Unfortunately, most efforts to address emotional and mental health in the workplace are focused on symptoms of stress. But this is akin to passing cold towels to someone overheating on the treadmill whilst forcing them to run. It might be a light relief but it's not really solving the problem! Organisations need to spend far more time on the underlying issues - which is what moving to a more human workplace (and this guide) is all about it.
But, as with anything worth doing, it begs more questions and takes more courage. It is far easier to advertise stress-busting classes than it is to overhaul the bureaucracy or redesign remuneration.
Here are a number of ways we can dig a little deeper to invest in people’s emotional and mental health:
Affirm one another, care for one another, celebrate one another. Again and again and again.
Offer freedom and bust bureaucracy
Allowing employees more freedom allows them to express who they are. It also reduces the likelihood of employees pursuing the approval and affirmation of management instead of focussing on the organisations greater purpose. Dismantling the burden of bureaucracy frees everyone to focus on what is important, and should be a primary function of Senior Leaders in 21st Century Organisations (see: “What is the role of Senior Leadership in 21st Century Orgs?”)
Stop encouraging forms of competition that throw employees into a pseudo dog-eat-dog environment that causes a host of social and performance issues.
Move away from incentivisation
Research shows highly incentivised employee contracts are damaging to employee engagement and performance.
Stay culturally safe
Encouraging employees to support each other helps bolster safety and trust and create a true community (see: “How can we encourage culturally safe workspaces?”)
Clarify Guiding Principles
Keep talking about your purpose, what matters and what boundaries may exist for those within the organisation (see: "What is the role of Senior Leadership in 21st Century Orgs?”)
Allowing individuals, not central teams, to choose how, where and when they will invest in their personal growth.
Sharing through storytelling
Use storytelling to allow people to really get to know each other. This clearly explains people’s motivations, builds empathy, trust and celebrates common ground.
Mindful teams with healthy conflict
If people feel comfortable and there is trust within the team, tough conversations and robust feedback are possible and essential to success. Structure team discussions for healthy identification and resolution on of conflict.
Re-frame “human resource” processes
Recruitment, on-boarding, training, evaluation, compensation, and dismissal need to be re-framed to serve the core work of the organisation, as opposed to the wants and needs of the management hierarchy. This can start with losing the phrase "human resources" altogether!
Locally invest in the physical environment
Prioritise keeping the office fresh, well maintained, uncluttered, comfortable and tidy. Create space for reflection and contemplation. Clarify what is private and public space. From the interior design to the cleaning company, ensure everyone servicing the physical space is deeply passionate about their service. Most importantly, allow workspaces to be an expression of that local office, not a uniform expression of head office.
Get out often
Go see customers, spend time with stakeholders, allow sabbaticals, allow employees to have some control over where they work. Do whatever it takes to break up a monotonous rhythm.
Encourage healthy living
Exercise, fresh air, nutrition, sleep and time with loved ones. Employers must constantly be aware of, and avoid, their tendency to discourage living well.
“And only in this process of matching such an organizational approach with the individual’s responsibility for self-growth, can self-management and listening to purpose flourish.”