The Critical Factor: Mentally Healthy Work Spaces and Flourishing Businesses
A positive mental health workspace translates to coworkers and employees who are committed to their work, achieving to their potential, and encouraging their teammates to do the same. On the other side of the spectrum, an employee who works in an unhealthy environment can experience burnout, feel overwhelmed or anxious, and can languish at work, resulting in reduced productivity and suffering across their personal life.
This means that- within the start-up sector especially, with small teams and dynamic interpersonal environments- those businesses that foster positive mental health have significant advantages over others. These teams work more effectively, can rise to challenges, enjoy higher levels of health, and experience lower rates of absenteeism at work. In fact, mental ill health is the leading cause of long-term work incapacity and absence in Australia, costing us an estimated $11 billion per annum. As such, there are clear financial and emotional benefits to fostering a mentally healthy workplace.
But what does a mentally healthy workplace actually look like? And what can we, as leaders, do to encourage one?
The conversation about mental health in the workplace can only be meaningful if it’s grounded in a genuine desire to foster positive mental health across the work environment, and not just when things are critically dire. Creating a mentally-healthy workspace is a bottom-up process, whereby the overall atmosphere is created through the everyday interactions that take place in the workspace. These include the way that coworkers greet each other in the morning, all the way through to how recruitment decisions are made, and how meetings are conducted.
A Respectful and Inclusive Environment
An inclusive and respectful environment is not just about welcoming people from all backgrounds and persuasions of life- although it’s certainly about that too. It’s also about interacting with all members of the team in a way that is friendly and considered. For example, that could mean making sure that all voices at a meeting are considered equally, and not dismissed or spoken over. It means making recruitment choices that reflect inclusive values, and do not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. And it also means being able to navigate disagreements or provide feedback in a solution-focused manner that does not vilify any individual.
Show Appreciation and Promote Meaningful Work
Considering that we spend a large amount of our time and effort on our businesses, this presents us with the opportunity to gain psycho-spiritual benefit if we can perceive that we are achieving and creating meaningful outcomes through our work.
The great thing about a coworking environment is that we traditionally work is smaller teams, which means we can easily see the results of our actions and hard work on business growth.
More than this, we can help to promote mental flourishing in our work spaces by recognising people’s hard work and achievements, both in person and to other members of the team. It’s important to note that focusing too much on ‘dedication’ and ‘commitment’, can, however, backfire on mental health. If coworkers feel that there is a pressure- even an implied social pressure- to spend more and more time at work, then the work-life balance which is so important to our health can be compromised. It’s ok to acknowledge people for their commitment, but not to imply that the best way for them to show their dedication is by spending more time at work.
Show Genuine care
An important part of creating a mentally healthy workplace is to show genuine care for your employees and coworkers. This is particularly important in startups, where we face significant pressure and stresses that other workspaces don’t experience to the same extent.
This be expressed by acknowledging the stress associated with a project, deadline, or task, and showing genuine interest in the wellbeing of others.
As leaders, we have the privilege of fostering a mentally healthy workplace where our coworkers and employees feel like they can be honest about expressing their stress and possible mental ill health to their employees. Although it might seem like a difficult conversation to have, by encouraging open dialogue we can support those who are suffering, and work together on solutions that work for everyone.
Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk
As leaders, we set the tone of the workspace. The best way to promote a mentally healthy workplace is through modelling. It’s one thing for a leader to talk about the need for respect and inclusivity and whole other thing to actually walk the talk. A founder who mentions in a meeting that they’d like to promote positive work relationships, but then cracks questionable jokes about minority groups over lunch is not doing anything to promote a sense of inclusivity or social responsibility at work. On the other hand, if we were to not only commit time to explore what mentally healthy environments can look like in our own space with our coworkers, but also actively express those values through our actions, that goes much much further to foster a healthy workplace which encourages everyone to thrive.
This article is part of our series on creating mentally healthy workspaces, to encourage all individuals to thrive both inside and outside of work.