Workplace Mental Health and Well-being

Employee mental health and well-being is an important issue employers should address, due to moral and economic reasons. With the ever-changing 21st century demands of a work-force, one must know how to keep their employee happy and satisfied. The psychological theories suggest that human needs should be fulfilled by what the job has to offer in order to motivate the employee. This can be done by creating a workplace culture which provides flexibility and meaning while overcoming the stigma attached to mental health in workplaces.

If stress burned calories I would be a Supermodel

Once, a wise man named Confucius (551 BC-479 BC) said ‘choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’. However, he may have changed his mind if he ever knew the additional 21st -century problems we face today. The ‘global world’ is dynamic, therefore to keep up, one must respond and adapt quickly to change and work well under pressure, competition and work overload. In addition, the smartphone technology blurs the lines between work and home which contributes to the expectations of one’s accessibility. With meeting the constantly increasing demands and the disruption of the balance between work and personal life, such factors bring the employee’s mental health and well-being down even on the long-run regardless of whether they may love their job. Consequently, workplace mental health and well-being is a significant issue employers cannot overlook.

Let’s talk facts – Mental health is an issue in workplaces

According to a Deloitte (2017) analysis, in the UK, the cost of poor mental health in the workplace to the employers is between £26 billion and £30 billion. Mental health problems usually reflect themselves as ‘absenteeism’ in workplaces which alone costs the UK economy £15 billion per annum. Furthermore, in a survey conducted in the UK (2017), 62% of employees attributed their symptoms of poor mental health to work or suggested that work was a contributing factor. Despite 84% of managers accepting that employee wellbeing is their responsibility, 75% of managers believe there are barriers to offering support.

Human psychology – What do humans need to maintain mental health while working effectively?

Although there is no direct answer to this question, following it back to the theoretical roots may give an idea about basics of human motivation. Maslow (1943) suggested a possible explanation by his ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, which is a pyramid consisting of five levels addressing basic human needs. He argued that human-beings were motivated to fulfil the level of needs they were currently at. Once the need was satisfied, it no longer motived (Robbins & Judge, 1943).

Luthans (2011) linked this pyramid to job satisfaction by matching: payment as physiological need; health insurance and pension as safety need; formal and informal work groups or teams as social needs; titles, status, promotions as a self-esteem need; personal growth, the realization of potential as a self-actualization need. Yet how reliable are these theories when it comes to practice? In 2005 Faragher, Cass and Cooper demonstrated a systematic review and meta-analysis of 485 studies which suggested a link between job satisfaction level and employee mental health.  The results suggested that ‘job satisfaction’ was most strongly and negatively associated with mental health problems such as burn out, self-esteem, depression and anxiety. The correlation between mental health and job satisfaction was stronger, compared to job satisfaction and physical illness.  Therefore, improving job satisfaction may consequently improve employee mental health alongside other support mechanisms.

How to improve job satisfaction – Google knows how!

Google is the 4th company in the world for high job satisfaction (86% of employees). Their secret is that they have built a ‘workplace culture’ on qualitative and quantitative data. In 2013, Google started the ‘Project Aristotle’ to examine the factors which determine what makes an effective team.  They focused on interdependent groups which plan work, solve problems, making decisions and review the progress of a specific project. By looking at 180 teams across the globe, they tested team composition, team dynamics and the impact these have on team effectiveness. The secrets of team effectives were: Psychological safety, Dependability, Structure & Clarity, Meaning and Impact. When linking it, back to the theoretical basis, this approach of Google may be the modern hierarchy of human motivation. By creating a workplace culture which gives ‘meaning’ to the individual’s work and determines strong values of being a team member, this model may serve the increased demands of 21st century better as an effective team combined from enthusiastic individuals.

Google also fulfils the lower needs of the hierarchy, as it supports supporting the loved ones (e.g. parental leave policies,, retirement savings, death benefits), provides a healthy life (e.g. free wellness and healthcare services, gyms and swimming pools, free breakfast lunch and dinner by organic food),  creates spaces for employees to have fun (e.g. video games, ping-pong or even nap pods), offers financial advisors and planning services and invests in the employee (e.g. cooking classes, guitar lessons). Most importantly, Google creates a flexible working culture by allowing to flex the workday to meet personal and business needs. With the combination of job-meaning, flexibility and fulfilment of basic needs there is no surprise that employee satisfaction and wellbeing is so high in Google.

Don’t have billions to save for employee mental health? – Here is what you can do!

Google has a large income of was $25.87 billion excluding traffic acquisition costs! –so it may be much easier for them to invest a larger budget to invest in employee mental health and well-being.However, with keeping the harsh economic consequences in mind, overlooking and not doing anything about employee mental-health and wellbeing does more damage than addressing and doing something about it!

According to the Forbes (2017) there are many things employers can do to improve mental health and well-being in workplaces with minimum costs. Here are a few:

  • Flexible Working Arrangements
    Even though the smartphone technology can be a downfall blurring the boundaries between home and work it has its perks as well! With technology, employees can work anywhere from home to on a beach. Therefore, companies may want to arrange certain days for working in an environment where the employee feels the most productive.
  • Access to healthy food
    Companies may provide more choices, try to use organic ingredients and ask for feedback regarding a person’s dietary requirements.
  • Naps
    Companies may also provide an opportunity for a short nap to improve employee performance and overcome fatigue.
  • On the hour flash walk
    Why not discuss and brain-storm matters while moving and stretching? This has physical and psychological benefits and will increase creativity.

Most importantly – Overcome the stigma!

According to the aforementioned survey, in 15% of cases in which the employee revealed a mental health issue to a manager the employee faced disciplinary procedures, dismissal or demotion. This contributes to the already existing stigma of mental health and well-being in workplaces. The morality behind the stigma gives even more reason to address it and challenge it! Employers may overcome this issue by creating spaces where it is safe to talk about mental health and such support should be integrated into the workplace culture.

Additional references:
Luthans F., 2011, ‘Organizational behavior: an evidence-based approach’, 12th ed., international ed., Boston; London : McGraw-Hill/Irwin

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