Image by Lara Borovcic-Kurir

Employee wellness is your key to driving a successful organization, and here’s why. 

A study by the Global Wellness Institute shows the shocking correlation between employee well-being and their work performance. Data determined how feeling mentally and/ or physically unwell affects many aspects of employees’ work performance;

  • 62% state it affects their ability to get work done
  • 63% state it affects their engagement in their work 
  • 62% state it affects their motivation to do the job well

Not only this, but the World Health Organization also talk abouthow workplaces that support and promote well-being are more likely to increase productivity, reduce absenteeism and benefit from economic gains.

If this weren’t reason enough to invest in well-being initiatives, the pandemic has now pushed this to a whole new dimension. Wellness at work isn’t a “nice to have” but a critical consideration for organizations that want to achieve a successful and sustainable business. 

To help you navigate this fast adapting reality, we spoke to four experts in the HR and wellness space, to bring you their sought after advice on how to build a supportive, well-being focused culture.

Here’s what we asked them:

  1. How can company culture support employee well-being?
  2. What initiatives should companies be undertaking to help support employees' mental health?

Léo Bernard

Léo is a HR Entrepreneur who helps companies with their recruitment challenges. He is an ex-People and Recruitment Lead, specializing in startups and scaleups. He is also the President of Blutopia, an association that helps inform how citizens can protect the Ocean.

1. How can company culture support employee well-being?

First I think we need to define company culture. To me this is the way people act and interact on a day to day basis. Culture is mainly shaped by the founders and then reshaped all along the growth of a company. 

As a result, the main objective of culture is to give the link, the fuel that fosters employee well-being. 

This is a double edge sword because at one time company culture can harvest the best from everyone and multiply it, making a perfect culture for employees. But at the same time, it can also harvest toxic culture if it's not controlled. When this happens, everyone is losing.

In order to make sure that culture supports well being, you first need to know what these people want. You can do that through 1to1s between managers and employees / HRs and employees / you can also make a pulse survey to know what's happening. Or you can be even smart and use Valuebeat that gives you a footprint that is evolving hire after hire, and at the same time you can ask surveys to know what's happening. 

Data should be key here before making any decision. Because when you know what people want, it's easier to focus on their well-being. We should keep in mind that well being for employee number 1 is different from the one from employee number 2 and number 3. 

2. What initiatives should companies be undertaking to help support employees' mental health?

There are plenty. I'd say it depends on what people want and need. If your people are keen on written culture, start moving asynchronously and remove unnecessary meetings. If your employees prefer flexibility, don't impose hours and / or meetings at 9AM / 6PM (This should even be illegal to do meetings after a certain hour).

One particular thing to implement as well is a backup / a protective nest. Mental health apps are a great way to start, there are plenty today and the goal is to give access to your employees to an expert that can help them through personal and professional challenges. Because no this is not the HR's role to be a psychologist ! 

Finally, I want to emphasize psychological safety. There are plenty of articles about this topic but employees should feel at ease within the company, they should feel appreciated, respected, they should feel that they can say things directly, that everyone is accepted for who they are.

Nicholas Jemetta

Nicholas is an Award-Winning Mental Health Speaker and Campaigner who believes that our mental health does not define us. He is the founder of Stories Matter, a foundation which uses stories to change worlds. Through this he helps build everything from awesome digital products to great cultures. He is also an Ambassador of Hope at Chasing the Stigma, an organization that provides mental health training.

1. How can company culture support employee well-being?

Organizational cultures can make or break the wellbeing of people and teams. When designed with people and profit in balance, work can make a positive contribution to individual mental health.

Work provides individuals with structure, purpose, fulfilment and social connections. Work can also be a direct source of anxiety, stress and burnout.

A culture that supports employee wellbeing will:

  • Treat people as people (not robots)
  • Create safe spaces and psychological safety
  • Encourage positive leadership role modeling
  • Value individuality, and celebrate diversity
  • Train line managers to offer the right support to their teams
  • Balance preventative interventions and signposting to professionals
  • Promote individual’s responsibility for their wellbeing

2. What initiatives should companies be undertaking to help support employees' mental health?

  • Every organization is at a different stage of the journey in making their workplaces mentally healthy. Many haven’t yet begun, and some are progressing fast.
  • To support employees’ mental health, organizations need to be strategic and structured. Mental health must be recognised as one component of a holistic approach to nurturing the wellbeing of an individual. Crisis support and ongoing, preventative approaches to help individuals thrive should focus on:
  • Emotional wellbeing
  • Physical wellbeing
  • Financial wellbeing 

Some practical first steps:

  • Clear HR policies and procedures, with adequate signposting
  • Support and resources to inspire individuals to look after their wellbeing (emotional, physical and financial)
  • Training people and line managers to be more confident talking about mental health
  • Sharing stories to reduce stigma and promote psychological safety
  • Talking about mental health regularly as a team (not just on awareness days/weeks/months)
  • Creating a culture in which people can thrive e.g. encourage walking meetings or ‘no meeting hours’ each day

Marie Krebs

People Experience Design Lead at Learnerbly, Marie, helps to develop, market and launch people experience initiatives. She is also co-founder of People Stories, a community of progressive and driven people who are eager to share how  to make the world of work a better place.

1. How can company culture support employee well-being?

  • By making time to build solutions that support employee wellbeing through the employee experience
  • This can take multiple shapes depending on the company and people's needs, and employee experience stage! 
  • My recommendation is to start by asking people at your company a few questions, and prioritizing work that supports their wellbeing accordingly
  • For example, a fundamental of wellbeing that enables high performance is psychological safety - you might wanna start by asking about that! At Learnerbly, we ask a Psychological Safety Questionnaire through our performance tool's survey feature - Leapsome
  • Benefits are a really powerful way to support wellbeing too 
  • For example we offer private healthcare cashback through Simply Health, and mental wellbeing support through Oliva 
  • So we talked about listening through surveys, about doing through benefits, and there's also empowering through internal initiatives

2. What initiatives should companies be undertaking to help support employees' mental health?

  • Well, why not ask your people what initiatives would support their mental health, and what role they can play in those?
  • Initiatives double up as great learning and development opportunities for people who want to step up, and also is an enabler for cross-functional work
  • As an example, at Learnerbly we set up Circles (aka ERGs) and one of them is on mental wellbeing
  • Deliberately enable dialogue, by publicly and openly talking about wellbeing, mental wellbeing and burnout - normalize, de-stigmatise, educate, empower
  • Weave DEIB in everything you do as a company. I think DEIB does not exist in isolation from other initiatives - it's part of everything we do (or don't do!) Belonging has a huge impact on how psychologically safe people feel in a given space - including where they work

Shane Correa

Shane is the Co-Founder & CCO of NudgeLabs. His vision is to help make wellbeing the natural state in this high-performance and high-stress world. NudgeLabs provides employees with empowering advice that is based on true data, in order to increase the health and performance of individuals and organizations.

1. How can company culture support employee well-being?

Wellbeing is a byproduct of culture. If your people don't feel appreciated or heard, then their well-being is impacted. 

First and foremost, the same things that we preach to build a positive culture like Appreciation. Trust. Transparency. Pride. Purpose. Anything that is done to improve these aspects is critical and helps to promote employee wellbeing. 

Challenge the company's actual position on psychology safety. Is it actually ok to fall or fail? Have you shared examples of when this is done? How are you encouraging and promoting this risk on a regular basis? Do you recognize failures? 

Another aspect that can reduce stress is improving an employee's Work Control. Our Chief Science and Content Officer Dr. Kerstin Jeding has tons of experience in the following areas:

  • Capable 
  • Stimulating 
  • Self-sufficient 
  • Ownership 
  • Prioritization 
  • Participation 

2. What initiatives should companies be undertaking to help support employees' mental health?

Leaders need to lead by example. Prioritize your health so that your team's do the same. Practice what you preach. 

Use technology to challenge the bias of surveys and the stigma of mental health.

Once you have instilled pride and purpose, ensure that they rest as hard as they work and play. Highlight the power of recovery and encourage breaks. Remind the team that, just like professional athletes have been doing for decades, you can't become great without recovery. 

Prioritize balance. Don't just reward the top sales but also those who perform but also manage to find time to take breaks and work sustainably. 

When the team is working, reduce the distractions. This needs to apply unilaterally throughout the company, and especially at the leadership level.  Anything from communication rules to setting and respecting slack presence settings all contribute to focus time. 

When you are working, it is also easy to work too long and become sedentary. It is therefore a simple but powerful step to actively promote and encourage breaks. Pitching a "break time" over Slack; going for a walking meeting; not booking back-to-back meetings; or setting a time for meditation are simple ideas. 

One undervalued measure for companies to improve wellbeing is role descriptions. This is the simplest way to establish clear and consistent expectations. 

Setting, and most importantly living by boundaries is another critical step. For example, if your "employee handbook" says your "office hours" are 9 to 5 but everyone is sending emails over the weekend, then you are not truly setting boundaries. Remember that the behaviors that are recognized will be perpetuated, not what is written in a handbook or on a wall over the ping-pong table. 

If you would like to understand how well-being matters to your people, you can book a chat with our friendly team.

Written by
Claire Stone
Content Specialist

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