We spend an average of 8 hours a day at work. That’s one-third of our whole lives. No matter how you spin it, our work is almost literally our second home. For this reason, we need to create workplaces that are not just neutral terrains, but sources of wellbeing.
Why workplaces need to focus on wellbeing and thriving
Work and the workplace have changed fundamentally in the last few decades – particularly since the start of the pandemic - and so have our expectations of them. Job security, fair wages, and safe working conditions are absolutely essential in meeting our most basic needs. These factors alone, however, are no longer enough.
Research shows that millennials and Gen Z-ers demand more flexibility and autonomy at work. They favour employers that care about their wellbeing and take work-life balance seriously. This doesn’t come as a surprise – a recent study by Project Healthy Minds shows that 2 out of 3 Gen Z respondents are emotionally exhausted or burned out. Almost half of the respondents indicated experiencing anxiety every day. Yet work-related stress and burnout aren’t confined to younger generations alone; 75% of US workers reported having experienced burnout, with 40% saying they’ve experienced burnout specifically during the pandemic.
When employees aren’t healthy and well neither are their organisations. The prevalence of mental ill-health in the workplace inhibits performance, innovation, and sales, costing employers billions each year in lost productivity and absenteeism. Gen Z-ers, in particular, are also more likely to buy from businesses that are known to support their employees’ mental health than from those that don’t. In other words, wellbeing matters for all stakeholders and is both of ethical and financial interest.
Mental ill-health also impacts how we show up, connect, and collaborate with our co-workers. Emotional states and wellbeing, after all, don’t just live within us – they are highly contagious. As sociologists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler concluded in their research, “emotion travels over social networks in much the same way viruses do”. Mental wellbeing is at the root of healthy organisational cultures and must, therefore, be addressed at the organisational level.
What does it mean to thrive?
Younger generations expect work to be somewhere that they are not just able to survive, but also to thrive. Literature defines thriving as “a psychological state characterised jointly by learning and vitality” – i.e. a state of having the means, energy, support, and resources for continuous self-development and fulfilment. Thriving is also about nurturing resilience to deal with stress and grow from setbacks.
What’s more, effectiveness at work is one of the most important factors that contributes towards thriving. Business leaders in particular (be that a manager, CEO, or investor) are perfectly positioned to create an environment that enables their teams to thrive. And their businesses are likely to reap the rewards, attracting the best talent and fostering an environment of increased creativity, productivity, and satisfaction.
5 ideas to help your team thrive:
- Create an atmosphere of trust and psychological safety.
People thrive in an environment that is open, inclusive, and feels safe for them to share their ideas, feelings, concerns, and struggles. Leaders need to take the charge on this one, showing up with openness and vulnerability, which will create a ripple effect in their organisation, inspiring others to open up and share themselves.
If you’re a business leader who has struggled with your own mental ill-health, why not share your experience with your team? This could help remove the stigma that still surrounds mental health in the workplace and might allow an employee to ask for help sooner rather than later.
- Provide easy-to-access, affordable, inclusive mental health services.
We all know the adage “a problem shared is a problem halved”, but in fact, psychotherapy (also known as talking therapy) has been shown to reduce mental ill-health and distress in around 80% of cases. Providing confidential low cost or free therapy to employees is a fantastic way to provide them with support to face life’s challenges. It has also been shown to reduce workplace stress by up to 35% and increase return to work rates (after mental illness) by over 70%.
- Create an environment where everyone can improve their skills and develop their unique potential.
According to Maslow, “humans have an inherent drive for self-improvement and growth” – be that in their private lives or in the workplace. Indeed, studies have shown that providing everyone with the opportunity to learn, train, and progress is key to creating a “good” place of work.
By offering these opportunities for development, business leaders are likely to foster a community of engaged team members who feel inspired to contribute towards the continued development of the business. Best of all, team members can continuously learn about the business and the bigger systems it operates in, and develop their unique potential, which improves personal wellbeing and benefits target users and other stakeholders.
- Our need to contribute to something bigger – aligning activities with purpose.
Most millennials say the primary purpose of business is to “improve society” instead of “generating profit”. With changing customer demands, purpose-driven companies have higher growth rates and performance, and a workforce that is more satisfied and more likely to stick around . Purpose is something that calls you forward; a goal or a vision that transcends the individual and the organisation. As we’re faced with existential crises including environmental collapse, more and more organisations are rethinking their business models, realigning them with a higher purpose that goes beyond profit maximisation and benefits the health and wellbeing of all life on earth.
Purpose is not only good for business, it is also a crucial component for living a healthy and thriving life. Research shows that having a purpose in life increases self-esteem, resilience, and improves emotional states and wellbeing.
As a business, having a higher purpose and ensuring that employees (and the work they do) always align with it are important ingredients in creating thriving workplaces.
- Give employees space so they can thrive in all aspects of their lives.
Researchers have demonstrated that a holistic approach is essential to thriving. In other words, people rarely thrive in one area of life alone; it’s an all-encompassing phenomenon that hinges on the ability to work, rest, and play as needed.
Business leaders need to ensure that their teams have adequate time off – both on a day-to-day level, at weekends, and longer periods of rest (i.e. regular holidays). Ideally, and if compatible with business needs, they should also trust their team to work at a time and manner which best suits them. Employees’ work should be challenging enough to be stimulating, but not so much that they are exhausted at the end of the day, feel they need to work late or be constantly connected, responding to emails late into the night.
This work-life balance is good for morale, and also good for the bottom line – if we return to the office well-rested, well-fed, and satisfied, after having ample time to pursue our own interests and see our loved ones, it’s likely we’ll be happier and more motivated to do our work well.
Niels Devisscher is Content and Ecosystem Strategist at Masawa, the mental wellness impact fund that nurtures the wellbeing of the founders and teams it invests in. With a background in international business, the visual arts, and systems thinking, he explores topics of enlivenment, healing, and wellbeing. He’s on a mission to support change-makers revolutionizing how we think about, approach, and innovate mental wellness within the wider context of living systems.
Alex Grunnill works for Stillpoint, and is based in London, UK. She is passionate about psychology, travelling, sustainability and linguistics. She hopes eventually to train as a psychotherapist. You can find her on Linked In.