A Culture of Employee Mental Wellbeing

Supporting employee mental wellbeing in the workplace is, rightfully, a growing priority for organisations worldwide. However, businesses that focus exclusively on the individual employee risk no longer being able to see the woods from the trees. It is important to step back and understand how the wider workplace culture can be pivotal in helping facilitate good employee mental health.

The current approach to employee mental wellbeing is typically individual-focused. As the working world becomes increasingly fast-paced, interconnected and pressured, organisations look to help employees look after their mental health by building their resources and capabilities for reducing stress. There is good reason for this focus. In a review of the research from the past few decades, three psychologists found ample evidence to suggest that happiness and wellbeing precede important outcomes and indicators in life, including being fulfilled and productive at work [1]. Additionally, it is estimated that diminished production, absenteeism and recruitment as a result of poor employee mental health costs the UK economy roughly £70billion (or 4.5% of GDP; [2]) each year.

However, despite its growing presence, employee mental wellbeing is still an unresolved issue for many organisations. One potential problem is that the employee-centric approach only addresses one side of the wellbeing coin. This is an important side of the coin, but when a business forgets the other – the working culture – they may be missing an opportunity to make an even greater impact.

The organisational culture – the day-to-day working environment – can be an immense resource for employees, or it can be a source of stress, burnout, and mental health problems. Organisational culture and climate have the power to unintentionally cause employee interventions to falter before they even begin. The key for businesses is understanding how and which cultural factors can help or hinder the state of mind of their employees.

Recent psychological research has uncovered that justice – an employee’s belief that they have been treated fairly – has a powerful impact on mental health. The research tells us that when employees feel fairly treated, they feel more supported and consequently experience reduced impact from common organisational stressors. However, when employees feel unjustly treated, it creates additional stress and depletes their ability to effectively maintain a positive mental wellbeing.

Let’s look at three key aspects to a just and fair culture: having fair outcomes, being objective and consistent in making decisions, and being kind and open. Getting these right can unlock potential shackles that could be holding your employee wellbeing down.

Here are three ideas for bringing justice into the workplace:

  • Make Time for Kindness: a recent report found that 60% of employees feel there is no time to be kind at work [3]. Create a culture that values kindness and respect, and wellbeing will follow.
  • Show Support: employees are more likely to mentally thrive when they feel supported. Cultures that are people-orientated, rather than task-orientated, are better able to build a sense of psychological safety.
  • Trust is Key: central to being fair is being trustworthy. Cultures, where employees trust their peers and managers are seen as fairer and more supportive, are integral to greater mental wellbeing. Being open, honest, and including employees in decision-making processes are all ways to increase a sense of justice.

The key takeaway here is that building a lasting culture of mental wellbeing needs a two-pronged approach. First and foremost, employees need to be given the training, tools, and resources to be able to look after their minds. Secondly, a culture needs to be developed where kindness, mutual support, and trust are valued, allowing individual mental well-being to thrive.

Unmind can play an important role in achieving both of these.

[1] Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803 – 855.[2] OECD. (February 10th, 2014). The UK Needs To Tackle High Cost of Mental Ill Health. Retrieved from: http://www.oecd.org/health/uk-needs-to-tackle-high-cost-of-mental-ill-health.htm.[3] Pearson, C. M., & Porath, C. L. (2005). On the nature, consequences and remedies of workplace incivility: No time for “nice”? Think again. The Academy of Management Executive19(1), 7-18.

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