With one-third of adult life spent at work, how can workplaces help employees feel safe, supported and valued especially in the face of increased occupational burnout due to the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic?
“My workplace is toxic”: these words are often shared with me in my role as a corporate wellbeing trainer. When I dig below the surface, I found out that there are often many different stress factors that contribute to this feeling. These include:
- Unrealistic expectations of employees’ time and performance that leads to overworking
- Ongoing micro-management
- Intense pressure from leadership
- Aggressive behaviour like bullying
- Lack of trust between coworkers
While each situation is complex with different contributing factors, what is common amongst these ‘toxic’ workplaces is that there are a lot of staff who are on the verge of burnout.
Unfortunately, such experiences are not an anomaly; globally we are seeing pressure increasing in the contemporary workplace, to the point that in 2019, the World Health Organisation identified occupational burnout as a workplace phenomenon across the globe.
Occupational burnout happens when a person experiences chronic work-related stress that leaves them with feelings such as depleted energy, exhaustion, mentally distanced from their job, and a sense of negativism or cynicism about work. Such states that make it near impossible to perform at one’s best.
Beyond Personal Resilience
For many companies, their solution to prevent occupational burnout is to help employees build their personal resilience by sending them for wellbeing or resilience programmes or workshops.
While building personal resilience has been shown to be effective when facing challenging circumstances, these company initiatives leave the onus of responsibility to prevent burnout solely on the employees individually. For greater organisational resilience, more can be done so that the responsibility for workplace wellbeing is shared among all levels of the business.
A mentally healthy workplace is not only good for the individual employees who work there, but also good for the business. According to research conducted by PWC, workplaces that are mentally healthy see enhanced work performance, greater job satisfaction, and increased morale and staff engagement. These will improve the bottom line with greater productivity, reduced turnover and fewer sick days. In fact, for every dollar spent on effective workplace mental health, there is a return of $2.30 in benefits to the business.
Mentally Healthy Workplace
So what does a mentally healthy workplace look and feel like? It’s not necessarily about having beanbags and table tennis at work! Some of the key similarities amongst mentally healthy organisations include factors such as:
Employees are eager to come to work
When employees are happy to come to work, it’s a sign that the workplace is a good place for them. This entails understanding what motivates the team to come to work, how to engage and motivate performance, as well as connection in the teams.
Strong supportive culture
Supportive, compassionate relationships and non-judgemental check-ins at work can also circumvent the need for further interventions for many daily mental health concerns. This culture allows employees to feel that they are able to be their full self at work, have good days and harder days without feeling that this will disadvantage them.
Openness on mental health issues
Formally and informally recognising mental health issues by discussing it on all levels makes good sense for you and for your work. Recognising some of the early warning signs of excessive stress, and understanding helpful ways to respond to these is valuable in creating a workplace where people know that they can get help and support for any mental health concerns.
Challenges may take different forms, and employees do still suffer from mental health issues like stress, burnout, anxiety and depression even in the most mentally healthy of workplaces. Employees need to feel safe enough to share concerns with their management. Recovery for these employees will need to be supported in a safe way while ensuring that employees know how to access additional supports they need.
To create mentally healthy workplaces takes many intentional and ongoing strategies. It can feel daunting at the start, but thankfully these strategies don’t necessarily require large financial investments. Small changes in practices and attitudes can have a large impact and can help employees feel able to feel that they are safe physically and mentally as they do their work.
Programme Leader & Lecturer at The School of Positive Psychology
Tara Schofield (MAPP) is a Lecturer and Learning Designer with the School of Positive Psychology (Singapore) on modules like Resilience and Positive Organisational Psychology. She also has a track record of conducting corporate training on wellbeing, resilience and strengths for top MNCs, schools and government organisations.