A strategic approach to mental health and wellbeing at work

As we navigate a new world of work in a post-pandemic era, so many of us are impacted by the mental health at work narrative.

Whether we personally are struggling with burnout or anxiety ourselves or whether we’re supporting or managing others who are struggling, this topic has gained traction globally – however, we still have a long way to go in reducing stigma and creating workplaces where people can thrive.

A strategic approach to mental health at work isn’t just about having a fancy document stored in the cloud or the latest wellbeing app or even extensive benefits and resources, these days it’s about culture.

It isn’t just a focus on when people are struggling but instead, helping us think about creating hybrid and flexible environments that enable people to take personal responsibility for their health which will of course, help with productivity, performance and retaining talent longer term.

So, if you’re responsible for wellbeing or interested in creating a sustainable approach to this topic, here’s a few tips to get you started:

1.   Find your allies and influencers

Even the industries or companies who thought no one would be interested in this topic, perhaps classing themselves as old-school, male dominated or simply too busy – when you start talking with people, you’ll find there are plenty of people who want to help make a difference in the culture.

Talking to people at all levels of the business (including your exec team) will help you identify your allies and influencers. These people can either help you craft your strategy or crucially, they will help you bring your strategy to life over time.

2.   Write your strategy

No need to overthink this. It is likely to evolve over time, however – there are a few principles to keep in mind. A strategy is different to a wellbeing action plan, it’s different than mapping out the awareness days for the year and then putting on an event. This stuff can be great, but it’s basically part of how you bring your strategy to life.

A strategy should have some blue-sky-thinking. Ask yourself questions like what do we want to be known for as a business in 5-10 years? What kind of talent do we want to attract? What is the environment we need to build in order to help people work at their best?

You should think about prevention, culture as well as access to support or resources when people are struggling – but challenge yourself to think ten steps before people get to that burnt out, absent, less productive place. Once you’re there it’s going to cost your business money so invest in prevention more than anything else.

You can then audit your resources and review whether they are fit for purpose. Are people even engaging in them? Do they know where to find them? Is your intranet user journey user friendly? Can you reposition some budget to where it will really count? What data are you gathering to enable you to track progress and evidence the return on your investment to senior leadership?

3.   Bring your strategy to life

A strategy is only as good as the behaviours and role modelling that bring it to life and there are many ways to get started.

First of all, start with you. Many times those of us creating these strategies support other people to open up and invest in themselves but are terrible at doing it themselves! This isn’t about perfection but you are the most powerful advert for your mission so make sure to start with you!

Remember those influencers and allies you nurtured? There will be different ways that they can help. Giving your exec team easy wins is a great place to start – for example, encouraging them to show in their calendars when they are doing things to invest in themselves and supporting them to talk about how we work with their teams, not just what we do.

Wellbeing champions – having a cross-section of people from all levels in the business and backgrounds to help support you in bringing the strategy to life is crucial. Make sure your training and ongoing support is about becoming internal activists, role modelling and supporting culture change – rather than just a focus on training them up in signs and symptoms of poor mental health.

And finally, managers. This group is on the frontline of modelling your values and behaviours so it’s imperative that they understand your wellbeing strategy and their part in bringing it to life. This will include role modelling themselves but also boosting their confidence and skill level in showing empathy and having supportive conversations with employees – again, not just to focus on what’s wrong but to challenge individuals to invest in themselves and boost the culture collectively.

Written by Petra Velzeboer, CEO of PVL, a mental health consultancy that supports businesses to create a mentally healthy culture. If you would like more information email her at [email protected] or find out more at https://www.petravelzeboer.com/

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