Business leaders have to do more to prioritise employee mental health

Two years after the start of COVID-19, employees are still grappling with its ramifications, dealing psychologically, emotionally and logistically with a world transformed by hardship.

It’s no surprise the pandemic completely changed everyone’s lives, with a good majority of employees leaving their jobs because they are not only wanting more from their careers, but needed more support from their workplace. Much has been made of “The Great Resignation,” with work itself evolving, it reflects a reprioritisation of personal choices on a global scale — creating a discontinuity that should be of great concern to every leader.

In Headspace Health’s Fourth Annual Workforce Attitudes Toward Mental Health Report, the data reinforces what many workers sense, but it also has some surprises that should inform how businesses move forward regarding employee mental health in the transition.

One insight prominent in the report is the workplace is not conducive to mental health, with one in three employees feeling that work actually harms their mental health. Additional findings from the report have shown that employees are in need of mental health support from top management. There is a desire for better mental health practices in the workplace.

The data shows us that employees are feeling stress from burnout and challenges with management.Top global stressors for employees are from COVID-19, burnout due to increased workload or lack of staff, poor work-life balance and “poor management and leadership.” In Australia, only 28% of employees report feeling “very engaged” in their work.

What is the work terrain like today?

Nevertheless, when employees need mental health programs, employers are pulling back:

  • 97% of Australian CEOs think they do enough to support workforce mental health, while only 66% of employees feel the same way.
  • 71% of Australian workers say their company increased focus on mental health following COVID-19, but only 31% say they have kept that focus in the last year.

As a result, employees are responding to organisations that don’t champion mental health:

  • 72% of Australians have missed at least one day of work during the past year due to stress, anxiety, or other mental health challenges.
  • 94% of Australian workers believe they do their best work when they feel included and connected to their team.

Business leaders more than ever need to reflect, what they can do to reach those who are feeling the mental-health disconnect and how can they inspire those to work in their best capability whilst feeling supported and valued in the workplace and by their leaders.

As the Workforce Attitudes Report highlights how the quality of leadership has a direct impact on employees’ mental health, how empathy from leadership is valued and the profound gap between how CEOs and employees view their firm’s support of mental health. Leadership matters, especially compassionate leadership that values the wellbeing of employees.

How can business leaders turn the tide around?

There are ways in which CEOs can turn The Great Resignation into ‘The Great Inspiration’:

Build positive workplace cultures that incorporate mindful leadership

  • Consider what extra support managers need. They are addressing evolving employee needs, getting pressure to retain talent, and struggling to maintain their work-life balance.
  • Part of building a culture of compassion is turning simple niceties into real opportunities to connect. It is as simple as asking employees the right questions and taking the time to listen. For it is shown that 84% of Australian employees want their employer to ask them how they are doing and actually care about the answer.
  • Strong workplace mental health is built incrementally. It takes steps to get there and by doing so, with a well-equipped manager leading the charge, employees can feel more connected, invested, and inspired to continue to drive forward in their workplace.

Connect what you say to what you do, and ask yourself

  • Are you modelling self-compassion?
  • When you take PTO, do you fully unplug?
  • Are you making sure work isn’t overtaking your own life or negatively impacting employees’ personal lives by creating opportunities for better work-life balance?
  • Are you showing gratitude for the employees who through all of life’s hurdles still manage do great things in their daily work?
  • Are you fostering an inclusive culture that allows employees to show up to work as their full selves (struggles, strengths, and deficits in tow) and still feel valued and accepted?
  • Are you willing to talk about your own mental health openly with your workforce? Leaders who don’t are now in the minority.

Double down on mental health benefits

  • Examine mental health offerings and commit to increasing employee utilisation through awareness, encouragement and even first-person testimonial about your own experience.

At Headspace Health, there is a high sustained engagement rate when clients activate their year-round awareness campaigns that address common challenges, such as relationships, financial stress, and back to school, in approachable ways.

  • Expand from an employer’s perspective, the offerings to facilitate a workforce in transition, with the greatest attention to flexibility and individualised needs.

Employees today are facing a time of reflection and re-evaluation regarding how (and if) they will come to the workplace. They’re searching for more than just jobs.

Many are seeking leaders that inspire them, workplaces that motivate them, and employers that make the effort to know and value them. Making mental health a pillar of organisational culture can help turn an intense period of resignation into an enduring era of inspiration.

Russell Glass is the CEO at Headspace Health.

Russell Glass, Chief Executive Officer of Headspace Health