Workplace Mental Wellbeing: Three Mistakes to Avoid
Written by Mariateresa Romeo
The last few years have demonstrated how employee wellbeing can make a difference and allow companies to thrive in challenging and unpredictable times. Supporting physical, mental, and financial wellbeing strengthens workforce resilience, improves talent attraction and retention, and contributes positively to the company’s reputation.
Fostering a healthy and safe workplace is at the top of many CEOs’ 2023 agenda. The development of wellness programs in the workplace and the introduction of chief happiness officers, or similar roles in the organization, are some examples of the increasing relevance of this matter in the corporate environment.
However, approaching the mental aspects of wellbeing, in particular, is a thorny issue for many organizations.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), seven in 10 workers (71%) believe their employer is more concerned about the mental health of employees now than in the past. And 81% will look for workplaces supporting mental health when seeking future job opportunities.
Mental wellbeing is how we cope with the ups and downs of our life. It consists of our ability to process information, navigate our emotions and act accordingly, make decisions, build relationships and contribute to our organizations and communities. Although everyone agrees on the importance, and in some cases urgency, of fostering a psychologically safe and healthy work environment, wellbeing programs often don’t bring the desired outcomes.
Even the most far-sighted and well-intentioned employers can make mistakes in their attempt to bring prosperity, happiness, and safety to the workplace.
1) Mental wellbeing is considered a way to improve the culture (and not vice versa)
Initiatives like flex-time, EPAs (Employees Assistance Programs), and other mental health benefits are the first things organizations offer to demonstrate they care about their workforce’s mental health. But those are only the tip of the iceberg. It is true that enhancing the employees’ ability to deal with thoughts and emotions improves collaboration and relationships and enhances the organizational culture. But creating conditions for mental health development in the workplace is also necessary for these programs to be successful. Prejudices and discrimination against people who express their feelings, show their vulnerability or even prioritize their personal life over their careers undermine the organization’s effort to support mental health.
Employers need to identify those consolidated behaviors and change them if they want to create a breeding ground for employees’ wellbeing.
2) Fostering a toxic positive culture
It is a common mistake to think that employees are mentally healthy if they usually show no emotional outbursts of fear, anger, or helplessness and have a positive attitude most of the time. In promoting a positive culture, organizations sometimes encourage avoidance behaviors when facing challenges or difficult situations and nurture a look-on-the-bright-side mentality. Talking about problems or highlighting things that do not work in the organization is perceived as inappropriate and not in line with the expected behaviors. It leads employees to suppress, minimize and invalidate negative emotions and fake happiness at work.
Promoting mental wellbeing means enabling individuals to cope with their life’s stresses, which cannot be achieved through avoidance behaviors.
Leaders’ ability to use critical thinking, navigate the emotional aspects of challenging situations, show empathy, and have honest conversations is the most effective weapon to dismantle toxic positive culture.
3) Band-aid approach to mental wellbeing
Unlike other corporate initiatives for which employers set goals, make plans, and calculate the return on the investment over time, organizations still use a “band-aid approach” for employees’ mental wellbeing. At the initial signs of unsatisfaction or challenges in the employees-employer relationships, they prefer to launch programs to motivate and cheer up the workforce instead of analyzing and resolving the underlying causes in the corporate culture.
Employee wellbeing must be part of the organizational growth strategies, and it is necessary to set specific goals and implement plans that bring the expected outcomes. An analysis of the indicators such as retention, absenteeism, illness, and productivity metrics can demonstrate the effectiveness of the efforts to create a healthy work environment.
All this without forgetting that listening to the employees’ feedback and needs is the first step to understanding how and with what means the organization can support them.
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