Any business is filled with what can sometimes seem like competing priorities. For many leaders, the primary one is to create profit that pleases stakeholders and pushes toward growth within the industry. It is also vital to ensure employees are treated with respect and consideration to keep them healthy and productive. In too many cases, the former priority takes precedence over the latter — particularly when it comes to employee mental health.
Yet the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. By focusing on employee mental health, you can create a culture conducive to maintaining worker wellbeing that gives your company a competitive boost. That’s not to say it’s always easy; meaningful and lasting change takes work and investment. As such, it’s worth getting informed about why exactly you should make this move and what impact it can have.
Let’s take a moment to review some areas in which you can start to make positive changes.
The Ethical Imperatives
As a business leader, you have a duty of care toward your employees. This isn’t simply from a legal or regulatory safety perspective. Keeping mental wellness at the forefront of business sends a distinct message to workers and the community about your ethics.
Aspects of the workplace cause, contribute to, and exacerbate behavioural and emotional challenges. This is particularly prevalent for stress. An organisation that keeps pushing its employees to hit targets and engage in overtime rather than prioritise mental wellness is instrumental in driving its workers toward burnout. One of the problems of our society is — until relatively recently but still occurring in some industries — pressuring employees to sacrifice their wellbeing in favour of business success is largely celebrated. In some industries, it’s considered a standard display of commitment. However, now it is increasingly being recognised as a form of passive if not direct employee abuse and reflects the ethics of companies and their leaders.
Beyond the damage caused by business activities, it is also an ethical imperative to be mindful of the mental, emotional, and behavioural challenges your workers live with. This isn’t something unusual, either — around half of Australians will experience mental ill-health in their lifetime. Certainly, you have a moral and legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to working practices for those experiencing psychological illnesses. However, by prioritising and supporting those living with more neurodiverse challenges you can also address another ethical responsibility — to embrace and encourage diversity within the workforce.
The Business Benefits
Employees whose mental health is supported are good for your business. At the most basic level, this directly minimises the need for staff to take sick days. This in turn positively impacts turnover and productivity. If your leadership style prioritises business over wellbeing, you are standing in the way of your company’s positive growth.
This goes much further than simply reducing illness-related lag and absenteeism. There’s an emotional intelligence component at play, too. When you take the time to talk one-on-one with your workers about their mental wellness and put their wellness first, you make it clear you are a leader that demonstrates a strong sense of empathy. This is one of the core components of a powerful set of emotional quotient-based (EQ) skills instrumental in successfully managing positive interpersonal relationships. While actions like practicing gratitude and staying playful are good for your personal development, learning to use the language of empathy helps you to identify with the mental health challenges of your staff and respond positively. This in turn builds stronger relationships and results in long-term worker loyalty and retention.
When you, as a leader, place this mental care at the core of your culture, it propagates benefits across a range of areas. Alongside retention, it also attracts top talent to your organisation. Businesses that show respect for workers’ mental health are one of the main priorities for the rising generation of professionals. Not to mention it helps to build a positive reputation for your brand. Consumers are not interested in dealing with businesses that show callous disregard for their workers — your empathy gives you the competitive edge in an often too cold marketplace.
Mentally Healthy Working Practices
To focus on employee mental health, you need to adjust your practices accordingly.
Some of the elements to consider include:
Your workers need to know they aren’t alone when it comes to their mental health. It’s important to put in place clear protocols to address challenges. This is particularly important when aspects of their role or working environment change. When employees around the world suddenly switched to working from home, this was often accompanied by feelings of anxiety over the situation and a sense of isolation, which led to psychological strain. Businesses need to support employees through turbulent periods and work with them to establish what resources can alleviate their symptoms of stress and anxiety.
It may seem simple, but communicating effectively is a vital tool in prioritising employee mental health. These challenges can be difficult to talk about. Particularly due to the belief that coming clean about mental illness may negatively impact a worker’s career trajectory. As a leader, you need to make it clear there are open channels to discuss mental health without consequence or bias. It can help for you to take the first step in discussing it with your workers and perhaps relate your own challenges.
Focusing on the mental wellness of your employees is an ethical imperative all business leaders should prioritise. It is important to also note that making this a focus also has demonstrable effects on your business success. With consistent, genuine efforts to support and communicate with your employees, you can make a positive impact on everyone involved.
Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with the writing she enjoys travelling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.