I’ve long been skeptical of the idea that you can keep your work life in one neat compartment and your personal life in another.
We’ve all brought home our careers’ demands and stressors from time to time. Likewise, when good things happen at home, it’s likely to brighten your work day.
To borrow from Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations, work is intensely personal. Asking your employees to compartmentalize is not only unrealistic, but potentially damaging—particularly when it comes to mental health.
In a recent survey we ran with Thrive and Glamour, over a quarter of respondents said their mental health struggles had affected their ability to perform their role. At the same time, we found 45% of respondents said they didn't feel comfortable talking about a mental health concern with others, and very few would talk to someone in their office if they felt anxious or depressed.
As a People Leader, I think about how we can break through stigmas surrounding mental health to support an employee as a whole person so they bring their true and best selves to work.
Here are three strategies we find work well:
(1) Start talking about mental health. We believe the best way to know what your employees are thinking or feeling is to ask. Starting thoughtful conversations about the overall wellbeing of your employees can raise opportunities to truly make a positive change in their lives and careers.
But even for the best of managers, mental health isn’t an easily approachable topic and the stigma that surrounds it can trip up conversations before they begin.
That’s why we use our quarterly employee engagement survey with SurveyMonkey Engage to measure not only an employee job satisfaction, but their personal engagement as well.
Answers to questions like, “Do you feel there is someone at work who cares about you as a person?” and, “Do you feel like you can ask for help at work?” can be the beginning of deeper conversations with managers or HR representatives.
And this isn’t just one conversation either, but an ongoing and genuine dialogue over time. Measuring the wellbeing of your employees isn’t only the right thing to do, but it’s also sound business sense. The health of your relationship with employees is a leading indicator of the health of a business.
(2) Craft policies that promote wellbeing. Some may view the biggest value of good benefits as attracting quality employees. That perspective misses a key point: Company benefits that make employees feel cared for and supported as a whole person create a healthy and prosperous workplace.
Something as simple as providing time off can go a long way—whether that’s PTO for mental health, sabbaticals like our Take 4 program , or specific policies built to support employees through major life events. For example, even a joyful time like being a new mom presents a roller coaster of emotions. In a survey with TIME , we found half of all moms experienced negative emotions like regret, shame, guilt and anger due to personal and societal pressures.That’s why it’s so important to give enough parental leave for employees to not only focus on the child, but on their own mental and physical health.
On the other end of the spectrum, the loss of a loved one can permeate every aspect of an employee’s life. Trying to contain your grief to outside the workplace only adds to the emotional toll. That’s why it’s important to give employees the time to heal after loss. As my colleague Teresa Brewer shared when we announced our bereavement policy , “It removes a tremendous burden from the employee. It sends a message that yes, loss is really, really hard and you deserve the time to work through it.”
(3) Look through the lens of diversity. Our research shows that many of the issues that impact employees’ wellbeing can be magnified for people in underrepresented groups. In a recent survey, we found that while 67% of respondents overall said working at their company is important to the way they think of themselves as a person. When we asked women in STEM, that number climbed to 77%. Because of this deeper connection between work and personal identity, any success or failure at work can feel personal. In partnership with Stanford researchers, we recently developed a survey template focused on measuring inclusion in the workplace. There are two key factors that look at an employee’s wellbeing from a diversity perspective 1) belonging uncertainty: the stress created and energy sapped by wondering if you belong and 2) stereotype threat: t he fear of confirming, as a self‑characteristic, a negative stereotype about your group. We measure these factors to understand what drives a true sense of belonging and take actions to remove cues that create uncertainty and the fear of being judged.
Listening to your employees is key to supporting them in the workplace. That means fostering a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their experiences, and have opportunities to do so in a safe and genuine way. By establishing empathy, asking thoughtful questions, and actively listening, we can better understand what they need to thrive. This not only benefits employees, but the company as a whole.
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