‘Choosing to treat the wellbeing of employees as a strategic priority is just the start’
Our mental health has been under fire over the past 12 months: isolation, fear, loss of social connections, financial uncertainty, bereavement, burnout and anxiety all playing their part. We have seen the removal of the imposed discipline of the physical office, driving us to work longer hours with fewer breaks in the day and less time outside. Many people will also feel psychologically unsafe when returning to the workplace.
While the mental health challenges we are facing are there for all to see, there are silver linings. The coronavirus pandemic has democratised mental health because most of us now know what it is to struggle, resulting in a greater degree of empathy and understanding for those who suffer regularly.
We have witnessed the rise of authentic and vulnerable leadership in many workplaces. It was very encouraging to read in a recent survey of chief executives by Fortune/Deloitte that 98 per cent say mental health and wellbeing will be a priority, even after the pandemic is over. I and many others have been campaigning for organisations to make this commitment for years.
Mental health and wellbeing are now firmly on the agenda and awareness is high, but how do we move to action? The answer lies in becoming more intentional.
We would all benefit from giving ourselves the gift of self-reflection each day. We generally have good self-awareness in relation to our physical health, but less so with our mental health and wellbeing. It can be very helpful to build up a picture of what is driving our wellbeing: sleep, exercise, social connections, stress management, sense of purpose, helping others.
Our wellbeing is highly personal and individual, yet unless we have learnt to manage a specific mental health challenge, it is unlikely we have gained literacy in relation to what is driving it. Once we have this knowledge, proactively managing our wellbeing becomes a logical next step.
For employers, choosing to treat the wellbeing of employees as a strategic priority is just the start. Moving from awareness to action is key, alongside measuring the success of efforts in this space. It is encouraging to see some organisations adopting employee wellbeing as a measure of success alongside the creation of shareholder value.
Governments should also look to the wellbeing of citizens as a basis for building back better and tracking the success of nations. At the very least, the UK government could incentivise employers to invest more in the wellbeing of employers through tax incentives. This should be a win-win as the resulting increase in productivity will ultimately lead to a greater tax take due to productivity gains and increased output from employers.
So what type of future would you like to see? We stand at a unique point in time when we have an opportunity to create a more human world. Do we go back to the way things were before or do we look to move forward and create a world where the wellbeing of people is prioritised? Governments, employers and individuals all have a choice in this and it starts with answering one simple question: “How are you today?”