A decade ago, it was not the norm for leaders to tackle mental health problems in the workplace. But now, many companies prioritize employee well-being. Despite this, work-related stress is increasing globally. The challenge is to establish a work environment that not only prevents employee turnover but also encourages their personal and professional growth while contributing to the organization’s development.
Companies have prioritized work-related well-being, recognizing its critical importance in their business operations. In response, various programs supporting employee mental health have been implemented, with the pandemic providing a strong tailwind. Although the full impact on economic outcomes and sustainable development is not obvious to everyone yet, the trend is encouraging and has the potential to make a significant difference in the workplace.
Research shows that employees value well-being together with flexible working arrangements more than financial compensation. However, work stress is on the rise globally despite supportive programs.
Just a decade ago, personal well-being was considered a matter of personal space. Mental health issues were mostly ignored in the workplace. However, today, the scenario has changed significantly. Now, employees expect their employers to not only offer a productive and supportive work environment but also to provide guidance on health, professional development, financial management, and more. This expectation shift could lead to a sense of learned helplessness, where people become overly reliant on their employers to care for their well-being.
Who is accountable for work well-being?
Creating opportunities always comes with responsibility. But who should take the lead in ensuring our well-being? The common answers are “both” or “it depends.” In reality, it is the employer’s responsibility to create a working environment that supports physical and mental health. However, this becomes more complicated with the development of processes and working culture. Does the employer provide opportunities for employees to voice their opinions, and do the employees take advantage of this opportunity to influence how the company operates? Building a caring culture of well-being requires the active participation of everyone. Mutual sharing of expectations is a driver, especially in an environment of rapid changes. We are no longer in the same room on a daily basis. Therefore, it is extremely critical that employers clearly communicate what results are expected and how we should act collectively in the work environment based on agreed values.
It is important for employees to express their own unique expectations and needs, as no one else can do it for them. A compassionate employer should ideally identify these different needs and make efforts to accommodate them as much as possible. This is crucial to prevent work-related stress, burnout, and attrition from the company.
Do I need to contribute?
Working in a company that cares about its employees and supports mental health is truly a blessing. It is important to remember that these assistance and training programs come at a significant cost to the company and are not solely motivated by goodwill.
We have all encountered situations where people say, “The manager gets paid to think, let me do my work.” It is not reasonable to expect a manager to diagnose anxiety or burnout and provide detailed well-being advice. Specialists for mental and emotional health should be sought out, just like we do for a broken bone. As adults, we have a proactive responsibility to take care of our physical, mental, and emotional well-being and seek help when needed. Developing skills to recognize and manage personal disturbance is crucial for personal growth, and the learning process can be supported by companies.
We do not expect employers to invade our personal space by monitoring our sleep patterns using common software or creating our menus and training programs. These are our own responsibilities. As employees, we must find the motivation to perform our best at work and ensure our sustainable operation. When I feel that my current job environment is toxic or not conducive to my professional growth, it becomes my personal responsibility to seek out better opportunities for my health and development. By self-reflecting on our experiences, we can gain valuable insight into areas for self-improvement and personal growth.
Let HR handle it.
Involvement and engagement cannot be solely attributed to the HR department, just as a culture of well-being cannot be created only within the confines of the HR team’s workspace. While the HR department can take the lead in organizing training, creating programs, conducting research, and initiating support measures that promote a culture of engagement and well-being, actual changes occur within a team under the guidance of their manager. It is the direct manager who has the greatest impact on team motivation, engagement, and the cultivation of a supportive work environment. In a company where employee development interviews are conducted by the HR manager, the manager does not carry his role or responsibility.
Setting the table and etiquette in the team are solely set by the leader.
The question is, should managers only focus on hiring a wellness ambassador, organizing outreach programs, and setting a positive example to reduce work stress? While these initiatives are helpful, the true solution lies in a welfare management system where all stakeholders are actively involved. It is crucial to regularly measure and analyze various aspects of well-being in the context of overall economic activity. Well-being indicators should be considered alongside other strategic indicators and could impact the manager’s performance pay. Moreover, the results are publicly available and easily comprehensible to everyone.
During tough times, employees tend to seek guidance and support from their manager more frequently. Various studies have identified micromanagement, lack of empathy and recognition, and mental safety as the factors that most damage the well-being of the work environment. In a toxic work environment, the financial resources allocated for support are often underutilized, and the results of satisfaction surveys may not accurately reflect the true situation. As leaders, it’s crucial to ask ourselves if we truly understand what our employees need the most at this moment.
Prosperity is a skill
A compassionate manager genuinely desires to understand the thoughts and expectations of their team members regarding their employer. When a leader demonstrates care, the team members are more likely to contribute their ideas and take ownership of their responsibilities. Culture is cultivated through collaboration, and everyone has a role to play in it. The ability to manage stress and support each other teaches that well-being is a skill that can be trained.
A manager’s leadership plays a crucial role in the success of an organization. No amount of assistance programs or mindfulness training can create value if they are not supported by a culture of well-being. Leaders who support lifelong development and test new solutions set an example for others to follow. Inspirational leadership cannot be bought as a service, and a supportive working culture is more valuable for employees than any program, based on the latest research.
In times of turbulence, it is crucial to encourage team members to contribute beyond their personal well-being. Companies that involve employees in the planning and executing of change are more successful in the long term. Returning to “normal conditions” where the focus shifts from work environment issues to traditional financial results only does not support lifelong development and well-being as a skill.
Pille Parind-Nisula, October 2023
Originally published in personaliuudised.ee