Thought Pieces

Jo Hooper, workplace mental health specialist at Mad And Sad Club, reflects on how employers can demonstrate they care for their people.  

When companies want to do something to improve the wellbeing and satisfaction of their employees, there’s a familiar list of solutions they seem to turn to: free fruit, casual Fridays, subsidised yoga, lunchtime massages…
Now, I’m not one to turn down a free massage, but, on their own, these things are never going to be enough to make people feel truly valued at work, never mind tackle some of the side effects of a busy job, like stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. Companies need to dig a little deeper.
In my experience, what matters most to people is doing a good job and having that recognised. After all, work is a huge part of all of our lives, and jobs in communications can be particularly demanding. Knowing that we’re doing well and are appreciated is a big part of our sense of self-worth and a key component of our wellbeing.

Getting the basics right: empower people
So first of all, businesses must make sure they empower people do a great job – which any sensible employer should really be doing anyway. 
This means thinking about what barriers might be in the way of people’s ability to do their job, and how they can be overcome. Are leaders and managers clear and consistent about what is expected? Are job roles clearly defined? Do people have the resources they need? Do the organisations’ hierarchies help or hinder?
Mental health – which is the particular focus of my work with employers – is another huge factor affecting people’s ability to do their jobs, and one that many companies are gradually waking up to. Employers need to not only understand mental health and its effects, but also make sure that employees are able to talk openly about it if they need to, and take action to improve things. 
Train managers to spot the signs and feel confident to have a conversation with someone they’re worried about. Make sure the HR team understands the effect of contacting someone when they are off work with a mental health issue. Create a clear and simple return to work plan after someone has been off. And give the right support – whether that’s an employee assistance plan, healthcare, or a referral scheme to support services.
Having this sort of support in place helps employees feel valued, that their company cares about them, rather than seeing them as a small cog in a big wheel. This breeds that all-important sense of value and purpose. 

Building a culture of healthy feedback
When people do well, employers must recognise it. It can be as simple as a few words. The difference that comes from a CEO saying: “That was a great piece of work”, before you move on to the next task, can be enough to transform someone’s view of whether their work is meaningful and valued. 
The internal comms team can play a key role in building a culture of healthy feedback and openness when someone is struggling.
Formal ways of recognising outstanding work are a useful part of this – and can go beyond just handing out trophies when someone does something good. Recognition can also be linked to a company’s values, acknowledging when people have lived out those values in the way they behave or relate to others. Seek recommendations from staff themselves on who deserves a tip of the hat, then celebrate publicly those who’ve done well.
Steps like these can go a long way to making everyone in an organisation feel more valued, engaged and motivated.
And if massages are available too? Well, it certainly won’t do any harm.
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