Mental health is a crucial component of employee wellbeing, but according to an article from People Management, many companies are failing to assess and address their employees’ mental health, underscoring the challenges employees are facing on a personal level, and how important it is for leaders to check in on their people and assess their well-being.

The article cited a recent poll of 2,000 workers by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, which found that 25% of workers said their workplace had not checked in on their mental health since the crisis hit a year ago. Almost one-third (29%) of those polled said they have never had a conversation with their line manager about their mental health.

Overlooking employees’ mental health can have dire consequences for an organisation, ranging from reduced productivity in the current moment to an increased turnover later on.

Late last year, our CEO, Stefan Wissenbach, started to sound the alarm about an impending culture crisis that could derail companies’ ability to recover successfully and rebound later this year.

“Leaders have invested endless time, energy, and resources into preserving their businesses throughout the pandemic crisis,” Stefan notes. “Failure to take action now to ensure employee’s mental welfare and their overall wellbeing puts that good work – and the accompanying investment – at risk.”

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The article notes that by encouraging regular wellbeing check-ins, facilitating activities to stay connected, and ensuring managers have the training and resources to support staff, companies can act quickly to ensure their people are in a good place mentally and know where to find support.

Start by simply asking, “How are you doing – really?”

The simple act of acknowledging the unique circumstances we’re all experiencing, and asking someone how they’re really doing, is a first step any manager can take.

One of our clients, Capital Asset Management, has doubled down on 1:1 meetings between leaders and their teams and shared with us their approach.

“It is important for leaders to check up on their teams and not assume they are OK just because productivity levels are high,” notes Chirine Harb, Capital Asset Management’s head of operations. “We’re looking more at how the employees are coping on a personal level, going beyond productivity.”

Chirine made a point of noting that meetings are initiated by leaders, who come well prepared to talk about the employee’s development and performance – and how they are faring personally.

This is the opportunity to ask how are you doing, really. It’s a way to take care of employees,” she told us. “We usually have a very very personal discussion, asking, “What’s going well, what are you struggling with,” which helps us identify any resources that person may need.”

The meetings have proven to be time well spent. Chirine tells us the feedback from employees has been overwhelmingly positive, with employees describing the meetings as “lovely,” and “the best one to ones I’ve ever had because they’re really specific to me.”

“The team members feel really valued in that you’re really looking after their career progression, their development, their mental health, their physical health, their training, and anything else that has to do with them personally.”

Chirine also notes that the company has seen a rise in performance and productivity since increasing the focus on individual employees.
“This personal approach and interest in them a people make them want to give you that extra above and beyond effort. It’s not about just doing their job,” she notes. “They like what they’re doing, and they like who they’re doing it for, and that easily translates into productivity.”

Adaptation vs accommodation

As leaders develop a better understanding of how their employees are doing, and the personal challenges they are managing, chances are good they may find opportunities to adapt policies and procedures to better support employees, such as flextime, hybrid work schedules, or more liberal time-off policies.

A recent article from the Harvard Business Review made an important point about adaptations, as opposed to legally required accommodations. ”…it’s important for managers to know the difference between “accommodations,” which are formal, reactive exceptions to existing policies for a specific employee after a disclosure, and “adaptations,” which are proactive adjustments you can make for everyone that are within the company’s policies, such as flexible hours.”

Adaptations are important tools for managers and can be vitally useful in creating more responsive policies that support employees’ new needs.

Improving productivity – the carrot vs the stick

With many employees continuing to work from home, employee productivity is top of executives’ minds. Increasingly, companies are taking steps to monitor employee productivity at home.

While thankfully, horror stories like the company that attempted to make all employees stay fully visible on Zoom for the entire workday are few and far between, there is a steady increase in the use of employee monitoring systems and software. According to Raconteur’s “Growth in Workplace Monitoring” graphic, more than half of UK employees believe they are being monitored at work, and 22% of companies polled either are doing so or plan to soon.

In reality, organisations taking these steps are likely to experience the opposite of their intended effects. Forcing employees to work in similar styles, irrespective of factors such as time of day or different individual strengths, has multiple negative effects, including:

  • Feeling devalued, like they’re “just a number,’ and ignoring their subjective contributions,
  • Adding stress and continual fear of reprimand or firing due to not meeting numbers,
  • Preventing employees from doing their best work, by encouraging them to focus on the behavior that is being monitored, thus reducing the energy and effort they could be applying to deliver results.

At its worst, in addition to degrading productivity and morale, and increasing employee turnover, monitoring adds to the employees’ already-growing mental health burdens. Counterintuitively, some of the best alternatives to employee monitoring to increase productivity include creating outcome-based KPIs, trusting employees to deliver the agreed-upon results, and providing flexibility when it comes to workday timing. Best of all, these measures support employee mental health and contribute to the development of healthy company culture.