How employers can support their staff to ensure a thriving working environment
In 1624, John Donne famously penned “No man is an island”. Almost 400 years, and a global pandemic later, his words ring truer than ever: whether it’s in the home, classroom or at work, we all need support every now and again.
Encouraging people to open up about mental health means encouraging them to seek support, to get the help they need and deserve. Going it alone doesn’t help anyone, and when it comes to workplace wellbeing it’s the employer’s responsibility to offer staff the support they need to ensure no one suffers in silence.
After taking a closer look at the first two work elements that need managing effectively to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace: demands and control, this article focuses on the ways that employers can support their employees to ensure they, and the organisation, thrive.
But what does “support” look like in business?
What is wellbeing support?
It’s much more than simply offering a helping hand when we see someone struggling. It’s about creating an environment that encourages people to openly discuss any difficulties they are facing and feel confident that action will be taken to address them. It’s also about providing employees with the resources they need to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
Support ultimately plays a huge role in building resilience, for individuals, teams, and organisations and helps develop a flexibility that allows us to adapt to change, and to develop and grow.
The HSE management standard for support is that “employees indicate that they receive adequate information and support from their colleagues and superiors; and systems are in place locally to respond to any individual concerns”.
So what does an organisation need to achieve this?
What can an organisation do to improve wellbeing support?
1. An employee wellbeing Policy
The first element of providing support is ensuring the organisation has adequate and effective policies and procedures to support employees. These are commonplace and an essential part of every organisation, but can often become cumbersome and difficult to understand.
Policies and procedures should share your organisation’s values, culture, systems, and processes in a way that supports the employee in performing their role – setting clear expectations, and assisting them with decision-making.
The key is giving employees complete confidence in the policies by ensuring they are:
- well-written – with clear, direct messages and language that everyone understands.
- regularly updated – to reflect any changes in legislation, technology or culture.
- clearly communicated – so that everyone knows where to find the policies and how they apply in different situations.
- accessible – giving employees easy access to them, whether it be via a website, intranet or handbook.
- easy to understand – giving employees the confidence they need to follow them by using clear, jargon-free language wherever possible.
Anything less means policies will be ignored and could set people up for failure.
All too often these documents are viewed as simply a means of protecting the organisation, should it be faced with a legal challenge. Changing this perception and recognising that good, easy-to-use policies can help an organisation run more smoothly and efficiently, presents an opportunity to switch an employee’s paradigm of policies from meaningless documents to a valuable handbook of how to be successful in their role.
2. Support from Leadership
Another important element for creating a culture of support is that it must come from the top of the organisation and that systems are in place to assist and encourage the managers to support their staff.
Ensuring that your managers are ‘available’ to their people and not hiding managers away on the top floor. Outdated management styles where they are never seen, and where people feel unable to knock on the door, creates a distance that makes managers unattainable and leaves their reports feeling unsupported. It’s not simply about making a monthly presentation or dropping into the canteen for a cuppa, it is about being truly available to people, as a resource, when they need it.
Encouraging managers to be visible and regularly check in with their staff, promotes trust and, in turn, encourages employees to talk openly. Asking how someone is doing, and not just accepting the “oh fine” answer we are all inclined to give but rather delving deeper to find out more. This means listening and taking a real interest in people.
Do your managers have time to be available for their people? How can you ensure that they make the time? Act on these questions alone and you will see positive outcomes for your organisation.
3. Wellbeing company culture
Having a company culture that encourages open communication and getting buy-in from senior leaders is a fundamental way to and boost wellbeing support within an organisation – putting systems in place to assist and encourage the managers to support their staff.
This can be achieved through encouraging team meetings or one-on-one conversations in which employees are empowered to talk about their wellbeing and any difficulties they may be facing. This can help employees to feel supported, and confident that action will be taken, and in turn, it can also improve employee performance and productivity.
But managers need support too
However, for managers to be in a position to help their direct reports, they themselves need the resources and training to do so. Sadly this isn’t always the case. There is a common practice of promoting technical experts to managerial posts without providing any leadership training. The assumption is that because they were good at their job, they will automatically be a good manager.
This is a clear case of insufficient support and often leads to new managers struggling to cope because they don’t have the necessary skills to lead, resulting in frustration for both them and their team. Robust leadership doesn’t come naturally to many people and is a skill that needs to be cultivated to help managers support their staff.
Today, an essential step in providing such support is ensuring that managers, at all levels, are given mental health awareness training – mental health first aiders, like first aiders, are there to support people in crisis. This will increase awareness of the workplace wellbeing issue we face and give managers the confidence to talk about mental health challenges with others. This all encourages managers to be more visible and regularly check in with their staff which in turn further promotes trust and encourages employees to talk openly. Which opens the door for…
Constructive employee feedback and support
Giving employees regular and constructive feedback not only supports them to do their jobs well but to also develop and grow. What I am talking about here, is not just focusing on correcting poor performance, but also offering positive feedback on what they are doing right. Reinforcing the good work that is being done and giving recognition for their efforts, builds employee confidence and encourages them to continue doing the same.
WARNING: Be careful though, this shouldn’t be a tick-list exercise of a transparently obvious attempt to feign support. Rather, it should be an authentic and genuine reflection of what is being observed.
Continually giving someone a pat on the back for doing the basics just taints the value of feedback and will come across as insincere. It’s catching people making an improvement that will encourage further progress.
For feedback to be effective it needs to be:
- clear and concise
- pertinent to the situation
- and focused on the individual’s behaviour, not them as a person
Good feedback helps people understand what is required of them and how they are currently performing. In turn, this gives security, and confidence, and leaves them feeling supported. What better way to encourage higher performance?
Systems of wellbeing support
Support can come in many forms, from the informal listening ear, right through to an organisation-wide initiative, and it’s important to realise that support doesn’t just come from management, but also one’s peers.
- Buddy-buddy systems
- assigning mentors
- providing safe spaces where people can talk privately
- and setting up support groups or social activities
…are all great ways to help your employees feel supported.
Mental health first aiders
Like first aiders, mental health first aiders are there to support people in crisis. They are trained individuals, coming from a variety of areas and levels of an organisation. They can recognise when someone is struggling and can show them where to get the help they need and in some cases, actually save lives.
This is a great initiative for an organisation to include in its support programme. A word of caution, however, like first aid, this is a tertiary intervention. The aim should be to risk assess and eliminate or mitigate the issues are far as possible.
Benefits of wellbeing support systems
As well as overall improved workplace wellbeing, having strong support systems in place in organisations has many positive benefits from reduced sickness absence to improved productivity (Public Health Scotland).
Having strong support systems provides:
- improved wellbeing – people are more likely to be engaged, focused and motivated when they feel supported and cared for.
- increased productivity – employees who feel valued will work harder towards the organisation’s goals.
- greater team morale and company culture – by providing a supportive and collaborative environment, you can foster a positive company culture which will encourage greater collaboration, creativity and inspiration.
- reduced sickness absence – as the biggest contributing factor to work-related illness and absence, reducing mental health issues by improving workplace wellbeing can have a significant impact on your absenteeism rates and its negative financial and productivity impacts.
- reduced recruitment costs – happy employees often don’t want to leave the organisation that supports them. By providing a positive, supportive and healthy work environment, you can decrease the turnover rate of your employees, as well as attract and recruit the best talent, resulting in lower recruitment costs.
Ultimately, creating a supportive working environment is something that should be considered an investment rather than an expense – it’s not just good for staff wellbeing but also has a clear bottom line benefit as well.
How do I get started creating a supportive workplace?
Every organisation is unique and there is no one perfect solution that fits all. Carrying out a wellbeing review and working with a qualified wellbeing practitioner, will help determine the right policies for your organisation and ensure employees feel confident in the support available to them.
As a member of the International Stress Management Association and holder of a CPCAB-accredited Level 5 Diploma in Mental Health & Wellbeing Awareness, through More Than Motivation, I can help you carry out a wellbeing review, and develop a strategy to support the mental health of your management team and employees.
At the end of the day. We all need support. Whether it’s simply talking to a friend or family member, or accessing formal support systems like training and mental health first aid, we all have different ways of coping with the challenges life throws our way. It’s up to employers to recognise this and create a supportive environment where everyone can thrive.
No employee should feel alone or isolated, but rather embraced, valued, and supported in their workplace. “No man (or woman) is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”