Improving mental health at work

People might argue that having an international happiness at work week is unnecessary when there are countless other important causes to highlight. However, the fact is that we spend most of our lives at work and therefore it is essential to focus on enhancing employee’s happiness and their mental health in the workplace.

Most businesses would agree that it is crucial to have fulfilled, engaged and healthy staff onboard. Not surprisingly, research has demonstrated that having happy employees can result in improved productivity, innovation and more added value (Kjerulf, 2014). It can also form a part of a company’s competitive edge and shape the corporate culture which in turn helps attract and retain the most talented people. So, in short happy companies are more productive, they grow and are innovative.

Improving mental health at work 1

What makes employees happy at work?

Research suggests (Kjerulf, 2014) two main areas that make up a significant part of happiness levels at work, namely results and relationships. 

Results and making a difference

Employees want to feel that they can be proud of what they do, that their work is important and that they are adding value in their chosen field of work. It is also vital to feel needed at work and to receive praise that is appropriate, timely and personal (Kjerulf, 2014). 

Positive feedback could be communicated in various ways. Some companies display an evolving wall of post it notes where individuals write down things they appreciate that their colleagues did, others highlight specific employees on the intranet, or perhaps briefly share what they are thankful for and what has gone well in the weekly team meeting. Access to continuous training, provision of online courses and mentorship programmes can contribute to employees feeling they are developing and invested in. The Great Place to Work Institute (2021) found that generous community giving efforts, plentiful benefits and compensation and companies taking a stand against racial injustice are important for workers. If these areas are all present, employees are likely to feel that they are making a difference.

Relationships and support

All relationships at work are important and we truly noticed this during the pandemic when face to face interactions with colleagues, managers and suppliers were limited as working from home became the norm. It is essential to have colleagues that workers get on with, a suitable manager who uses clear communication and promotion of an overall good sense of fun and enjoyment in the workplace. Research by Great Place to Work Institute (2021) uncovered that having a high trust culture is important, where you feel you have faith in colleagues and leaders. To enhance relationships at work you could simply organise various get togethers, hikes or other fun events, create zoom coffee or ”happy hour” groups for people working from home. Please note that it is best to avoid using drinks meet ups, as it is not inclusive of diverse cultures. 

Promoting strong role models who encourage open communication regarding mental health issues can be a real game changer for people feeling unable to voice concerns or open up about personal challenges. Having access to trained mental health professionals sends a clear signal to employees that you care and aim to support them. Offering mental health first aid training to workers through voluntary organisations such as Mind HK or mental health workshops through City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong or Central Minds are ways of raising awareness of the importance mental health should have in the workplace and provides support to employees.

Clearly communicating access to and the confidentiality of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) is extremely important as many people in Hong Kong are concerned that the company might be tracking their usage of support services. Another important aspect is for companies to negotiate with the insurance companies to include the cover of mental health support access for their employees. 

Furthermore, creating strong boundaries between work and home life is very important. This could be demonstrated by senior leaders respecting their employees through reduced, preferably no, contact with junior employees out of working hours or scheduling meetings or conference calls out of normal working hours. As many employees have taken their annual leave in Hong Kong, it is imperative to allow them to have this time undisturbed to enable them to properly unwind and recover. Too many in HK today say a holiday in HK is just not respected by their employer.

Physical Health

Another important area contributing to enjoyment at work, is the body. It is important to eat right, move more and focus on getting enough quality sleep. Many digital companies have table football, pool or table tennis equipment in their offices to encourage movement, frequent breaks and social time. Other positive examples are businesses that encourage and offer employee gym membership schemes, online yoga classes, allowing time for fitness break during the lunch hour, or daily delivery of fruit. Having a space dedicated to quiet activities, such as meditation or breast milk extraction is also very beneficial for wellbeing. 

Workplaces that put their employees’ physical and psychological health at the forefront of their strategic goals are creating an environment where each individual feels appreciated. Providing flexibility around working hours and place of work, with role models reflecting appropriate working values, strong boundaries and reduced pressure to perform around the clock sets a great example. Having regular get togethers with colleagues, encouraging exercise, promotion of healthy food and mental health assistance all signals that as an employer you do care. These businesses are likely to see the benefits through reduced turnover, increased motivation, productivity and innovation.



References:

Kjerulf, Alexander;  “Happy Hour is 9-5 – How to Love your Job, Love your Life, and Kick Butt at Work”, Woohoo Press, 2016

Great Place to Work Institute; 2021, https://www.greatplacetowork.com.hk

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