Believe us when we say that mental health is an every day topic; yet, it’s understandable that there are ‘awareness weeks’, days and even months.
We’ve been on the frontline of holistic wellbeing for a decade, seeing a continued evolution in the conversation around mental health – catalysed in the last few years – both from the individual perspective and an organisational level.
So as we approach an ‘International Mental Health’ awareness moment, let’s fully explore the topic beyond the assumptions and generalisations, with first-hand, in the room and on the ground experience of the ‘how to’.
If you were to Chat-GPT or Bard the topic, then you’d likely come up with simple directions such as:
- Foster an open, non-judgmental environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
- Senior leaders and HR personnel should openly discuss their own experiences with mental health to reduce stigma and show vulnerability.
- Conduct workshops and training sessions to educate employees on mental health, its importance, and common misconceptions.
- Advocate for self-care practices, such as mindfulness exercises or relaxation techniques, and integrate them into the work routine.
But do any of these work?
They are easy sentences to create but they may be – for a vast host of reasons – incredibly difficult to implement.
Let’s firstly look at why it’s far from being as simple as what you may be usually told – and then let’s look at the reality, and how the topic can actually be implemented with both confidence and a resulting impact.
1. Foster an open, non-judgmental environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
This could be a very positive aspect and something that may feel natural – but possibly only for certain cultures, and particular teams.
If we were to look culturally, then without stereotyping but using first-hand experience, we could say that some cultures in different parts of the world are less comfortable with this situation, period. As a global company, Pavelka has both our people and partners across Asia, where some cultures will not feel comfortable with open sharing. The same could still be said of some demographics of British culture, where speaking in a public situation can cause distress for some.
So what’s the reality?
We have always said that wellbeing is ‘one size fits one’, and that we make wellbeing accessible and inclusive.
This means that the conversation around mental health needs a variety of spaces and channels to take place. Some may prefer one-to-one with a trusted leader, others may prefer that the topic is a fully managed experience by an outside expert or organisation, and others may prefer an open conversation in a group setting.
There may also need to be an ‘encouraged but optional’ element to the entire topic – even around wellbeing itself. Moving into an enforced or ‘not officially required but yes you are expected to attend’ can turn people away, instead of bringing them into the conversation.
2. Senior leaders and HR personnel should openly discuss their own experiences with mental health to reduce stigma and show vulnerability.
Leader authenticity and vulnerability have been buzzwords for a few years, but it’s very much easier said than done, and we understand that. Yes, a leader can and should set the tone for the working experience and environment, and this includes the human experience of the work, beyond the tasks and KPIs.
Yet, simply expecting a leader to take on the specific and evolving area of wellbeing is unrealistic. As with any skillset or attribute, leading with wellbeing takes support, education and is a learning experience.
Moreover, there shouldn’t be assumption that the people would be comfortable with a leader suddenly opening up about a deeply personal experience.
So how can a leader feel confident, show that the working environment includes a sense of safety and care, while maintaining appropriate boundaries?
This is where wellbeing needs to be clarified and explained.
If a large organisation is bringing wellbeing into the regular working experience, then we are absolutely all for that.
Yet, with where the topic of wellbeing is on its current journey, people need to understand the details: why is this happening? What is it? How should I react or become involved?
To ensure that they know it’s far more than a tick-box exercise, and that no one feels jaded with ‘a work thing I am expected to add into my workload’, understanding and engagement can happen with knowledge and information.
This means addressing:
- Why is this a part of the organisation’s culture? Is this due to a core belief of someone such as a Founder or CEO, is this wrapped up with the company’s mission or vision?
- What is involved? Are there regular optional events? How often are events, conversations, check-ins, meetings, points of contact around wellbeing?
- How does the organisation see wellbeing? Are there particular pillars such as mental/physical/social? Is there a guiding principle? (At Pavelka we are centred and founded upon on The Four Elements of Eat, Sweat, Think and Connect)
There are more, but these are the over-arching points that bring the clarity, alongside empathy and ‘people buy-in’ that can make all of this work.
From the perspective of leaders, an open and stated ‘structure’ or operating system of the whys/whats/hows of wellbeing also therefore brings the shared understanding of the expectations, boundaries and details behind the notion of wellbeing in the workplace.
From there, a journey can be shaped as to things that seem basic: how regular, what format, what’s to be expected, who will speak, who can also share (optionally) and the ‘rules of engagement’ that pertain to the at times deep and meaningful moments that occur when people feel safe to share.
3. Conduct workshops and training sessions to educate employees on mental health, its importance, and common misconceptions.
A goal in terms of an organisation or an HR department aiming to ‘do wellbeing’ is usually levels of engagement. Numbers.
We understand that if there is an investment in anything, then it needs ‘some kind of return’. This has typically been where wellbeing is distinct.
The most mature and experienced organisations that implement wellbeing to truly shape culture understand that it’s more about the impact on an individual, human level. They understand that it’s more about the unique stories of people’s lives being drastically improved.
- However, not every organisation is quite there on their journey yet, and so they want to see numbers of attendees, of visits to a place or to content, or uptake of a program or challenge.
- We see that it’s typically team-based challenges that can motivate a majority percentage to join in. If the challenge is inclusive, involves something fun and lets people connect, then it is a nice moment to share for everyone.
- The topic of mental health is important, yet doesn’t guarantee a mass uptake of a mental health training workshop, for example.
This needs to have some awareness that it’s not about the numbers in this case, it’s about providing the option for those people most interested in the issue to upskill and potentially even become certified or qualified, with the organisation’s support.
Sometimes known as ‘wellbeing champions’, our success within organisation’s has been due to our ‘Pavelka Pioneers’: people who are passionate about wellbeing and eager to be the ones to take ownership, creating communities, events and experiences by themselves, with our support.
At the very least, an organisation (your organisation) needs to have an avenue whereby those people passionate about wellbeing can raise their hand, be seen and then encouraged to shine.
4. Advocate for self-care practices, such as mindfulness exercises or relaxation techniques, and integrate them into the work routine.
As we’ve said, with workplace wellbeing being relatively a new – and continually evolving – area, it’s something that organisations want to do but without the necessary expertise.
- This can lead people to clutching at wellbeing straws, based on the assumption that wellbeing is mindfulness and yoga.
- In reality, wellbeing is comfort, health and happiness. It’s up to each individual to decide what that means for them!
- As mentioned, Jessie Pavelka’s The Four Elements of Eat, Sweat, Think and Connect, are our guiding principle of how a person can try to define how they live each day and what their relationship with each Element means to them.
With a ‘one size fits one’ philosophy, wellbeing may mean meditation for some, but it will mean something different to someone else!
Importantly, there shouldn’t simply be assumptions that ‘surely people simply want to be healthy’, and ‘join our wellbeing thing and be healthy’ as enough of a pull factor to draw people in.
So when delivering a wellbeing ‘thing’ or any kind (event, program, content), instead of focusing on what seems to be wellbeing, think about connection first.
- How will this allow people to simply share their thoughts?
- What are the opportunities for people to get to know each other more?
- Is it clear that the purpose is to better connect, rather than simply ‘do the activity’?
- And is the achievement or simple ‘pay off’ also clear, such as the reason for attending to not simply be ‘for your wellbeing’ but that stronger connections in the workplace allow for greater performance, therefore both job satisfaction and confidence in working well?
In reality, any wellbeing initiative, event program or the like can go beyond what people expect and show them that by connecting to themselves, their colleagues and wider world as a whole, there are specific resulting benefits.
The best part is that we get to explore what these may be and how, if done well, wellbeing can open minds, shift culture – and change lives.