Does mental health affect productivity at work? Yes, it sure does and loss of productivity = loss of revenue = something leadership should care about.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. But WHO also found that for every $1 spent on treating common mental health concerns, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity” (Rawe Workplace Mental Health: 5 ways to support employee wellness).
What can the company do?
- Implement unlimited PTO and encourage employees to use it
- Encourage mental health days
- Provide insurance coverage for therapy
- Talk openly about Mental Health and break the stigma
- Implement half day fridays
- Plan company social events
What can managers do?
- Model healthy behavior and work-life balance
- Encourage PTO and mental health days
- Conduct weekly check-ins with direct reports to ask how they are feeling
- Create flexibility on team
- Plan happy hours, virtual or in person team building activities, and fun events
We all know that it is easier to log off early if your manager encourages it. A manager modeling healthy behavior can benefit the team’s work life balance. If you are a manager, I encourage you to share your healthy practices. Healthy practices = unreachable during PTO, logging off at a decent hour, taking your lunch and breaks throughout the day, etc. You should lead your team by example, and it could make a huge difference in the culture, productivity, and overall morale of your team.
What can you do?
In general, there are many approaches to improving mental health and overall wellbeing. Many of these consist of common themes encompassing a holistic view such as the approach suggested by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. They use an approach called the “Five Ways to Wellbeing” (1) or as I like to share it with others “Taking 5.”
There are five great pointers and most of these actions could literally take five minutes or less to do. You do not have to do all of them in one go in order to achieve the benefits. These are more like five different suggestions you can pick and choose from by weighing in with how you’re feeling, acknowledging what you need, and then doing that one thing! These can apply to both our personal and professional life, but let’s take a look at how we can use them in the workplace:
- Be active: stand up and move your body a bit if you’ve been sedentary for hours at your desk. Studies suggest to take about 5 minutes of break time for every hour of focused, sedentary work (2). If you only have one minute, take that! One minute is better than nothing. A productive break might look like standing up and taking a mini stretch, walking over to the kitchen to grab a drink, or walking a little further if you have the time and space for it.
- Connect: this one is big for the remote workers out there (shout-out to my WFH crew!) Check in with yourself – when was the last time you had a casual chat with a colleague? Called your favorite person? Try working five minutes into your day to have a little dialogue or express some feelings to someone you trust can offer a good listening ear.
- Give: this can tie in with that last point above. No, you don’t need to go get a special gift (but if that’s your thing – sure!) Think more along the lines of giving for the sake of giving. Buy your colleague or partner some coffee or lunch just because. Giving can also completely exclude money – give someone a genuine compliment or send a text of encouragement to someone you know needs it.
- Take Notice: AKA participate in mindfulness; be present; check in with yourself and acknowledge your current state. Being mindful simply means purposefully taking notice of what you are presently sensing, feeling, or thinking and removing any judgment from it (3). Mindfulness is slightly different to meditation, although the two do compliment each other.
- Keep Learning: continue to grow your skills or learn a new skill. Seek out new experiences whether it involves your professional life or finding a new hobby to try, a new recipe to whip up, or a new book to read.
Take 5 is a great starting point for addressing and managing your own wellbeing, but what about bringing it into conversation with someone else? This might come up in a convo as manager to employee or colleague to colleague. Talking about health can be tricky to navigate and there are definitely right and wrong ways to go about it. As a general rule of thumb, do not try to be a doctor or a therapist if you are not a doctor or a therapist! There are some very helpful methods out there that we can use to address wellbeing topics gracefully. A great one to keep in your back pocket is the OARS method (4).
- O: Open-ended questions give the other person space to find the words themselves. Try starting with “how are you doing?” or “what has been going on in your life lately?” instead of “are you okay?”
- A: Affirmations – they go a long way! Responding with support and empathy can make a world of a difference to someone who is opening up to you. You do not have to have all the answers and sometimes all a person needs is a listener. You should, however, chime in with some reassurances or kudos for them speaking up or starting to take action in the first place.
- R: Reflect that you heard them – briefly rephrase an important piece of the conversation. For example, “I completely understand your frustration in not being able to focus lately and feeling overwhelmed…”
- S: Summarize (or share) – This ties in closely with reflective listening but also brings back affirmations and any needed open ended questions. Essentially, the goal here is to communicate that you understand what the other person is saying, you support them, and if they are looking for solutions, you can help them work their way toward that by sharing any information that may have been helpful to you in the past (recommending a counselor you know, inviting them to an exercise class, or helping them access an employee assistance program if there is one).
Regardless of seniority in an organization, everyone can benefit from having a solid understanding of wellbeing principles and having the ability and confidence to communicate them. Leadership that addresses employee wellbeing as something just as important as performance will result in better culture, productivity, and overall success across the organization. On an individual level, it is important to remember that one’s health is not separated by personal and professional life, so taking accountability for your own wellbeing is one the most important things we can do for ourselves on a regular basis.