Workplace wellness initiatives have become increasingly popular over the past few years as more and more people begin to suffer the mental and physical consequences of being overworked and out of balance. But it’s time to go beyond just offering discounted gym memberships and healthy snacks to your employees—it’s time to create workplaces that support people’s well-being holistically, promoting more flexibility, harmony, and work-life balance. After all, people spend roughly a third of their lives at work, and it’s no secret that people are happier and productive if they feel healthy. The onus is now on each organization’s leadership team to make real, meaningful changes from the top down that prioritize the mental and physical well-being of the entire company. Creating a company culture that values your employees’ well-being starts with you and how business is done within the walls of your organization.
So how can you get started? Here are some steps you can take to create a workplace that prioritizes both the mental and physical well-being of your employees.
You can offer as many physical health incentives as you want, but if the sheer structure of your company is unhealthy, you have to treat that first. If there’s too much mistrust, passive aggressive behavior, or gossip in the workplace it can have serious consequences on your employees’ mental health—and quickly make them look for a new job. To transform a toxic workplace into a healthy one, you first need to hire the right people. Are they honest, empathetic, team players? Do they know how to handle and resolve conflict in a transparent but assertive way? These are all important things to determine throughout the hiring process. But transforming a toxic workplace also relies on your ability to lead by example when it comes to two things: open communication and trust.
Open communication allows for concerns to be addressed as they come up, which prevents resentment from growing amongst colleagues. You can encourage employees to resolve issues in a calm manner as they arise and let them know they can always come to you with concerns or problems. You should also let your employees know they can trust you by showing them you appreciate all that they do. In a recent article from McKinsey called Wellness at Work: The Promise and the Pitfalls, one CEO interviewed put it this way: “the biggest cause of chronic illness and stress, and the biggest cause of stress is work. Organizational stress is caused by people not feeling appreciated.” Create an environment where people feel appreciated and acknowledged for what they do and secure enough to speak up if something bothers them. Those little steps can go a long way in creating a stable, trust-worthy relationship with your employees.
Now more than ever, people rank work-life balance as more desirable than perks like company retreats or access to discounted gym memberships. Create a culture that doesn’t penalize people for staying home when they’re sick, using vacation time, or taking a mental health day. In fact, if you sense that an employee is suffering from burnout, you should encourage them to take a mental health day. Discourage “presenteeism” or the belief that people must be in their seat from 8 to 5 even when they feel physically or mentally unwell. Create a work culture that prioritizes sleep and self-care and thus, doesn’t expect people to be checking their email at all hours of the night. Set an example of this by not responding to or sending emails yourself after a certain time. (France passed a law last year requiring companies with 50 or more employees to establish hours where people are not allowed to send or reply to emails—in an effort to prevent burnout and promote better work-life balance.) Show your employees that you care by creating a work environment that allows them to get enough sleep, pursue their hobbies, and spend quality time with their families.
Create a work environment that allows employees to stretch, walk around, and step away from their desk throughout the day. Encourage people to take breaks as needed—discourage the notion that they need to keep their “butts in seats” from 9 to 5 each and every day. Set the example by taking a lunch break and encouraging your employees to do the same. Taking a walk or hike over lunch not only will boost blood circulation, burn calories, and increase your energy, but it refreshes your mental faculties as well. In our always-on society, we view the ability to multi-task and accomplish an insane amount of work non-stop as desirable. But it’s been scientifically proven that constant multi-tasking wears down your mental capacity and decision-making skills—and decision-making ability continues to drop the longer you go without a break. Encourage breaks throughout the day to allow people to move their bodies and come back to their desks ready to tackle problems with a fresh set of eyes.
For many people, they can perform the essential functions of their jobs remotely. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every job should be 100% remote—or that it could be. But offering your employees flexible work hours where they can choose to work from home or set different hours goes a long way. Perhaps they can come in earlier and leave earlier, for example, or come in later and leave later, depending on their needs. Maybe they have small children who need to be dropped off at school at a certain time, or they work a second job outside of their 9-5. Offering the chance to set flexible work schedules or occasionally work from home makes people feel that you value and trust them, and that can go a long way in supporting someone’s mental health in our harried society.
In general, creating a work culture that prioritizes wellness goes far beyond offering healthy snacks or stand-up desks—although those incentives are certainly helpful. But creating an environment where people feel safe, heard, trusted, and respected is much more important. Giving people flexible options, promoting work-life balance, and encouraging that they do what’s necessary to take care of themselves will increase productivity, reduce turnover, boost morale, and improve your company’s reputation in the market. After all, word travels fast about agencies or companies that don’t value their employees’ well-being. Make the changes listed above and you’ll start to see how your company can be completely transformed from the inside out—by valuing your employees’ mental and physical well-being and creating a culture that speaks to that belief.
About the Author
Matthew J. Schwartz is the Founder, President and CEO of MJS Executive Search with nearly two decades of experience in retained executive search. Matt’s expertise lies in bringing together key executives that exhibit passion and creativity with leading organizations in a wide range of functional areas such as Marketing, Sales, Digital, Interactive and more. From Digital and Social media to Machine Learning and AI, Matt is passionate about cutting edge technologies and is dedicated using his knowledge to help his clients remain or become leaders in their realm.
Founded in 2003, MJS Executive Search has established itself as a top retained executive search firm that identifies and places unique, hard to find executives in highly specialized roles.
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