Naturally, November is an ideal month to promote a culture of openness and discuss workplace wellbeing – Stress Awareness Day and Movember both take place and bring the topic to our attention.
However, workplace wellbeing and stress at work are not new concepts and have been the topic on many employees’ minds, particularly post pandemic as many integrate back into the office.
The pandemic made it clear that employers now have (and have always had) a distinct responsibility to ensure they’re creating a comfortable environment for their employees to thrive. Working culture, if not right, can cause stress itself and often consumes parts of people’s lives. Yet work needn’t be a trigger of stress, rather a culture of openness that allows workers to feel comfortable, valued and able to voice their opinions without being judged.
How employers can promote a culture of openness
Business leaders who want to support their employees’ wellbeing at work must first look at their culture. In a healthy environment, the company’s and employee’s needs should sit side by side.
There are however instances where employees are unwilling to speak about their personal needs at work. The results of our recent research supports this – we found that one in every three working people in the UK do not feel comfortable talking about their problems while at work.
Closed cultures where employees refrain from sharing their problems make it increasingly difficult for employers to notice when someone is in need of support. Our research discovered that one in five would be unable to identify a colleague who was experiencing stress at work. That percentage is far too high. If employees’ peers cannot notice when they’re experiencing stress, it’s even less likely that the individual will reach out for support.
In order to reverse this, organisations must foster a culture of openness. There are several ways to do this. On a basic level, managers need to make it very clear to their team that any challenges to wellbeing will not affect their positions in their respective organisations. They should, in fact, encourage the opposite. People who tell their employers more about their needs will avoid burnout and other problems that might force them to stop work.
Companies should also draw employees away from the traditional hierarchical structures to discuss their lives. People tend to connect their managers with their work; pairing them with mentors or buddies from other parts of the business can work better. They may feel more comfortable sharing their concerns without the fear that their revelations might affect their status at work.
Why employers should enable flexible working
Once an organisation’s working culture has become more open, its leadership team will be able to better identify their employees’ pain points. They can then introduce effective solutions. There is, however, a broad solution that employers can introduce now to place the power in their employees’ hands. It removes the need to identify them in the first place, so employees can make decisions for themselves.
That solution is flexible working, and it directly addresses one of the biggest problems in workplace culture today: Stress. One third of participants in our study labelled ‘maintaining a work/life balance’ as the most stressful thing about work. It’s clear that UK workers feel a lack of flexibility in their working week and want more power to choose.
Employers can allow more ‘flexible working’ arrangements in several ways, and there is no one set arrangement that will work for every organisation. It’s important to remember that any new arrangement can begin as a trial too. Many employers fear even trying a new arrangement in case it affects company productivity in the long term, but it doesn’t need to be a long-term commitment from the offset.
Employers must recognise that mental health in the workplace has become as much their responsibility as it is a personal one. It’s imperative that they foster an open working culture if employees are to feel comfortable sharing their problems – those problems will then become easier to identify and address. But they shouldn’t wait until more specific problems become apparent. Introducing flexible working that gives employees more power over their working lives can be quick and just as effective.