The Covid pandemic has given us all a lesson in how our physical and emotional well-being can be affected by workplace stress, and employers are increasingly building workplace well-being strategies. Author and consultant Anna Eliatamby shares her recommendations for a humanity-centered strategy discussion.
Well-being strategies have become a popular organizational intervention because of Covid and its aftermath. They usually comprise access to specialist mental health professionals (counselors and clinical psychologists), training in stress management and self-care and training in mental health first aid. And sometimes these are part of an employee assistance program. But uptake can be low. So it is important to develop a strategy that staff want and will use. Additionally, it should illustrate the humanity of leaders, staff and colleagues through emphasizing appreciation and gratitude.
Leadership must support this initiative and the ensuing strategy. They need to show genuine commitment to this work and be prepared to provide the resources to enact the strategy. Otherwise, this will remain a paper exercise and dissolution will be rampant.
Assess the internal and external political environments to understand how these could affect the strategy, such as impending new legislation on health and safety.
Long before anybody had heard of Covid-19, a workplace crisis was brewing: People were becoming overworked and overstressed. The pandemic has worsened the situation, but that doesn’t mean employers can’t make things better.Read more
The hoped-for culture
Think about what culture will facilitate well-being, mental health and appreciation and gratitude. It should allow space for people who will become mentally unwell and need to take time away from work. Consult with staff and ask them about the desired culture.
Make sure that you have thought about who is in the staff population and their operating environment. Staff groups are not homogenous and will include people who are physically and mentally healthy and working, those who have one or two health issues but can still work and those who may have serious mental illness (perhaps with additional physical health problems) and need specialist help away from work. Identify these groups with staff and leaders and involve them — with their permission.
Look at the work people do and their operating environment. Identify the positives and stressors. People who work in compliance and risk management, especially those who work in emergency environments and conflict zones, often have an extra load of stressors the average employee does not encounter. And organizations often expect them to be on alert for the next crisis. All these factors need to be identified and investigated, as they affect well-being and the ability to be appreciative and show gratitude.
Doing all the above will allow you to identify all the factors that are thought to contribute to stress, well-being and mental health, as well as appreciation, gratitude and kindness. Now ask staff to articulate the desired culture and associated factors.
What we have
Create a group of willing participants who will investigate with you to find out more about the current organizational culture and structure. The group should create a series of questions that should focus on finding out how close the organization is to the desired culture and associated factors.
They can be qualitative (about culture) and quantitative (sickness rates and turnover). But it is important that the investigation is limited in scope and time. It does not need to turn into a massive research program. Methods like pulse surveys, qualitative interviews and HR data can provide a mass of vital insight.
Care needs to be taken to look at both the positive and negative in an open and honest manner. However, if there is toxicity present, then the methods chosen may need to be adjusted. For example, consider using anonymous surveys alongside group discussions.
The structure needs to be reviewed to find out if policies and procedures are functional and promote positivity, not simply compliance. Find out what others have done to create and implement a well-being strategy that emphasizes humanity. Learn from them.
What is our plan?
Collate all your findings. Separate them into issues that are linked to culture and those related to the structure. Locate the positive and negative elements in each of these categories and think about how they affect the different staff populations and the operating environment.
Review the above with a wide group of staff and leaders. Ask them to verify, contest and challenge the results relative to the desired vision.
Having done this, ask them what they need to ensure well-being and encourage humanity through gratitude and appreciation. Some of these interventions will be mental health-specific and others will be more generic, such as enhancing the appraisal system. Ensure that the interventions that promote the desired culture are ones that will be useful for each stage of an employee’s life cycle, from recruitment to engagement and departure.
We embed culture in attitudes and the accompanying behaviors. Collectively select the behaviors that you want everyone to show regarding well-being, gratitude and appreciation. Plan ways of encouraging people to use these behaviors with practice and support. Perhaps you could introduce a range of interventions to promote them, but make sure that these are what staff want and that the appreciation and gratitude offered is sincere.
Well-being and mental health interventions fall into three groups. First, prevention, including learning about improving self-care, such as understanding stressors and dealing with them and helping managers understand how to help someone if they have mental health problems. Second, care, organizing access to mental health help, such as counselors, clinical psychologists and access to education about well-being and mental health and facilitation of return-to-work post sick leave for mental health problems.
And third, there should be services for specialist populations, such as compliance officers, who may be indirectly or directly involved in crises and emergencies. Such personnel likely need support to understand how to look after themselves during an emergency, such as taking regular breaks, ensuring that they rest and are nourished. Some agencies ensure that those who work to manage an emergency get access to mental health specialists to adapt and adjust post-incident (ideally within the first 72 hours). Often they are also given time away from work to recover.
An inclusive approach in the development and implementation of the strategy is key to its potential success. Those who will use them should agree that interventions are needed, and these should be measurable and resourced. It is only fair given that these are essential and core elements of the duty of care toward staff.