Building a workplace with good mental health – of staff and leadership alike – as a key priority raises morale, productivity, creativity, and ultimately your bottom line.
Work plays a strong role in our mental health and wellbeing. It gives us social status, a sense of identity and personal achievement, as well as vital financial stability. We can also find social contacts and support, and positive physical and mental activity. Positive workplace pressure – a shared stretch target or goal, perhaps – can offer the opportunity to develop skills and motivation, and appreciate the satisfaction of achievement.
But we know that getting the balance right between good and bad pressure takes skilled leadership. You want a productive workforce but you also want to create a culture where it is OK to admit when there’s a problem.
Proven benefits of a happy workforce
As you might imagine, productivity is one of the major benefits of a happy workforce with good mental health. A University of Warwick, UK, study found that happy individuals have an approximately 12% greater productivity than a control group. To put this in context, a rise of around 3% of national GDP or economic growth, is considered very large. They also found that major real-world shocks, such as bereavement and family illness, can impact productivity for up to two years.
In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor draws on analysis of more than 200 scientific studies on happiness, concluding that happy employees have: ‘higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or become burned out. Happy CEOs are more likely to lead teams of employees who are both happy and healthy, and who find their work climate conducive to high performance’.
Achor also notes that ‘When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive. This discovery has been repeatedly supported by research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the world.’
Kate Hull-Rodgers, Vistage speaker and Director of HumourUs Limited, has seen this research play out in reality time and again in her consultancy work: “There's all sorts of research telling us that our most creative ideas come when we’re relaxed – walking the dog, on the loo…. We all know how important creativity is in how we lead.”
“When you’re relaxed you suddenly get a paradigm shift, an epiphany. So, we need to have that relaxation in order to have the inspiration to be a great leader, to be a great motivator. It's so important that we have leaders who look after their own mental health, leading from the front to inspire their workforce to look after their own mental health.”
Why your staff might be struggling
Work can also aggravate pre-existing conditions, and problems at work can bring on symptoms or make their effects worse. It can sometimes become hard to separate work-related stress if it gets to a point where it has triggered an existing mental health problem.
Some of the mental health trigger issues managers can watch out for include: Managing work-life balance, managing workload, difficulties dealing with co-workers, complex workplace politics, issues with managers, lack of autonomy, lack of purpose in their role, and lack of career growth.
A breakthrough: Mental Health First Aiders
One of the biggest breakthroughs in the workplace, according to Kate, is having mental health first aiders who are taught how to see the signs of mental distress and how to help someone who might be struggling.
“That was unheard of ten years ago – to have mental health first aiders and counselling services available in workplaces, alongside other initiatives such as fun company away days to boost employee engagement and company culture. I particularly notice that because Vistage members invest in themselves and understand that they need to look after themselves and their mental well-being, it really benefits their workplaces and boosts morale.”
The organisation Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England says that organisations who provide MHFA training in the workplace do it as ‘a matter of enlightened self-interest’ because of the huge direct financial consequence of mental ill health to UK business. Around 70 million working days are lost every year because of mental health, costing Britain between £70bn and £100bn.
But it’s not just about the money. They report that the positive effects of their program in boosting mental health at work builds employee engagement, loyalty and productivity. Seeing an employer invest in mental health training for staff sends an incredibly positive cultural message that mental health is seen as a priority and that talking about issues is welcomed.
Plus, ‘if someone experiencing a mental illness has a line manager who is comfortable talking about mental health and knows what support to provide or signpost people to, that individual feels better supported and is more likely to be able to continue working successfully’. They can also play a critical role in preventing full–blown mental illness.
Kate reaffirms the value of openness in our wider culture and how it can only be a positive thing that it further permeates the workplace. “I've been speaking in companies for 30 years. When I started telling my story I was a lonely voice on the prairie and people thought I was really brave and courageous. But nowadays you can't watch Oprah without somebody saying, 'I suffer from depression. I suffer from anxiety.' So, we live in a good day and age where you can just ask for help and it not be perceived as a sign of weakness.”
You may be completely sold on prioritising your workforce’s mental health and wellbeing. But business leaders often struggle with their own mental health issues making it harder to focus and lead the cultural and systemic change needed to do this.
Check out the next article in this series for useful tips and tactics to help business leaders to look after their own mental health. Good leadership also means creating plans and processes in place to prioritise good mental health in the workplace – our final article will discuss what that might look like.