A growing number of powerful reports from highly reputable organisations have repeatedly spelled out the costs to people, business and nation of mental ill health. Excellent research has outlined the main factors that impact people’s mental health at work, what causes stress, leads to burnout and increases the risk of illness. In recent years courses targeting individuals, on subjects like resilience, stress management, and dealing with difficult people have multiplied. But still the problem of mental ill health gets bigger.
More recently it has become evident that we need to reduce the appalling levels of stigma that surround mental illness and keep it hidden. To do this, educational initiatives to increase understanding and awareness about mental health and illness and to train people to know what to do in an emergency have made major inroads into the walls of misunderstanding, prejudice and discrimination.
And yet, at a recent roundtable of experts in the field, convened by the Health and Safety Executive, it was apparent that there were many difficulties implicit in these interventions and we still weren’t getting anywhere close to the roots of the problem. It was agreed that a profound shift in approach was needed, something to do with a ‘good’ organisational culture but “nobody knows what ‘good’ is here”.
When gathering together the evidence about what enables people to be well and work well together with energy and passion, we find that these things are closely related to what needs to be avoided in order to prevent stress, distress and mental ill-health. Pulling this together, we get a roadmap for personal flourishing and business success, which just so happens to contain key ingredients for mental wellbeing in the workplace.
Here is a synopsis of our version of what constitutes ‘good’, what ‘good’ looks like. What is needed now is the vision to believe it’s possible and the courage and commitment to make it happen.
- The Culture, “How we do things around here”. Made up of core beliefs, meanings, values and norms, these are agreed upon, explicit, and consistently and continuously exhibited at every level within the organisation. Interactions always embody, for example, trust, honesty, respect, fairness, and civility in moving towards shared goals.
- Growth. The recognition that, in order to thrive, people want and need to learn and feel they are developing, means everyone is provided with resources for training and opportunities to grow. Regular, honest appraisals and mutual discussion of problems are conducted in ways that reflect the values of the culture. Monitoring, surveys and devices such as annual performance reviews are unnecessary.
- Psycho-Social Safety. The sense of being supported, trusted and cared for as a unique human being is a given. Ideas and opinions are welcome, mistakes and problems talked about openly with the sense that nothing bad will happen. Speaking up is welcomed. Sufficient training and support is given for new staff or people with new or additional roles. People look out for each other.
- Workload Management. Work can be accomplished successfully and on time, with the necessary resources, both psychological and material, made available. Roles and tasks fit aptitudes and abilities. People feel safe to discuss difficulties with workload and negotiate changes. They are trusted to be doing their best work. They feel in control and that their voice is heard. Changes in personal circumstances are taken into account when necessary.
- Involvement. Everyone’s input is encouraged and welcomed appropriately, even if not acted on. There is no sense of ‘them and us’ between any level, ability or department. Prosocial behaviour is the norm, characterised by alliance building, ethical behaviour towards society and the environment, a service approach towards colleagues, customers and clients, with generosity and helpfulness.
- Recognition and Reward. People are acknowledged for their contribution and rewarded for their efforts in ways that are meaningful to them. They feel appreciated, included, valued and that “I make a difference,” regardless of role within the business. There is the feeling that everyone matters, everyone cares and it’s important that everyone thrives. Success is everybody’s business.
- Balance. Breaks during the day and holiday allowances are always honoured. It is taken as a given that staff have vital aspects of their lives outside work, such as family, friends and personal pursuits, that they must have time and energy for. At times, challenges may arise that require flexibility at work. Co-workers notice when someone is struggling, are willing to ask, show they care and help find solutions.
- Energy. Productive organisational energy based on mental clarity, emotional engagement and agentic behaviour requires that people bring themselves to work in the best shape they can, expecting to be well treated when there. As autonomous individuals, everyone at all levels of the organisation feels equally valued, safe and able to ask for what they need to stay well, feel good about what they are doing, to talk about what may get in the way of this and get the support they need to support their overall wellbeing.
To find out more about turning these steps into action – talks, workshops and ongoing support on the “how to do it” – you’re welcome to contact us at Creating Health Ltd.