Celebrating the athletes destigmatising mental health leave

Simone Biles’ decision to pull out of the Olympic team gymnastics finals to focus on her mental health makes her the most recent in a spate of athletes dismantling the stigma around putting themselves and their mental wellbeing above their career.

During the tennis season, we saw Naomi Osaka drop out of the French Open because of the effect press conferences have on her wellbeing and Emma Raducanu withdraw from Wimbledon following breathing difficulties, possibly a symptom of an anxiety attack, during her match.

Although there has been some backlash, especially in the case of Biles and Osaka who have openly cited mental health issues, all three athletes have received a general outpouring of support and blown open the conversation around prioritising mental health over work.

Most of us are not on an international stage at work, but mental health issues can still affect anyone. It is time for mental wellbeing related sick leave to be destigmatised. The past year has been difficult for everyone and has highlighted the importance of employers being compassionate and understanding of issues surrounding mental wellbeing.

Everyone can learn from Osaka, Biles and Raducanu and the support that their sponsors and coaches have shown them. By accepting mental health problems and allowing employees to take time off as they would with a physical illness, employers can help employees rest and access the help that they need early on before matters deteriorate further.

As well as early intervention minimising the amount of time the employee may need to take off work, these actions will make them feel valued and cared for in a time of need, boosting job satisfaction and reinforcing that mental health problems are common and not something to feel ashamed of.

Elite athletes and regular employees all face pressure and expectations, and this can take a serious toll on mental health. We live in an era with a scientific understanding of mental health issues that proves that they are as valid as physical ailments. Going forwards, this needs to be reflected by employers all over the world as ensuring employee mental wellbeing is protected and understood is far more effective than forcing people to lie or work through it, and we should all be celebrating the athletes helping to promote this.

Ending Discrimination Culture in the Workplace

In her bestselling book You Do You(ish), TEDx speaker and career coach, Erin Hatzikostas, wrote: “Stop seeing it as office politics and start seeing it as office partnerships.”

Such a sentiment is borne out by research by the organisation Women in Banking and Finance (WIBF), who as part of their strategic plan have a Men As Allies strand, recently tasked with finding potential steps to take to improve gender balance in the office.

The business case for gender balance in leadership roles is compelling. As McKinsey’s 2018 study Delivering Through Diversity showed, companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

Well go figure! Long ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton, no less, said: “When women participate in the economy everyone benefits.”

New research by LSE and WIBF has shone more light on this subject. Interviews with 79 City of London women revealed that they felt they needed to show sustained excellence in order to progress; faced more scrutiny than male peers; and mediocre male managers were blocking their development because they were more adept at office politics.

A quarter of the women in the survey were black who said they needed to work harder to receive the same recognition as men and white women. McKinsey’s 2018 study also found that for ethnic and cultural diversity, top-quartile companies were 33% more likely to outperform on profitability. This confirms that diversity is correlated to financial performance.

A shift must happen. Board rooms and senior leadership teams need to be more representative to help inspire future generations of talent by building in diversity from the ground up. It will help dispel workplace toxicity.

There are a number of different strategies that can also be adopted, including sourcing talent from diverse educational institutions; rethinking essential requirements in job descriptions to avoid deterring applicants; and working with recruiters or talent sourcing companies with shared values.

A workplace with an underlying culture of discrimination is storing up trouble. It will be difficult to recruit and retain talent and attract and keep business, investment or customers. Mediocre managers, male or female, fuel the fire. They create barriers to open communication and inclusivity when employees should be able to speak up, share their views, offer ideas, be valued, recognised and rewarded, which engenders a positive company culture – but only if leadership acts on it. Peer to peer recognition is also statistically proven to have a positive effect on employee performance and happiness.

Earlier this year Wrkit, spoke to a female business leader about her experience. She advised mentoring between genders and female-female to unlock impact and create alliances. She concluded: “Leaders, whether male or female, need to open the doors wider to give women that chance to prove themselves. When we do this more often, I believe the culture will be enriched for our doing so.”

Will the reopening bring an increase in financial anxiety?

For many employees, the last year and a half has seen a significant reduction in the amount of work-related expenditure, such as commuting and buying lunch when in the office. As well as this, the enforced closure of leisure, retail and hospitality means that spending outside of work may also have decreased.

As the UK reopens at various paces, there is likely to be financial worries on the horizon as people need to pay for their petrol or public transport to get to the workplace, food when they are at work in addition to having money to live and rebuild social lives.

Financial stress can hit anyone at any point – for some it has been a constant throughout the pandemic, and anxieties around money can have a direct impact on overall mental health and wellbeing. As we navigate another huge change to people’s lives, employers need to know how they can support their staff if money troubles arise in the coming weeks and months.

Let employees know you are there to help

Fostering a culture within your workplace in which employees know they can have confidential and non-judgmental conversations with the HR team or equivalent, should they be facing financial problems is essential in supporting employees.

Communicate to employees that you understand what they may be going through and inform them that there are people that they can trust ready to listen and help whenever they need it.

Offer financial wellness and personal finance training

Providing on-demand resources or seminar-style training sessions on personal finance management will help employees to manage their money more effectively, leading to a more positive mindset when dealing with finances.

If employees feel like they are more financially secure, their overall satisfaction and mental health can improve and they are more likely to feel satisfied, valued and fairly paid in their job.

Implement a savings benefits programme

By adding a savings programme, such as Wrkit’s Lifestyle Savings, to your benefits offering, you can actively help employees to spend less money. Savings can be made on both essential, practical expenses, such as fuel and insurance, and lifestyle costs such as travel, fashion and entertainment.

A savings programme is a simple benefit to offer to employees that will make them feel like their employer is taking care of them outside of work, improving overall job satisfaction.

Financial struggles can be incredibly detrimental to people’s mental health, and by recognising this and acknowledging that the ending of current Covid restrictions could exacerbate these types of issues, employers will go a long way in protecting their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

Why learning opportunities are an essential employee benefit

Giving employees learning and development opportunities is something that will not only benefit employees but also businesses. By giving workers the chances and tools to constantly upskill, they can build on existing skills and learn new ones, helping them to excel in current roles and progress within the business. In addition to this, championing employee development will make staff feel engaged, motivated and supported, driving satisfaction and retention.

Research from professional services giant, Deloitte, found that 14% of millennials and 19% of Gen Z in 2021 are concerned about the education, skills and training opportunities available to them following the pandemic, increased by 8% and 46% respectively from the previous year. As these generations are the ones firms need to appeal to now and in the coming years to recruit, it is crucial that they are implementing employee benefits offerings and opportunities that recognise and cater to millennial and Gen Z concerns and preferences.

Learning is now more important than ever, in part due to the younger generations’ desires, but also because the pandemic has caused a shift in priorities and learning and development may have slipped down the agenda of importance for many businesses. Companies that previously put on informal training sessions in the office may have become unable to replicate these or wanted to avoid requiring employees to spend extra time on video calls to limit Zoom fatigue. In addition, many people were working away from their colleagues, giving them fewer chances to interact and learn from one another.

Although learning sessions directly related to employees’ jobs is beneficial, employers can also support their staff in achieving healthier work-life balances by creating opportunities to learn things that aren’t work-related.

April Bembridge, Partner and Chief People Officer at business advisory and accounting firm, Cooper Parry, says that Wrkit’s Learning module, which is part of the company’s employee benefits offering, is one of the best parts of the platform.

April said: “A “keep learning” mentality is central to our company values, and this is supported by the learning modules offered by Wrkit. If you want to learn anything, from cooking, to improving wellbeing, to coding, chances are you can search it on the platform and find a course, which is just fantastic.”

Allowing employees to develop personally as well as professionally is an indicator of a business that truly cares about its employees and acknowledges the importance of having a life and skillset outside of the workplace.

To give your employees the chance to learn and develop in all areas of their lives, supporting overall mental health and wellbeing, visit https://wrkit.com/products/learning or request a demo today.

Returning to five days in the office will undo progress in promoting work-life balance

Despite the push back of the lifting of all remaming Covid restrictions, employers world-wide are starting to consider their long-term stance on working from home. Predictions from think tank, Centre for Cities, are that the five-day office week will be the norm again within two years.

However this may have damaging implications that on employee wellbeing, especially as many have now reached a sufficent work-life balance. 

The prediction of a return to a five-day office working week might be premature, while we are seeing a large majority of workers come out in favour of the hybrid system of work. There are a lot of hurdles that those returning to work face, especially over the anxiety of a busy morning commute that will force them to rejuggle their schedules to account for the extra time.

Additionally, workers now have over a year of experience working from home, which has for many allowed them to adapt a healthy work-life balance, one that they are at risk of losing when returning to  five days a week in the workplace.

For many, the practical benefits of easier childcare, reduced commuting stress, better sleep and increased time at home will be something they are not prepared to forgo for the sake of their improved overall wellbeing. Furthermore, a number of teams and businesses have found they can produce work of the same, if not better, quality and quantity from home.

Now that businesses and staff have this insight into what real work-life balance can look like, we anticipate there being more reluctance than has been predicted to simply going back to how things were before the pandemic.

This is not to say that returning to the office doesn’t bring with it advantages, including being able to build working relationships between coworkers in person, but for some this does not outweigh the negaitvies. Employers should take into account the prefereances of each employee and not rush or force those to return to the workplace if they are as happy and productive working from home.

To find out more about how Wrkit can support your company with its employee wellbeing and wellness strategy, visit www.wrkit.com.

Ideas for workplace fun in the sun – hopefully!

Workplace culture is one of the top factors linked to employee happiness. That and the fact that any job is all about the people and engaged teams produce results.

It is also very important that colleagues get on and work together well to be productive, effective and fulfilled, and while friendship can’t be forced, social connections need to be encouraged and woven into a company’s culture to help employees get to know each other outside their roles, to build strong teams and increase employee engagement and communication.

With summer here and lockdown restrictions being eased, people might not have to endure too many Zoom office quizzes! We can now go outside – if the weather is clement and take a break in our daily routine, especially if that routine has been Microsoft Teams from the box bedroom in the back of your house.

Being social doesn’t have to revolve around booze either and there are many ways and means of organising social activities to ensure they are inclusive. Define the goals and then establish the budget, who the planning team is and whether some of the activities are compulsory or not. Choose a date that everyone can make and get it into the diary as early as possible. Chose an activity that everyone can participate in and then build the excitement.

A good way is for staff themselves to brainstorm and come up with some ideas and then survey the most popular. And the activities themselves are almost limitless, although budget dependent. But given it’s summer going outside is an easy first step. We all benefit from unplugging from technology, being able to breath and rejuvenate in nature.

Rambling with packed lunches or hill walking or orienteering with a pub drink as a reward are easy fun activities, as are high ropes adventures in beautiful trees. Scavenger or treasure hunts and ‘geoteching’ are great for team building too. 

It’s also Olympics year, so why not create your own company version and compete in various games of skill – it doesn’t have to be the shot put or the 110 metre hurdles, just let your creativity run wild and  remember to consider skill levels!

It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the UK that if we’ve already have had our quota of sunny days this year, but don’t let that stop you. There are scores of places to have fun and team build such as ball game venues offering table tennis, pool, crazy golf and beer pong, or escape room challenges (no irony meant), or go-karting. There is of course still fun to be had in the rain!

It doesn’t have to be all high-energy or competitive either. Many companies choose karaoke nights, chocolate making classes or cocktail masterclasses to have fun and build camaraderie. Or how about team lunches, a gentle picnic or a summer paella party?

To foster a good workplace culture, a supportive and open environment, office getaways or activity days shouldn’t be a tagged on after thought to company policy or even limited to the summer months. Many companies implement weekly or monthly activities like board game tournaments, office quizzes or just beers and pizza in the boardroom.

Bottom line though, after the year we’ve had, companies should make it a priority for employees to spend quality time together. It will help relationships blossom and bring the workplace together.

Introducing – The New & Improved POWR Dashboard

Staff wellbeing has, understandably, been an extremely important consideration for businesses as workplace stress levels continue to rise, which can create a variety of problems for businesses and individuals alike.

Particularly as many businesses are likely to make the permanent shift to hybrid, or even fully remote, working, it has arguably never been more crucial for companies to be able to monitor, measure and manage their staff wellbeing, in order to ensure morale stays high and employee recognition remains a priority even outside the traditional office environment. On this note, it is also critically important that staff are provided with the tools and support they need to take charge of their own wellbeing, particularly if working remotely.

It is for this reason that we have launched our brand-new and improved POWR dashboard, [TO1] which has been built from the ground up to help employees manage their wellbeing, as well as allow companies and HR departments achieve a far higher degree of insight into how their staff fare over time in the various areas of wellbeing – specifically work, sleep, activity, mind, food and life.

At its core, POWR is an online resource which replicates a professional health consultancy experience, which can provide employees with immediate guidance and support in a number of areas such as emotional wellbeing, psychological health and even personal development.

From data gathered via intuitive staff questionnaires, POWR is able to measure an employee’s health and wellbeing, and from there create a personalised health plan using the 400+ plans already on file, as well as provide support over time including instant access to external clinical support if needed. This support comes at a significantly lower cost-per-head, and higher engagement rate, compared with other Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP).

Of course, staff needs do not remain static, but rather change over time in line with the makeup of the workforce. Crucially, the dashboard also accommodates for this, allowing companies to monitor wellness data in real time and continually update their benefits provision accordingly.

Specifically, the POWR dashboard provides organisations with aggregated data at both an individual and team level, including comprehensive stats on both engagement and impact. Through this, business leaders and HR departments are able to identify real-time trends and specific issues, to help enhance wellness programmes to the benefit of employee and employer alike.

By making use of POWR, businesses can significantly reduce the cost of absenteeism – which cost UK businesses £14 billion in 2020 alone – and improve staff resilience, morale and overall performance. Furthermore, investing in tools such as this, which have the needs of employees front of mind, demonstrates a commitment to a healthy workplace, improving employer brand and increasing both employee attraction and retention rates. As employee expectations, and the world of work more widely, continues to evolve following the seismic events of the past year, it is crucial that businesses keep up with these changes if they are to attract and retain the top industry talent and, more importantly, keep their staff happy, productive and healthy in the months to come.

Getting Office Workers Moving

Thanks to research commissioned by office equipment business, Fellowes, images of Emma, The Office Worker of the Future, have emerged in the press as a warning of what could happen if employers fail to give employees adequate physical wellbeing support.

The gruesome life-sized mannequin represents the way office workers may look in 20 years if there isn’t more done to encourage better workstation setups, posture and getting a good level of exercise. Emma’s permanently bent back, varicose veins, rotund stomach and dry, red eyes serve a stark reminder of the consequences of poor workplace health.

With the return to a more normal working pattern imminent, employers must encourage employees to look after their physical wellbeing. In our Work From Home Survey, UK-based employees scored agreement with the affirmation “I get more exercise at home” 6.9/10, versus 5.7/10 worldwide. As people spend less time at home and more time in the office, there is a real risk of exercise levels declining, which will impact overall health.

What is the solution?

Office work is sedentary by nature, but that doesn’t mean employees should be sat down for eight hours a day. Whether it’s putting on lunchtime yoga, starting a walking group or signposting relevant resources, employers can encourage their workforce to stay healthy and active.

Wrkit’s Move product promotes and supports exercising at home, on the move, in the garden and even in the office. The platform hosts a huge range of activity choices, from quick desk stretches to full body conditioning sessions and there is something to suit those at every level.

The on-demand video classes are led by qualified professionals and are ‘always on’, so employees can move at the times which suit their personal schedule.

As well as supporting physical health, the mental benefits of exercise are well documented. Taking short movement breaks throughout the day, such as two-minute deskercise sessions, will promote healthier work schedules with an adequate amount of breaks, which only 29% of people currently report taking.

To avoid developing a workplace full of Emmas and promote a healthy and happy workforce, employers must do more in encouraging employees to take care of their physical health. Implementing exercise or movement into employee wellbeing and workplace health strategies should be a priority in the return to the office.

To find out more about Wrkit’s Move module and how it could help your workforce, visit this page or request a demo here.

How To Get Staff To Unplug From Work: A Guide For Employers

Jason Brennan, Director of Leadership and Wellness at Wrkit says a healthy work-life balance requires us to being able to ‘unplug’ from work – how can employers support staff to make this happen?

The recent criticisms from young Goldman Sachs employees over how they are expected to work 95 hours a week have highlighted a dangerous attitude towards what constitutes a healthy work-life balance. In fact in a recent survey conducted across 46 countries, 89% of respondents said their work-life balance was getting worse, while 85% said their wellbeing has declined, highlighting that this issue is not only global but is also growing.

One of the key issues surrounding employees’ inability to maintain a healthy work-life balance is not being able to ‘unplug’ from work.

Slacked off?

The development of digital technologies has indisputably changed the way we work, and while it may have revolutionised the way we live in many positive ways, it has made it fundamentally harder for workers to unplug themselves while on a break or after leaving the office. As most people continue to carry access to their work email inboxes and other communications tools like Slack, around with them, it can be tempting to carry on working, and to be seen to be working, outside of contracted hours.

This issue has only increased as many of us have been working from home, as it has become harder to separate work-life and home life when they exist in the same space. This problem is likely to continue with the extension of the work from home order and businesses such as HSBC making the work from home switch a permanent one for significant parts of the workforce.

Impacts on psyche

While businesses may originally believe that this increase in the amount of work people are doing is a positive, as it should increase output, it can actually have the adverse effect on productivity. The specific inability to unplug ourselves from our devices has led to proven impacts on workers’ psyche, including being linked to raising stress levels and increasing social anxiety. All of which can negatively affect productivity.

An unhealthy work-life balance and an inability to arrange time to de-stress can lead to employee burn out, which is often linked to serious mental health issues. In turn, this increase is having a significant impact on businesses, with mental health absences thought to cost the UK economy £26 billion per year.

89% of respondents said their work-life balance was getting worse

Helping employees to limit their work-based technology use outside of working hours can help with brain recovery that a Kansas State University study linked to a reduction in stress. Diminishing an employees’ ‘downtime’ outside of work reduces the time allowed for the brain to recover. Managers and directors should be leading by example and seeking to only contact employees outside of work hours in the case of emergency.

Excessive technological use, especially when it is tied to stress such as in a work capacity can also affect a person’s ability to maintain a healthy sleeping schedule. Reduction in sleep can increase the likelihood of mental health complications and will make it harder for employees to carry out their work-related tasks to a high standard.

Additionally, facilitating a working environment that promotes ‘unplugging’ from work can actually help employees to improve their focus. Employees who are trying to juggle both a home and work life simultaneously will have their focus split, which will increase their chances of making mistakes at work and quality of work can suffer. A 2013 study revealed those who have a greater tendency to multi-task are actually less skilled at it than those who multitask infrequently. Putting policies in place that allow for employees to separate work and home will inevitably result in a more focused and productive workforce.

Encouragement needed

It is good practice for employers to reassure their workforce of the importance of wellbeing and emphasise that their mental health should come first. Employees who are reassured that their employment doesn’t rest upon working in excess of what has been asked of them are more likely to use their downtime to unplug and unwind from work. These practices can also make employees more committed to their place of employment if they believe they are being placed before output.

Additionally, making sure your working environment is built around this idea, and that burnout practices don’t become part of the work or office culture will encourage employees to balance their commitments in a healthy way. This includes offering flexible working hours and employee benefits so that employees will feel valued and that their needs are being heard.

Finally, while there has been a shift to working from home, as lockdown restrictions start to ease there is also a need for workplaces to incorporate ‘unplugging’ measures into office spaces. That can include simple workplace modifications, such as providing office space away from desks for employees to take their lunch breaks so they will be less tempted to work through lunch, giving their brain time to recover.

The importance that investment into employee wellbeing and employee health can have for a business in preventing burnout, increasing productivity and also improving long-term employee retention cannot be understated. There are plenty of small changes that can be made to a working environment that will make a noticeable difference to your workforce’s satisfaction and mental health, that subsequently will help to improve employee commitment overall.

How Can Employers Help Staff Develop A Resilient Mindset?

Resilience at work has been a growing topic for the past few years as workplace stress levels continue to rise and present a myriad of problems for businesses and individuals. Training in resilience is an increasingly popular aspect of employee development to empower employees to overcome work stress, persevere in the face of adversity and be able to bounce back.

Although resilience training is beneficial for employee wellbeing and mental health, businesses should really be focusing on tackling the root cause of stress, which often lies in how we work. A major contributing factor to burnout is the perception that long working days equal productive working days, which has only been amplified while workforces are at home and employees feel added pressure to prove they are present.

Working hours that extend into the evenings and weekends, the time which should be dedicated to unwinding, will inevitably lead to burnout, no matter how resilient the person is.

Despite this, resilience training should undoubtedly be part of companies’ mixed wellness offerings. Employers can help employees develop resilience skills through the practice of regular time out, unhooking from tech at times, creating space between meetings and allowing staff to take time during the day to spend on self-focus – perhaps going for a walk or having some quiet time to unwind.

Employees can take an active part in developing their own resilient mindsets by discussing what is working well and driving optimisation with senior members of staff and by reframing challenging situations to look like a learning opportunity, and a way to grow and develop as an individual and as a business.

This “growth mindset” should be central in resilience training and can be encouraged through regular catch up and discussion sessions, and clarity around future plans will help to create more security. On the other hand, lack of dialogue and planning will lead to fixed mindsets within the business.

Beyond resilience training, employers should support their employees in achieving a sustainable work-life balance through exploring processes which will alleviate the intensity of work and reduce employee stress, which is often the root of workplace stress and mental health issues. This could include reviewing email policies and ensuring communication from managers is limited, if not completely eradicated, outside of working hours so leaders are demonstrating a healthy work and life balance.

Employers can also look at hybrid home working models to give staff greater control of their work schedule and having mental health first aiders available in the case that workers need further care and advice.

Wrkit specialises in the creation of better, healthier working environments. To speak to an Engagement Specialist about alleviating workplace stress and burnout and to explore options for resilience training, visit www.wrkit.com.