Sociologist, business expert, PhD, ICI Master Coach, author of Wellbeing. Managing Stress and Developing Creativity.
WELL-BEING PROGRAMS FOR EMPLOYEES
- The question of mental health of employees is often discusses these days. How urgent is this problem and what do you see as its causes?
- The trend toward declining mental health was evident even before the pandemic. We live in a world of rapid change, a world of high stress levels. The biological adaptive capacities of humans do not have time to adapt to these changes and rhythms. The flip side of the VUCA world, i.e., volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, is precisely the mental health problems, primarily anxiety disorders, depression, and burnout. During the coronavirus pandemic the number of stress factors increased dramatically, with people experiencing fears, anxieties, and unpleasant emotions. According to an international IPSOS study, since the pandemic began, 45% of respondents reported that their mental health had deteriorated and in the first half of 2021, one in five respondents indicated that their mental health had continued to deteriorate. In 2022, an international survey ranked mental health as the second most common health problem, surpassing cancer for the first time. In this situation, the problem went beyond the discussion only in narrow professional circles and became the agenda of every employer, as the mental state of employees directly affects their work performance.
- What methods do companies have to support their employees?
- Work itself is an important factor in the manifestation of mental health problems. Causes can be poor relationships with supervisors, colleagues, high workloads, complex tasks, strict deadlines, etc. On the other hand, the employer has considerable opportunities to keep employees healthy, to create a culture of preventive, preventive care. Employers can encourage employees to lead conscious lifestyles, provide a decent level of medical services (VHI), and provide access to outsourced staff support programs, such as financial, legal, and psychological counseling. The fundamental thing an employer can do is to develop a corporate culture of well-being, that is, to meet the needs of employees so that they can realize their creative potential for the benefit of the company. If employees are stressed, do not feel safe, if their basic needs are not met, then they are poorly engaged in their work and show low efficiency. And vice versa. For example, Google develops a maximally friendly environment for its employees, believing that only in such an atmosphere will they develop the most creative solutions and create breakthrough innovations. Corporate culture consists of many elements. It is about work-life balance, and about developing the emotional intelligence of managers, a culture of friendly communication, and transparency in organizational processes.
- Where do you think the influence of the company and the boss on the life and well-being of an employee ends and their personal area of responsibility begins?
- There are two styles of communication between an executive and an employee: mentoring and coaching. The first one is when the manager teaches how to do things the way he/she does them, that is, to repeat the way he/she has done them. The second one is about working out the best way for the employee to implement this or that task. Coaching is the art of asking questions so that the person finds the answers on his/her own, realizing possible options. If the company adopts the second style of management, develops a personalized approach to employees, then no boundaries will be broken.
- What factors are key to successful well-being programs?
- I have been evaluating well-being programs for many years on the People Investor judging panel, paying attention to several things: the extent to which a program is based on diagnostics and addresses pressing employee concerns, and how the well-being program aligns with the company's development strategy, contributing to the well-being of the business as well. Regardless of budget or capabilities, a culture of caring greatly empowers people, creates a sense of teamwork, and enhances social well-being. There are companies with dedicated budgets allocated for corporate culture and wellness programs. There are quite small companies without budgets, but they develop volunteer projects and broadcast caring about socially vulnerable groups, human attitude to the employees. I know companies that have health ambassadors. They give lectures, lead morning workouts, and share their experience with colleagues.
Wellness programs should be geared toward teaching employees how to balance work and personal life. In general, the culture of workaholism needs to become a thing of the past. Obviously, a well-rested employee will perform better. Don't we want rested surgeons operating on us, and public transport driven by rested drivers? And if the employer is okay with a short break during the work day and creates a recreation room, relaxation, and opportunities to reset - it's also about well-being and stress reduction.
- How does one properly identify the needs of employees to maintain their well-being?
- Those needs should be identified through surveys, focus groups, and informal communication. We can incorporate special questions aimed at identifying mental health problems or conflicts with management and colleagues, study the subjective perception of the workload, and perception of fair treatment of employees. It is also necessary to take into account the nature of the work and possible distortions in the intensity of work. Only on the basis of the identified problem scope should we design support programs.
- To what extent do you share the opinion that after February 24, companies are no longer concerned with well-being programs, that it's time to abandon redundancies and retain only core processes?
- After February 24, the need for a focus on maintaining physical and mental health has only increased. Of course, if one considers well-being programs only as an additional line in a job description, it is obvious that the labor market has shrunk and everyone will work and seek employment no matter what. However, people are often so acutely stressed that they lose control of their ability to work. It is impossible to work effectively when you are stressed and anxious. I've given tons of lectures and webinars on how to stay resilient, support teams and employees, and concentrate on work. It seems that this is just not the time to shut down programs, but rather the time to understand the needs, build the environment and the necessary infrastructure to maintain work capability.
- However, the labor market may be quite volatile in the near future, and layoffs are expected. How can this process take place in companies with a strong corporate culture, with a culture of empathic interaction with employees?
- It all depends on the company, on the specific situation. But a company that cares about its employees not just for the record, even in difficult situations, does everything in its power to soften the blow. It can be notification of the end of the contract not two months in advance, but four months in advance, monetary compensation, or support in relocation. Even difficult measures can be conducted as delicately as possible, respecting human rights and doing something beyond what is stipulated by the Labor Code.