How many of us are really aware of the difference between the perfect online profiles of our staff and their inward reality?
Whatever we do to improve employee engagement, we first need to understand if people have enough capacity to be ‘engaged’. If people are struggling with anxiety and depression this will not be the case. When designing employee engagement programmes we need to put forward initiatives that motivate people, but we also need to focus on ways to reduce the blockers to engagement too. Depression and other mental health issues are among the things that will stand in the way of people being fully focused at work.
And to put the importance of mental wellness in perspective, depression is predicted to be the leading global illness by 2030. This isn’t workplace wellness gone overboard, this is heading off the storm before it hits.
Do we take it for granted that everyone is doing fine?
You may have seen the recent social media campaign for an addiction charity highlighted the normality of everyday drinking in ‘the perfect Instagram social life’. Louise Delage, a fake French Instagram account was set up by an Ad agency on behalf of addiction charity, Addict Aide. Pictured always with an alcoholic drink in hand, Louise attracted 65,000 followers in around a month following some careful placement of pictures with key media influencers. Did people notice the drink in every shot? Most did not, until all was revealed by the organisers.
Are we just as incapable of seeing beyond the façade when it comes to mental health? How many of us see past the chocolate box lifestyles of our employees to understand and support what is going on beneath? Addiction, anxiety, personal struggle is going on all around us.
Mental Health is more common than you think
A recent Business in the Community survey suggests that three quarters of the workforce in this country have experienced some form of poor mental health at some point in their lives. One in six, have suffered common mental health problems in the past week. Would any of us be able to say on any given day which of your team that applied to?
Despite the statistics, we still perpetuate the myth of the ideal as reality. To suffer from health issues of any kind, means we are less productive. When the symptoms are visible, people around us are more likely to be sympathetic and understand that we can’t take on as much as we normally would. But to suffer from health issues that are invisible on the outside – but painfully evident from the inside – means we are more likely to be met with a pep talk on commitment than empathy and a reduced workload.
Setting expectations clearly can help people avoid excess stress
Stress is a major cause of increased anxiety, but is unlikely to be something we can get rid of in the workplace. Besides, one person’s stress is another person’s comfort zone. Too often though, we set implicit expectations for everyone, based on an employer or team manager’s ability to cope with the demands of the job. If our people don’t show the same resolve, they can quickly feel like they aren’t making the grade, even if they aren’t prepared to show it.
There are simple things we can do to help people enjoy better mental health
We are past the time when ‘cheer up’ is an appropriate response in the face of altered employee behaviour or evident mood swings. But luckily organisations like www.mind.org.uk and www.mentalhealth.org.uk offer a wealth of information for people who need to know more about the symptoms of anxiety and depression. As employers we have a responsibility to know the basics, and to know where to go for specialist help.
Encouraging people to adopt simple wellbeing improvements into their everyday lives is a great inoculation against the effects of stress, anxiety and the onset of depression. Things like taking time out to really ‘talk’ to people. Spending time outside. Being involved in activities like volunteering that give people a real sense of achievement. All of these things can reduce stress and help keep mental ill health at bay. Surely prevention has to be better than cure.