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Building the case for workplace mental health and wellbeing

It is our culture, community and workplace environment that makes the biggest difference to our health and wellbeing.

For too long workplace health and wellbeing has been put in the “nice to have” basket rather than an essential component of every organisation’s business strategy. 

However, one outcome of the global pandemic has been to highlight the falseness of this belief.

Now is the time to put together a realistic and attainable framework to enable workplace mental health and wellbeing to become a reality for all.

During the pandemic, it became obvious that the daily struggle with high levels of stress was impacting people at work and leading to a growing number reporting higher psychological distress, mental mood disorders, loneliness, and burnout.

As we move into the Post Covid or Living with Covid era, these issues are not going away. Indeed, they are getting worse.

Why?

Because the same issues that were causing difficulties at work, prior to the pandemic, have not been resolved.

  • Overwork
  • Lack of autonomy
  • Lack of equity
  • Insufficient reward for effort
  • A lack of community
  • Mismatched values

Are any of these true for you?

 

Change is afoot.

Recent changes in the language being used by politicians and those in authority, to include the terms of “wellbeing” and a willingness to listen to those operating in the wellbeing space, reflect a shift of perspective and a greater understanding of just how vital mental health and wellbeing is to the individual, the organisation, and our economy.

The recent release of The U.S Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing has been a welcome breath of fresh air in the dusty halls of public health. 

This is an important document that sets the bar for what we can all be aiming for.

It’s beautiful in its simplicity, comprising Five Essentials each supported by two fundamental human needs that build what has been called ‘Worker Voice and Equity’.

As a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, what I also love is how it incorporates all aspects of wellbeing: physical, mental, emotional, social, and cultural.

It’s been designed as a starting point for discussion, to aid businesses in identifying areas of most need and where to start.

   

The Five Essentials include

1. Protection from harm.

This is about safety first at the physical and psychological level, and the security of having support for better lifestyle choices to maintain health and wellbeing. This includes open access to a safe environment for meaningful conversations around any perceived struggle or challenge. Prevention and early intervention can mitigate the risk of future physical or mental illness or burnout.

When mental wellbeing is made the norm, everyone benefits.

 

2. Connection and Community.

As social beings, we yearn for inclusion and belonging that creates strong interpersonal relationships and effective teams. Seeing how much time we spend at work, enjoying, and nurturing social connections is vital to help buffer against loneliness or sense of disconnection. With the new hybrid way of working and more people choosing to work full time from home, managing connection and community has never been more important.

How do you include more micro-moments of connection across your day in addition to spending time nurturing good communication, trust, mutual respect, and kindness?

 

3. Work-Life Harmony.

This is all about autonomy and flexibility. The ‘Great Resignation’ being a reflection on where these two items have been insufficiently addressed. Whole-hearted beings put everything into what they do but only when feeling supported to have the flexibility to be involved in those other areas of our lives that we consider are equally as impotent as work. Like getting to your child’s end-of-year concert, attending a family member’s funeral, or getting an appointment to see your dentist. Having time for non-work activities, what one gentleman recently referred to me as his “tinkering time” contributes enormously to our happiness and wellbeing, while reducing the impact of all our workplace-related stressors. 

We cope better.

 

4. Significance.

Feeling valued and appreciated builds a sense of dignity and meaning. We all matter.

You might pretend not to care what others may think of you, but that’s a lie. We care deeply. That’s why being shown respect, treated as an equal, and given a voice matters so much. According to Robert A Synder, significance is the lens through which we filter all our thoughts and beliefs. This is why being included in discussions or engaged in workplace decisions matters to shaping your commitment and belief in the organisation. Here a culture of gratitude and recognition makes you feel valued and connects you to shared purpose and goals.

 

5. Opportunity for Growth.

The future of work is all about continuous learning. This is essential for fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment. Having the opportunity for upskilling and gaining mastery is a powerful motivator to want to deliver your best.

It’s a fine line between overwhelm or apathy. Both can lead to poorer wellbeing and lower performance. However, a few words of encouragement will provide the courage you need to step up with the enthusiasm and desire to accomplish new goals that will stretch you, opening doors to further professional and personal growth. 

Making work, work better, to make it feel worthwhile investing so much of our life to, comes from building what Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy calls “the engines of wellbeing”, those workplaces that get that the health and wellbeing of every employee contributes to the overall health of every organisation.

This is what it will take to fully thrive in the future of work.

Do you agree?

 

If workplace mental health and wellbeing matter to you, let’s talk.

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker, trainer and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

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