengths experience gives everyone on your team an opportunity to recognize their team and receive recognition for their contributions. This live, virtual experience is an excellent way to cultivate inclusion on your team.

3. Encourage Manager Intentionality

A report from The Workforce Institute at UKG found that managers have a higher impact on employee mental health than doctors and therapists.

There are a variety of ways Managers can address mental health and provide much-needed support to their teams:

  • Conduct “stay” interviews: Find out what’s working and what’s not and ensure a mental health-related focus. This will provide meaningful data on where people are struggling, and how the business can help. It will also help employees feel heard.
  • Regularly review time reports: Are certain areas of your business regularly logging 50+ hour work weeks? Dig into that and try to understand the root cause. Are there staffing issues, or is there an inexperienced manager leading the team?
  • Turn managers into allies: Create an “open door” policy as a manager, actively start conversations around mental health, and demonstrate that you care about employees who are suffering at all levels.
  • Treat mental and physical health the same: It’s important to support employees who are physically struggling and find ways to accommodate their needs. In the same way, find ways to provide similar support for those struggling with “invisible” issues.

Ensuring your managers are intentionally supporting employees in these ways goes a long way in promoting mental health at work.

4. Promote Work-Life Balance

Approximately 54% of employees would turn down a job offer if it didn’t come with a work-life balance.

The research supports the importance of work-life balance. A recent study revealed that work-life balance is one of the most important components of employee mental health.

Many companies encourage work-life balance by offering generous PTO policies. According to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), the underuse of unlimited PTO policies is a bigger problem than overuse.

To combat this, encourage your employees to take time off. If your company offers unlimited PTO, proactively encourage employees to use it and don’t punish them for doing so.

It’s also important to respect personal time. Offering flexible working hours and allowing employees to adjust their schedules around appointments demonstrates respect for employees’ personal lives, which contributes to their mental well-being.

5. Encourage Physical Exercise

Research shows that physical activity is an effective way to improve mental and emotional well-being.

There are many strategies companies will employ to help encourage employee activity. Some companies offer in-office gyms, and some virtual companies provide stipends.

Regardless of where your employees work, however, it isn’t easy to find time to exercise during a busy workday.

To address this, encourage employees to take breaks, go for walks, or complete micro workouts from their desks.

Our expert-led team experience, Wired For Wellness, will help your team learn how to incorporate these micro-workouts into their workdays.

6. Provide Meaningful Work

Insights from HBR show that employees who derive meaning and purpose from their work tend to have better mental health.

Additionally, approximately 90% of workers would be willing to accept a lower-paying job for more meaningful work.

It’s important to help your team understand how their work contributes to your organization’s purpose and improves others’ lives.

To help make employees’ work more meaningful, HBR advises that leaders take the following steps:

  • Cultivate and demonstrate curiosity: When employees feel like they’re contributing something new and innovative to their workplace, they’re more likely to derive meaning from it.
  • Combat stagnation: Proactively strive to prevent employees from feeling stagnant in their roles, and help challenge employees to continuously improve.
  • Hire for values: Ensure you’re hiring people who are a good fit for your organization. During the hiring process, ensure their values align with the organization’s.
  • Demonstrate trust: Micromanagement is an excellent way to disempower employees. If you want productive and purposeful work from your team, demonstrate trust and give them room to take risks.

Each of these steps enhances the value of the others. Leaders who challenge employees but trust them aren’t likely to help them derive meaning from their work. Similarly, curious employees who don’t agree with the company’s values can prevent the company from delivering on its promises.

To connect employees with the purpose of their work, leaders need to ensure they’re proactively taking each of the four steps listed above.

7. Eliminate Toxic Workplace Behavior

Research from McKinsey demonstrated that toxic behavior is the biggest indicator of poor mental health at work.

According to HBR. some of the most common toxic workplace behaviors include:

  • Blaming and criticizing others
  • Gossiping about employees behind their backs
  • Agreeing during meetings but not following through
  • Withholding valuable information from others
  • Purposely undermining others
  • Prioritizing their own needs above others’

In such situations, it’s important to have a candid, honest conversation with the people exhibiting these behaviors.

It’s also vital to lead by example, ensuring you’re not perpetuating the problem by engaging in these behaviors yourself. Research from Gallup shows that only 23% of U.S. employees trust their leadership. Avoiding these toxic behaviors is critical to regaining trust.

Leverage Teamraderie to Improve Employee Mental Health

A resilient workforce starts with understanding, supporting, and actively discussing mental health. Leaders who openly engage with their employees in mental health discussions are likely to experience improvements in employee perception of their corporate culture.

Build these seven practices into your employee experience, and you’ll undoubtedly notice a positive difference.

Many of Teamraderie’s expert-led experiences are designed to improve employee well-being. Check out our experience finder to search through our extensive list of research-backed experiences.

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