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The Big Idea: How to build happier (and more productive) workplaces

Many companies offer workplace perks, but looking after staff mental health can pay even bigger dividends.

GYMS, HEALTH CHECKS and free food – they’re among the perks that some firms are using to lure the best staff and get the most from their workers.

But employers are only starting to wake up to the business benefits of making similar investments in the mental health of workers, according to an award-winning Irish social enterprise.

MyMind, which uses any profits to deliver free or discounted mental-health services to some of its clients, launched the MyMind at Work initiative late last year to promote wellbeing on the job.

Project manager Tess Brady told TheJournal.ie that most Irish companies were only starting to recognise the good business case for making workers’ mental health a priority.

“It is important in terms of productivity and motivation – there will always be a deadline, there are always be challenges at work, but we find that we can give individuals the tools to engage with those things in a more positive way and deal with them better,” she said.

Research has shown employees who experience a lot of stress at work are much more likely to be disengaged and take extra sick days.

They are also more prone to “presenteeism” – spending the required time at work but being unproductive and disinterested in their jobs.

Stress not a source of pride

Brady said workplace stress was still seen as a badge of honour in some high-pressure environments, an approach which was counterproductive to getting the best from staff.

“All of the research has shown that happy, more engaged employees are more productive workers as well,” she said.

MyMind Employee Mental Wellbeing info Session-6 MyMind's Nicole Paulie (left), Tess Brady and Krystian Fikert

Tech companies like Google which put high importance on innovation had been at the forefront of movement to look after employees’ mental health, Brady said.

There has been a reluctance for engaging with mental wellbeing for fear of appearing that it might show some underlying problems in a company. I think we are seeing a change – that people are starting to move away from this kind of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell approach’.”

While companies would never remove workplace stress altogether, the programme was about equipping workers with tools to better deal with pressure.

MyMind’s approach was to teach general stress-reduction techniques and promote basic, healthy lifestyle choices like getting enough sleep and eating right.

Another key element was communication – equipping managers with the “soft skills” to reduce friction between themselves and staff.

Brady said actively promoting good emotional health had a “trickle-down effect” through an organisation which meant employees would also work better in teams and towards common goals.

It may be that people realise that they can be a little more open at work. The idea is that these things become embedded into the corporate structure – knowing that they are valued are really important for working together as a team,” she said.

My Mind Employee Mental Wellbeing info Session-8

Four ways to boost workplace wellbeing and teamwork

1. Check in

This doesn’t have to be a formal process, but ask other team members regularly how they are going – this helps to build an “inclusive” work environment

2. Keep the door open

Managers should make sure their staff know they have a boss who is available to listen and who is approachable. Just being aware there is a willing ear on hand can help stressed workers

3. A social office is a productive office

Research shows happy workers perform better than those who are unhappy, or just ambivalent about their jobs. Create an inclusive workplace where employees also want to spend time together socially – encourage shared lunch breaks or a social committee to organise out-of-office activities

4. Understand the many sources of stress

The reasons for stress aren’t always obvious and may have nothing to do with work. Spending enough time with people to find out what is causing their problems can help managers put together a solution

All this month, as part of TheJournal.ie’s ongoing small and medium enterprise (SME) focus, we have been looking at how setting goals and getting staff working together can deliver the best results for a business. To read more articles in the series, click HERE.

READ: Business Poll: What is the best way to keep staff motivated on the job? >

READ: These were the bumper industries for Irish startups last year >

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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