The emotional side of business rarely gets discussed inside boardrooms, but outside, it greatly affects a company’s performance. Unlike cognitive culture, which shapes how employees think, or behavioral culture, which influences how employees act, emotional culture influences how employees feel. The underlying moods your teammates and employees experience can have a positive or adverse effect on their overall state of wellness.
Regardless of size, your company has an emotional culture, and chances are, the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 and the reeling events of 2020 have affected it. And while focusing on a co-worker’s feelings might fall out of the formal job description, research has shown that not only understanding mental wellness but also consciously cultivating it in the workplace can be lucrative.
In fact, research by Deloitte found that employers who invest in mental health support for staff tend to become more profitable. Among the other benefits are increased employee engagement, effort put into tasks and quality of work. So as we settle into the murky era of work amid a pandemic, below are three clear strategies you can use to cultivate mental wellness.
Give employees the freedom to self-regulate.
I’m what you might call an “extreme health” hobbyist. From cold plunges to complex supplement stacks and IV drips, to extended water fasting and daily meditation, my personal pursuit of health probably doesn’t mirror the majority of our employees. Luckily, creating a culture of mental wellness isn’t about impressing your own fitness or nutritional habits on others; it’s about giving your team the freedom to exercise their own.
One of the best ways to do this is to encourage employees to structure wellness routines into their workday. This doesn’t mean exempting people from team meetings or enforcing mandatory meditation breaks. Rather, it’s empowering employees to schedule time in for themselves amid their workday and supporting whatever helps them stay regulated on an individual level.
For some employees, this might mean logging off at 4 p.m. to prepare dinner for their family. For others, they might get out for a mid-afternoon walk or bike ride. In our office, we have an employee who takes a 10-minute drive to his local archery club field to shoot arrows at 55 yards.
The point is, every employee has a unique way of managing their energy and emotions on any given day. For most of us, the factory mentality of work happening between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. no longer applies, particularly now, with an estimated 42% of the U.S. labor force working from home and many others in hybrid scenarios. In fact, taking breaks can have a positive impact on productivity.
Practice what you preach.
Telling employees it’s OK to take breaks is commonplace. However, if your leadership team is booking back-to-back meetings, sending emails on weekends or metaphorically patting employees on the back for being the last person to log off, you’re sending mixed messages. Most employees take cultural cues from those higher up on the corporate ladder and will follow the acceptable norm of work-life balance.
With this in mind, it’s important that team leaders buy into the importance of mental wellness and are encouraged to share their own practices with their teams as a way of leading by example. In talking to employees about the ways I structure my own time away from the screen, I see a marked increase in them not only taking needed wellness breaks themselves but also sharing the often-unspoken nuances that can greatly affect their own work performance.
Create space for difficult conversations.
Even when mental wellness is encouraged, it can be difficult to confide in a colleague over a personal problem or confront a co-worker about a controversial issue at work. Not everyone will turn to human resources, their manager or even a work friend when they are struggling with a problem. Leaders who recognize that both communication style and comfort level around difficult topics vary are better positioned to create diverse opportunities for employees to express themselves in ways that feel safe.
For instance, since the pandemic started, one of the ways we’ve made space for difficult conversations at my company is by ensuring social experiences happen even when a physical connection isn’t possible. From virtual bubble tea chats between employees to self-organized buddy systems for new hires and games between teams, we encourage employees to get creative and engage in non-work related interactions.
While this is done in part to help employees who might be feeling the impacts of self-isolation, it also allows for more informal conversations to flow. Often this is when the most important discussions take place as colleagues are more likely to confide in what’s weighing on their mental health when guards are down.
It’s often said we spend a third of our adult lives working. And while it’s true we work for income, we also work for an overall sense of purpose, identity and well-being. In the best of times, our emotions are challenged at work. Add in the stress and uncertainty of a global pandemic, and there is a lot more for employees to process.
Band-Aid benefits like personal days and massage therapy may have been enough to combat workplace blues in a pre-pandemic context, but that’s no longer the case. In a world that experts say is still recovering from collective grief, holistically investing in mental wellness is critical to ensuring your emotional culture is healthy and paying long-lasting dividends.