Organisations must consider how they can help employees ‘flourish’ and bring energy to their roles, and move on from simply reacting to some of the mental health struggles that have emerged during the pandemic.
This was the consensus among the workplace wellbeing experts who spoke at this week’s The Watercooler conference in London, who encouraged employers to maintain the empathetic approach they took at the height of the pandemic, whilst generating an energetic, engaged and productive workforce.
Geoff McDonald, a mental health awareness campaigner and co-founder of consultancy Minds@Work, said that work can be good for individuals, but many employees are “frazzled” as their workplaces have taken away “the most critical enabler of performance” – their “energy”.
“We talk about people being our most important asset, but let’s stop that. Let’s talk about the energy of people being the most important asset in organisations,” said McDonald.
“We cannot be energised if we are not healthy; physically, mentally, emotionally, and having a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. If energy and wellbeing is such a critical enabler of performance, why is it not a strategic priority in every workplace? Not just in the HR function or health and safety, but a priority in the executive suite.”
Mental health and wellbeing
Employees want to have “purpose” in their roles, and this can have huge benefits for their wellbeing and will help them flourish. However, organisations were warned that those who felt their work was damaging for their mental health would struggle to see how they fit in to the bigger picture.
“People who are flourishing are much more likely to see purpose in their roles,” said Dr Chris Tomkins, head of wellbeing at insurance provider AXA Health. “If you can support them to flourish they will reward you with their energy.”
He said that employers should be more proactive about helping people develop the skills and competencies to flourish.
“We need to, because unfortunately the UK is leading the way in poor mental health. We have the most people struggling, compared to other countries” said Tomkins, referencing an AXA study into the post-pandemic mental health of employees.
“It’s not just about the individual, it’s about the culture they exist in. We need to make sure people have the right, expert support when they need it.”
However, Dr Wolfgang Seidl, workplace health consulting leader at Mercer Marsh Benefits, said employers must not forget the trauma some employees experienced at the height of the pandemic.
“Many people did suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder during the pandemic, not least because the spent long periods of time [on their own] in intensive care units, in domestic violence or other traumatic events, but most people suffered some sort of pain on a different level,” he said.
“Very often we describe a continuum with flourishing on one side and deep depression on the other, and most people at the moment are languishing in the middle.”
Uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living has weighed heavily on individuals, said author and humanitarian Terry Waite.
“Since Covid more and more people are being diagnosed with mental illnesses and the suicide rate particularly among young people has gone up sharply. That tells you that we’re living with uncertainty … and somehow we’re not coping with [it].”
Waite said that people are sometimes treated “brutally” at work and unfairness often happens in the workplace, but “somehow we have to develop that inner capacity to withstand that”.