Employee mental health has long been understood as a vital ingredient in building a healthy and productive workplace. Just as employees need to be physically well to work at their best, poor mental health in the form of stress, anxiety, depression, and other conditions can become a significant barrier to performance. 

As Australian business leaders return to the office, many are doing so with a renewed focus on supporting their employees’ psychological wellbeing. Liferay has seen first hand the value that prioritising employee mental health can deliver for individuals, departments, and the organisation. To further explore what businesses can do as we approach a post-COVID new normal, we sat down with Liferay’s General Manager of Australia and New Zealand, Calvin Lynch, to get his perspective on how organisations can continue to provide for their employees, so they can continue to deliver for them. 

Ways to Support Your Employees' Mental Health

1. Begin with Empathy

Supporting employee mental health takes a considered approach, but more vital in Calvin’s opinion than any tool or process is the right mindset. Underpinning all of your efforts to protect and improve your employees’ mental health must be a genuine empathy, one that recognises the individual and any unique challenges they may be facing. 

“Empathy is really important because we don't know what's happened to an individual before they jump on a video call with you. They may have had a call from a family member and come back a little stressed. So when someone comes to a video meeting, it’s important to remember that they may have got themselves hyped up for that meeting or they’re putting on a strong and brave and stoic face. That’s where it’s important to practise empathy,” Calvin said. 

Liferay’s focus on empathy as a crucial part of their response to COVID-19 is supported by a number of studies. A 2020 study of more than 3,900 employees and business leaders across 11 nations, by the Workforce Institute at UKG, found that only one in five employees felt their organisation met their needs during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, nearly a third of all employees wanted more empathy from their organisations during these trying times, indicating that what employees want more than anything is an understanding of the different ways in which a crisis can affect different people. 

Bringing that empathy into practice is essential. Simple changes like dedicating a portion of your meeting with a team member to talking about their day or making a proactive effort to follow up on a conversation you had can go a long way to helping staff feel that their emotions are being respected. 

"Most importantly, by purposefully taking a ‘How can I help you?’ attitude to each meeting you'll be surprised with how much you'll learn about someone and challenges they face," Calvin said. 

That empathy is crucial to creating what’s called psychological safety. Defined as the belief that you won’t be punished for making a mistake, psychological safety is crucial not only for employees’ wellbeing – helping to avoid a culture of blame and fear – but for fostering creativity and productivity within the organisation. 

“For us, psychological safety, what that really means is, ‘Is that employee able to bring their best selves to work, and by that, their true selves to work?’,” Calvin said.

“It's not only important for the employees' mental health; it's actually also important for things like innovation, success, and really just growing a business.”

It’s a tried and tested tactic around the globe. Businesses as diverse as Google and IDEO have championed the importance of psychological safety as a key metric for measuring the likely effectiveness of a team, which makes nurturing it in your organisation a key area of focus for any leader. 

2. Communication Remains Key

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded in Australia in March 2020, businesses and employees had to rapidly adapt to entirely new ways of working and living. These rapid changes led to significant uncertainty in the general public, creating additional stress on top of the fear of exposure to a then-unknown virus. 

For many Australians, this uncertainty was focused on their employment. In a survey conducted by Indeed, nearly half of all employees working from home and a third of those working from the office expressed concern about losing their job. 

As such, Calvin believes that leaders must intervene early and often, providing the transparency and clarity of communication that employees need to feel confident about where they stand in relation to their employer. 

“It's really important for leaders to provide a sense of clarity. Because of the pandemic, many organisations have been unsure if they can meet their financial goals. As a result, employees in these organisations are experiencing additional unspoken stress, the fear that they may lose their jobs, or that they may have to reduce their benefits or pay. That psychological stress is something that employers need to understand and be very clear around when communicating with their employees,” he said. 

3. Lay the Material Foundation for Success 

Communication is a two-way street, however. Employers need a detailed and real-time understanding of employee frustrations and anxieties in order to appropriately communicate around them. It’s here that Calvin has found value in deploying technological solutions, but any platform roll out needs to be carefully considered and aligned to the communication needs of the business. 

“When looking at a technological stack, it's important for managers to look at what those tools need to achieve. They first need to create a line from top to bottom within an organisation: from the executive leadership team, all the way down to the frontline employee. That's what you need to consider first: Do the tools we're looking to implement allow leaders to maintain a pulse on the business?” he said.

“As an example, we push regular surveys – ‘pulse surveys’ as we call them – via our platform. And so what that does is, it gives the employees a voice on our overarching global strategy, our regional strategy, our departmental strategy, and on the challenges that employees face in executing in their role." 

These platforms can also be core drivers of employee empowerment. By providing a single point of truth for the entire organisation, employees can easily understand the goals they’re working towards, how their work contributes to the goals, and access the tools needed to support achieving those goals. 

“With self-service tools, they don't need to wait on somebody else who may be offline in a different region or overseas. They have a go-to place, a living workspace where they can go for just-in-time information when they need it. That not only empowers employees to determine what work they need to go forward and achieve, but also empowers them to deliver,” Calvin said.

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4. Don’t Discount the Human Element 

While self-service tools can streamline the feedback process and help tie different sections of an organisation together, it’s vital not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Just as many employers are concerned that permanent, universal remote work could have a detrimental impact on team cohesion, Calvin warned that excessive reliance on intermediary tools has the potential to automate away all of the things that help employees truly feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

“Interestingly though is that in implementing these systems, we organically reduce some of that to-and-fro communication where teams are often forged and built. So then you fix one problem, but create another,” he said.

While these platforms offer significant value to organisations, they will not always be the best tool for a given situation. The solution is simple – consider the timing of deployment and be mindful of the tools you choose, ensuring you understand the strengths, drawbacks and implications of each. 

“We always say that if something takes more than two or three exchanges via intranet, Slack, or email, pick up the phone or jump on a video call,” Calvin said. 

“At least that way, you don't remove that sense of camaraderie that is built in from workshopping solutions together.”

Next Steps for Supporting Your Employees’ Mental Health

Nurturing employee mental health within your business is an ongoing process. Just like providing a physically safe work environment, creating a workplace that protects and nourishes psychological wellbeing requires regular recommitment and constant attention. However, the benefits are substantial, helping to drive productivity and boost engagement. 

Part of building that environment is providing the right tools to keep your staff connected to their customers, leadership, and each other. Find out how a modern intranet can help you stay connected with other employees.

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