Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from September 27 to October 3, is a chance to expand the conversation around mental health and wellbeing and highlights how crucial it is for employers and managers to support employees. The theme for the week in New Zealand is “Mā te kōrero ka ora”, which translates as “Through conversation, comes wellbeing”. At a time when stress and anxiety is at an all-time high, this has become an increasingly important aspect of every workplace culture.
Closer to home, our own culture and wellbeing initiatives are delivered by our Randstad with Heart Committee. A passionate team, who create a regular calendar of activities that encourage positive human connections within our work while also managing our community volunteer days. This year, activities planned to support Mental Health Awareness Week include mindfulness meditation sessions, online fitness classes, virtual team member coffee catchups and the opportunity to attend a mindfulness webinar series run by GROW NZ.
From personal experience, I’ve seen how considering the broader spectrum of health, ensuring regular and clear communication, empowering leaders from the C-suite down, and bringing people together on different platforms to share and collaborate, will empower internal relationships, and create a strong team environment for greater business success. While it may seem a big task, it’s one we all need to tackle.
Broadening the conversation from mental health to employee wellbeing
What we’re talking about here is not only mental health but overall employee wellbeing. Of course, mental health is a big focus, but it’s not the only part that managers and employees need to be aware of from a workplace perspective.
Organisations need to look at creating an environment that allows people to invest in their wellbeing when and how they need to. This could be as simple as creating the kind of culture where taking a long walk on your lunch break is normal, it could be in encouraging the investment of personal or professional development, or it could be implementing flexible working hours so people can pick up their kids from school or book an appointment during work hours.
Managers must be facilitators. In the same way, everyone has their own thresholds for healthy work-life balance, everyone has their own individual thresholds of good mental health and wellbeing. As a result, it’s not necessarily the role of the organisation or leadership to mandate what good wellbeing or mental health is. Instead, they can create the opportunity and provide support for every team member to be their best selves both personally and professionally.
Working from home and the importance of communication
COVID-19 and the mass move to working from home have made visible the different commitments that people have in their personal lives and the different pressures and stresses that weren’t as obvious in our regular 9-5, Monday to Friday working format. As a result, we can take this time to learn more about the people we work with and consider how we can create workplaces that allow people to bring their best selves to work while also being able to meet personal and professional commitments.
Communication is a huge aspect of this. The key to all strong relationships, be it a friendship or employment relationship, is having open communication and being clear about expectations of each other. Every day or week managers, peers and the executive suite can be sharing learnings, collaborating on projects, or celebrating successes. Even with remote working still a norm for many organisations, managers can be connecting daily over virtual platforms, and make clear and authentic communication a top priority.
This is true from day one, during the recruitment and onboarding phases. Our 2021 Employer Brand Research shows that work-life balance has become a key consideration for employees. Regardless of the role, leaders and employees must be able to have conversations in a remote setting around the expectations of each other, what the values of the organisations are and how that looks from a work, behaviour, and an operational perspective. Employees should feel comfortable asking potential employers about the benefits offered to support mental health and wellbeing, or what the flexible working arrangements are that enable employees to help them achieve a work-life balance.
Leading from the top down
Leadership is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. Essentially, leaders need to be empowered to also act as facilitators, without feeling that they have to be experts. Giving leaders the tools to be able to support the people or direct them to the support they need can be done through an EAP or external services with experts in the space, for instance.
Across the board, it’s about knowing your place in the conversation. That means allowing leaders to know what their role is and how to navigate conversations about mental health, wellbeing and support in a way that is safe for not only them but employees. This means all communication remains respectful and authentic and ensures the employee gets the best outcome.
It’s important to note that leadership means the C-suite, not just the line managers. The conversation about mental health and wellbeing must start from the top and be modelled by those steering the ship.
Understanding that this is an ongoing journey
Randstad recently welcomed psychologist and workplace mental health expert Adrianna Loveday back to lead our talent transformation business. I am looking forward to introducing Adrianna to our customers here in New Zealand who are on their own journeys towards improving their workplace culture and mental resilience.
While COVID-19 and lockdowns are presenting significant challenges and uncertainty, we can’t expect to see these challenges disappear. In fact, we can consider this an opportunity to implement new ways of working and communicating with employees about their mental health and wellbeing to ensure they are continually supported and encouraged throughout their time with the company.
This is our chance to drive the conversation more, to learn how to be better and more supportive leaders, and to look at how our systems and processes either help or hinder mental health and wellbeing. Remember, this is a journey and it's not about reaching the final destination. It's about continuing to grow in this space and becoming more aware of what the challenges are that our employees face so we can assist them.