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How does mental health factor into the battle for talent?

Article by Jamie Styles, People Director - Koa Health

Poor mental health in the workplace continues to be a significant factor in attracting new employees and attrition. It’s why 68% of millennials and 81% of Gen Z employees leave their jobs behind. Mental health is also a big factor in successful recruitment—a new survey by the American Psychological Association found that 81% of employees prefer to work for an organisation that supports mental health concerns.

As human resources leaders everywhere already know, acquiring talent (and retaining it over time) is paramount to organisational resilience and business success. But without mental health, organisations struggle to hire in and keep valuable staff. Worse still, in a workplace where mental health isn’t prioritised and protected, it’s challenging for the workers who do stay to stay on task and do their jobs. Heightened rates of turnover, difficulty hiring talent to replace outgoing staff, and trouble focusing and getting things done create a vicious cycle that may leave employees feeling like their only means of escape is turning in their notice.

3 ways to embed mental health into your culture and ways of working

Companies, therefore, must carefully consider how to better support workplace mental health. Fortunately, while the learning curve is steep, industry research points to some straightforward first steps to help your organisation embed mental health into your culture and ways of working. 

Bridge the gap between employees and leadership 

The continuing gulf in understanding around mental health between leadership and employees is a larger cultural task that HR teams cannot take on alone. The significant discrepancy between employees’ and leaders’ expectations and perceptions makes effectively addressing employees’ mental wellbeing even more challenging. 

According to industry research from Deloitte, the c-suite both underestimates employees’ mental health struggles by about 25% while overestimating employees’ positive feelings about how leadership handles employee mental health. 

This misalignment makes creating lasting culture change even more challenging, even as people across all ranks continue to struggle with mental health. To bridge this gap, business leaders must first pursue a clearer understanding of what employees are experiencing, then take stock of how existing resources are being used. 

HR managers worldwide have risen to this challenge over the past few years, with many quick to react to growing mental health demand and explore new ways to measure mental wellbeing. However, monitoring wellbeing when working remotely can present additional challenges. 

Create a psychologically safe space

When it comes to safety, too often, employers focus on the purely physical. And ensuring the physical safety of workers is integral to employers’ duty of care. But psychological safety is also a key part of taking care of your people, your business and your reputation. 

Psychological safety enables your workforce to confidently take risks, learn new skills and grow as professionals. It’s a key ingredient in the sort of positive team climate that makes it easy for organisations to attract and retain top talent. It’s also the top predictor of team accomplishments and productivity beyond talent (according to long-term research by Google). But this sort of team climate and individual growth cannot happen when workers don’t feel safe. 

To make matters worse, without a certain level of psychological safety, it’s unlikely employees will feel comfortable using employer-provided mental resources or asking for the help they need.

Leaders who want to improve psychological safety in their workplace should focus on transparency, vulnerability and communication. 

According to psychological safety expert and Harvard Business professor Amy C. Edmondson, this means three things. First, you’ll need to keep employees updated about what’s happening, team and company goals and how they fit into your organisation’s plans. Secondly, it’s essential to call for feedback. Make it clear employee opinions are welcome and make offering input simple and straightforward for everyone—whether that means offering an anonymous form or regular surveys. Finally, and crucially, respond productively to the feedback shared. This means praising efforts (not just outcomes), being honest about mistakes made and fair when delivering consequences for serious misbehaviour. 

A psychologically safe work environment helps staff bring their best selves to work and allows them to feel confident enough to be authentic and fully engage in their work—both qualities linked to lower turnover rates. 

Select and track mental health KPIs 

It’s immensely challenging to protect and prioritise something when you’re not keeping track of it. While most organisations offer some measure of mental health support, it’s often challenging to get a good reading on general levels of mental health and how existing resources are impacting employee and business health. 

When measuring how existing resources impact employee wellbeing and performance, there are a few things to keep in mind. It’s important to remember that metrics are only meaningful when they’re clearly linked to goals and objectives. Try to select key performance indicators that are reflective of those goals and relevant to your organisation. Does it make sense to tie your initiatives to turnover and recruitment? Or are you more concerned with engagement and productivity? 

To collect more of the mental health data that matters most at your company, you may want to try out some new tools, such as regular surveys or anonymous forms. Depending on your organisation’s unique needs, you may also find it helpful to add a question or two around mental health expectations and experiences to employee interviews, annual review sessions and exit counselling. 

Organisations like yours are doing their best to support mental health and wellbeing in their workplaces. Unfortunately, over half of employees still do not feel they’re receiving sufficient support. To attract (and retain) the talent they need to thrive, employers must demonstrate a solid commitment to employees’ mental health and wellbeing by speaking out and taking action.

    Jamie Styles brings over 20 years of experience in Talent, Finance and Human Resources to his role as Global Director of People & Culture at Koa Health.

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