Like all workplace initiatives, leadership support determines the success or failure of all efforts to improve employee wellbeing.
Gaining leadership buy-in is one of the first crucial steps to building a thriving workplace that sets workers up to be their best.
Give leaders a full understanding of the value of a well workforce
How genuine can leadership buy-in really be without a comprehensive understanding just how much the wellbeing of workers impacts most of the critical success factors of an organisation?
They also need to understand wellbeing in its broader sense – beyond the yoga class and complimentary fruitbowl – including what a mentally healthy workplace actually looks like and the workplace’s role in providing opportunities for employees to make healthy decisions.
The goal can’t be to achieve leadership sign-off, but for them to gain a true understanding of what goes into building a well workforce, all the benefits and their role in the process – and to truly support and believe in it!
Speak to their motivators
Most leaders are aware that they are legally obligated to provide a psychologically safe space for people but committing to this alone isn’t going to create a positive environment. If leaders are only making this investment to tick the box, then they are doing the opposite of making a true commitment, and this is unlikely to lead to the dedication required to create real and lasting change.
Leaders need to want the change enough to commit to the actions that sit underneath a well workplace – and this must be a cultural shift.
What are your leaders motivated by? Is it business performance and building strong, productive teams? Are they risk averse and in the habit of committing to risk mitigation? Or are they really keen to do the right thing by their employees and want to leave a lasting impression on people as a positive leader? Knowing which leavers to pull and the language that resonates with leaders not only ensures greater buy-in, but helps to guide the development of a strategy.
Align your efforts with the organisation’s broader strategy and vision
Leaders will need to see how building a mentally healthy workplace supports the goals of the organisation. Reviewing the organisation’s current strategy will give you clear guidance on what the areas of focus should be in your Mental Health & Wellbeing (MH&W) Strategy.
The good news is – this shouldn’t be a difficult process as most of the benefits of a good MH&W Strategy support multiple organisation goals, such as attracting and retaining the best quality talent or reducing employee absenteeism.
Increase capability across all levels of leadership
Committed leadership is aligned leaders across the entire business. The role of top leaders is crucial at an organisation level, but it’s people managers who have a far greater impact on employee health day to day. They have a major say in all aspects of people’s jobs – from workload to giving workers permission to engage with wellbeing.
Gallup research tells us that the manager alone likely accounts for 70% of the variance in their team members’ engagement with both their work and wellbeing.
Of the many contributing barriers to improving workplace mental health, including a lack of time, the largest perceived barrier is the lack of appropriate skills among managers (26.9%).
Our research shows that education and training about mental health and wellbeing helps to break down many of these barriers, particularly those related to skill gaps, recognition of the importance of mentally healthy workplaces and manager buy-in.
Putting all leaders through Training that is specifically tailored to leaders will provide them with practical skills and know-how to better support their people.
Clarify the role of leaders
All leaders need to understand why and how they are the most crucial ingredients to successfully building a mentally healthy workplace. Many leaders will be inspired by the unique opportunity they have to make a real impact on people’s lives.
Senior leaders need to know that their role is to ensure the structures are in place at an organisational level, such as policy-development. Whereas managers need to understand their role in supporting these policies and what that looks like in practice:
- openly speaking about mental health in the workplace including personal experiences
- providing flexible working conditions
- communicating zero tolerance approach to bullying and discrimination
- treating mental health the same way as physical health and integrating good health and safety management into business decisions
- employees ‘feel seen and heard’ by leadership
- leaders walk the talk and take care of their own wellbeing, as well as giving workers permission to undertake activities to support their own wellbeing.
Leaders need to be aware that the behaviours they model set their employees’ expectations about how they should be behaving in the workplace. If managers are working all hours and coming in when they’re sick – workers will assume that this is what is expected of them by their manager.
All this helps to paint the bigger picture for leaders about just how many factors contribute to employee wellbeing.
Understand how best-practices can be embedded into the fabric of an organisation
Setting up systems and processes in the organisation ensures that a mentally healthy workplace is far more than just a nice-to-have. If no one is accountable for wellbeing, it’s likely to slip to the bottom of everyone’s To Do list when competing with tasks that are connected to KPIs.
What are the consequences of not meeting health and safety goals? Are they as serious as not achieving other goals in the strategy?
If something is really important – it should be important enough to formalise. New research tells us that one of the most influential actions to building a thriving workplace is to make sure that all leaders regularly participate in mental health and wellbeing training by making it an organisation-wide policy.
Policies tell employees that the organisation is showing a real commitment. So the first step is to know which policies have a large impact people’s mental health (such as bullying and harassment, return to work and ensuring workplace change is managed in clear, supportive and positive ways). That can, you can begin flagging this with leadership – and ensure staff are aware of the policies you do have!
The reality is that all policies and practices will have an impact on health – so reviewing all of them through a human-centred lens can help to ensure they best support all people in all circumstances.
See here for information about how to form a Mental health & wellbeing strategy.