Mental Wellness in the Workplace
What is workplace wellness?
Since the pandemic, mental wellness in the workplace has been an increasingly popular topic. We spend a vast amount of our time at work, and some environments can be severely detrimental to our wellbeing. The World Health Organization states that it costs the global economy $1 trillion each year from a loss of productivity due to depression and anxiety; it is now calling upon business leaders to tackle the issue. Work stress not only costs companies, but more importantly the person - it causes rises in a hormone called cortisol, which can lead to cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.
Work stress is nothing new, but we are more connected than ever to our jobs in this modern age. Employers can get hold of us all hours and it feels like there’s no excuse not to respond to that email or take that call. Those working from home can’t escape work stress either - Society for Human Resources Management found in a survey that 70% of the participants work on the weekends and 45% of them work longer than their contractual hours.
Why is workplace wellness important?
With the rise in work stress, employers are looking for ways to foster more harmonious environments, while employees are seeking ways to handle the pressure. Incorporating wellness practices can help to retain staff, reduce burnout, boost productivity, increase morale, and showcase your company as an attractive proposition for prospective talent. Employers and employees are beginning to understand the need for workplace wellness practices, and new ideas and trends are emerging to create a more balanced way of working.
We explore some of these initiatives that employers and employees can implement to bring about meaningful change in the workplace.
What can employers do to promote workplace wellness?
No contact outside of hours
Working from home has brought many benefits, but according to the World Economic Forum, over a third of employees find that they are unable to disconnect, causing significant work stress. Some European countries have created legislation that makes it illegal for employers to contact their staff outside contractual hours, including weekends. France pioneered the initiative in January 2017, calling it the ‘Right to Disconnect’, and covers texts, emails, and calls from employers to protect employees’ rights to a balanced life. This is now spreading throughout Europe, with Spain, Ireland, Italy, and Portugal also introducing the law, and Belgium is looking at extending the law from civil servants to the private sector. The concept has even reached the shores of Africa, with Kenya adopting the idea. Within North America, Canada is also proposing to amend its legislature. Could we see this making its way to the US?
A bill was proposed in New York City, which wouldn’t make it illegal for employers to contact their teams, but they couldn’t expect responses and would protect workers from retribution. However, it is not a mainstream concept and the work culture is very much to be switched on 24/7. To make it ‘the new normal’ consider implementing it into your workplace regardless of whether there are legal precedents. Clearly define your expectations in employee handbooks and contracts, and ensure that staff are given manageable workloads with support in place so that they are able to go home and switch off.
Four day weeks
The traditional weekend was introduced by Henry Ford in the 1920s altruistically as a way of giving staff time off, while it also helped to stimulate the economy by giving workers time to spend money on consumer products. The 2-day weekend was then officially adopted by the US in 1934.
However, recently there have been drives to increase the weekend to 3 days. The UK ran the largest 4-day work week trial, run by the non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global, to test how effective it would be in reducing work stress and increasing productivity. The campaign was piloted in 60 companies for a six-month trial and over 3000 employees were involved. Once the trial period finished, very positive results were reported. Revenue rose by 35% compared with similar periods from previous years and hiring increased while absenteeism decreased. Most importantly, employees’ mental wellness in the workplace improved, along with overall life and job satisfaction. Such was the success of the program that 91% of the companies were seriously considering keeping it as an ongoing initiative. With the pilot schemes showing such promise, the 4-day week might become a permanent fixture. Utilizing it now in your own company, will not only keep your current employees happy but also help to attract talent by demonstrating your commitment to mental wellness in the workplace and showing that you’re ahead of the curve.
As well as reviewing contact and work weeks of employees, there are other practical ways of supporting staff:
Promote work-life balance: Encourage your team to maintain a healthy approach to their work-life by avoiding excessive overtime and by taking breaks and vacation days.
Create a comfortable work environment: Offer adjustable desks, ergonomic chairs, and proper lighting to alleviate physical strain.
Encourage physical activity: Support regular participation in physical activities by offering fitness programs, gym memberships, or hosting exercise classes on-site. You could also organize lunchtime walks or seated yoga sessions.
Offer healthy food options: Provide nutritious snacks and meals to encourage healthy eating habits.
Mental health support: Foster an environment that encourages employees to reach out when they need mental health support and provide confidential access to mental health services. Promote stress management techniques, such as mindfulness or meditation, and consider offering stress reduction workshops or sessions.
Flexible work arrangements: Allow hybrid or remote work options when feasible. This can help reduce commuting stress, increase job satisfaction, and support work-life balance.
Promote social connections: Encourage positive social interactions among employees by arranging fun team-building activities, creating spaces for collaboration, and organizing social events or outings.
Regular communication: Keep open lines of communication with employees by advocating feedback, listening to concerns and offering solutions, and addressing any issues related to wellness. Conduct regular anonymous surveys to assess employee well-being and use the feedback to improve wellness initiatives.
Lead by example: Leaders and managers should set the tone by prioritizing their own well-being and participating in conversations around mental wellness and health.
What can employees do to maintain workplace wellness?
We’ve been living in a hustle culture throughout the past few years - all over social media there are posts about ‘the grind’, focusing solely on work, and putting in the hard work now for a swift financial payoff. However, after living through a global pandemic - an event that caused many to review their way of working and living - more are looking for a more balanced way to be. So, the soft living movement was born. Soft living is not about being lazy or losing sight of goals - it’s a mindset that promotes a slower, viable life that centers around mental wellness. But how would one implement to reduce work stress?
Start by working out how best you work - whether it's quick sprints with a break or a long focus - and set a reasonable pace. List out the important tasks of the day and concentrate on clearing your day’s to-do list rather than trying to juggle multiple projects all in one go and becoming overwhelmed. Also, don’t be afraid of taking time out of your day - go for a walk, sit with friends for lunch, or hit the gym for a mid-day workout. At The Square, we have many amenities to enjoy some downtime - the common area for coffee chats, amazing breakfasts and snacks to enjoy with colleagues, and the fitness center for some physical activity. You’ll find you’re more productive and efficient with a steadier schedule and your work stress will dissipate.
Mindfulness, meditation, and treat yourself!
As the saying goes, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Firstly, find time to have hobbies outside of work to bring a sense of balance to life. Whether being out in nature, baking, or building bikes, indulge your passions. Mindfulness and meditation may sound like they are flowery, but they are widely considered powerful tools in combatting work stress and bringing a sense of mental wellbeing into your workplace. Mindfulness is about leaning into the present moment to ground your mind; acknowledging your surroundings and being in the moment can stop your mind from racing at a million miles a minute and bring calmness. Meditation is a way of clearing your thoughts to create space and can be used in conjunction with physical activities such as yoga. There are also useful apps such as Calm or Headspace that you can use in the morning to start the day right, during the day for some respite, at night for a restful sleep, or even on your commute to work.