Nurturing health and happiness at work
Shouldn't everyone be able to flourish and thrive at work, rather than just function or even struggle? So many people are experiencing work-related stress1 and poor mental health, particularly considering the last two years – a survey by MIND showed that more than 80%2 of people reported struggling with mental health problems during or before the pandemic. This article recommends six steps to promote wellbeing in the workplace and help people flourish.
First, to foster a happy and resilient workforce, take a holistic approach to wellbeing – that includes people's physical and mental health. Second, create an inclusive, equal, and diverse culture where people can be themselves and are valued for their uniqueness. Third, champion compassion and psychological safety to create a culture of acceptance and trust in interpersonal risk-taking. Fourth, have open conversations about wellbeing, and encourage peer support. Fifth, adopt a growth mindset and a continuous learning climate. Sixth, learn, apply, and share skills and techniques for building resilience and making healthy life choices.
- Take a holistic approach to wellbeing
The key is to take a holistic approach to health, encompassing both our mental and physical health along with our safety at work. We cannot exclude one or the other, as they are closely connected. Various factors need to be managed to prevent stress at work3:
- Balance of demands (workload, work patterns and environment) and effort reward
- An environment that allows people to feel autonomous and self-efficacious
- Offers of support (resources, line managers, colleagues, etc)
- Positive and high-quality workplace relationships that create a sense of belonging and community
- Conflict management
- Understanding of roles and conflicts
- The management of change
- Financial wellbeing (eg, pension plan, pay and benefits policies, financial wellbeing policies, support and advice)
Qualitative and quantitative measures are key to evaluating wellbeing within your organisation and the impact of your interventions. But data is not enough; we also need to make sure we realise that we are all unique in what we need and what specific factors may push us over the edge, which is why regular, open conversations will be key.
- Create an inclusive, equal, and diverse culture
To promote wellbeing and a happy and competitive workforce, companies need to nurture an inclusive, equal, and diverse work culture. An inclusive culture allows people to be their authentic selves, to feel they belong without having to conform, and to be valued for their uniqueness. It’s important to communicate that DEI is relevant to everyone and involves all staff. Evaluate policies and practices, raise awareness, equip leaders with skills, and engage them to support DEI and have open conversations, model inclusive behaviour, and value people’s unique differences.
- Foster compassion and psychological safety
Creating a culture of compassion and psychological safety - the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation - is crucial. Compassion for others boosts our own psychological wellbeing, promotes positive emotions (at individual, team, and organisational levels), and strengthens our connection with people in the workplace4. Volunteering can be a great way to foster compassion and wellbeing while supporting and connecting with other people. Psychological safety allows us to form positive and meaningful relationships, express our voices, be authentic, share opinions, be creative, take risks, and perform well5. Psychological safety begins with leadership behaviours when they cultivate, model and reinforce behaviours that are supportive, show they genuinely care about the wellbeing of others, and create a safe and open environment. This includes showing people trust and appreciation, as well as giving them the autonomy and voice to be involved in key decision-making that allows them to be their best selves.
- Have open conversations about wellbeing and promote peer support
We all – including managers – have a responsibility to promote open conversations about our needs and stressors. Take the first step and share your own challenges, and help others overcome barriers and stigma when experiencing difficulties or poor mental health. Cultivating positive and open relationships in the workplace and fostering an ethos of mutual support that allows people to share their experiences and challenges will lead to a resilient, compassionate, and supportive workforce.
- Nurture a growth mindset and continuous learning
Personal and professional development is also key for our wellbeing, and lifelong learning should be part of what we do. A growth-oriented mindset means that challenges and setbacks are seen as an opportunity to learn. Learning gives us a sense of meaning and self-esteem, and connects us with other people in the learning process6. Goal-setting (and achieving) can be a powerful tool to help set short-, medium- and long-term goals, as well as to build self-confidence and celebrate success. Organisational cultures are shaped from the top, where leaders create a shared vision of continuous improvement, psychological safety, and the values, norms and behaviours that reinforce it. A learning and coaching culture allows people to take risks in an environment where failure is OK and an opportunity to learn – also empowering them to admit to mistakes. It further encourages people to share honest and mutual feedback that is based on trust, where people feel comfortable to share their opinions openly, and where there is no micromanagement.
- Build your resilience and make healthy life choices
To be happy and healthy, we need to take care of our overall health. This includes being active (to combat stress, increase our fitness, and boost our energy), eating a healthy and balanced diet, practicing sleep hygiene, strengthening our resilience by leaning on our social support network and choosing healthy coping strategies (eg, relaxation techniques, regular breaks during the day, asking for help, and looking for the positive). Develop your self-awareness and listen to your own interpretations in challenging situations. How is your self-talk? Is it kind, and does it help you see challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth? If not, challenge your inner dialogue and try shifting it to a more positive and more balanced perspective. Celebrate your achievements through the day and week, and practice gratitude. Always be as kind and compassionate to yourself as you would be to your friend!
In summary: to foster a happy and healthy workforce, people and leaders should take a holistic approach to wellbeing. As Seligman's PERMA model states, in order to flourish, people need positive emotions, engagement and flow with their work, relationships that are deep and meaningful and foster a supportive and social environment, meaning and purpose in our lives, and the confidence that we can achieve our goals7.
1 Health and Safety Executive. Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2021. https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf. December 16, 2021. Accessed March 16, 2022.
2 MIND. Coronavirus: the consequences for mental health. https://www.mind.org.uk/media/8962/the-consequences-of-coronavirus-for-mental-health-final-report.pdf. July 2021. Accessed March 16, 2022.
3 Health and Safety Executive. Stress at work: what are the management standards? https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards. Accessed March 16, 2022.
4 CIPD. The role of compassion in the workplace. https://www.cipd.co.uk/news-views/changing-work-views/future-work/thought-pieces/compassion-workplace. July 13, 2021. Accessed March 16, 2022.
5 Harvard Business Review. High-performing teams need psychological safety. Here’s how to create it. https://hbr.org/2017/08/high-performing-teams-need-psychological-safety-heres-how-to-create-it. August 24, 2017. Accessed March 16, 2022.
6 NHS: 5 steps to mental wellbeing. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/five-steps-to-mental-wellbeing. Updated November 6, 2019. Accessed March 16, 2022.
7 Seligman MEP. Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and wellbeing. Nicholas Brealey Publishing; 2011.