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How Employee Listening Helps Promote Mental Health and Well-Being

How Employee Listening Helps Promote Mental Health and Well-Being

More and more organizations are prioritizing the need to create a people-first culture, and specifically an environment centered on listening to and valuing employees' needs. As we have written previously, this involves fostering more genuine connections with employees, which includes providing them with a sense of purpose and belonging while also addressing their well-being, safety, and mental health.

To address the evolving narrative around mental health in the workplace and society at large, it's important to align our discussions with upcoming events that resonate with this pressing issue. World Mental Health Day — commemorated each year on October 10 — gives us an opportunity to reflect on this topic. 

The need for such reflection is critical: nearly 1 billion people around the world – 13% of the global population — are living with a mental health disorder, according to a joint release by the World Health Organization and the World Federation for Mental Health. 

Since its inception in 1992, World Mental Health Day has served as an international platform for education, awareness, and advocacy against social stigma associated with mental health. Initiated by the World Federation for Mental Health, the day has garnered global support, influencing mental health narratives in over 150 countries. In its early years, the event had no specific thematic focus but has since evolved to address various facets of mental well-being. For example, the 1994 theme centered on "Improving the Quality of Mental Health Services throughout the World."

The theme for World Mental Health Day 2023 — "Our minds, our rights” — amplifies the message that mental health is not just a medical or personal issue but a fundamental human right. The World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners emphasize that every individual, regardless of who they are or where they live, has the right to the highest attainable standard of mental health. This extends from protection against mental health risks to ensuring available, accessible, acceptable, and quality care.

Understanding Mental Health

Before delving further into the details, it’s important to understand how a term like “mental health” is formally defined by the major organizations that track and measure it. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adds that mental health “includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being (and) it affects how we think, feel, and act.”

Based on our research and insights, here are six listening-driven strategies for promoting mental health and well-being in the workplace — along with an overview of how implementing these strategies can deliver significant ROI. 

6 Things Your Organization Can Do to Promote Mental Health at Work

  1. Create a Psychologically Safe Work Environment and Culture

Companies can foster a psychologically safe work environment by normalizing discussions on mental health, empowering employees to speak up and be heard when they need help, and ensuring there’s no judgment or stigma attached to discussions of mental health. 

In order for this environment to truly exist, it must start at the top. For example, an executive at a large healthcare system shared his moving, personal story of mental health struggles with the entire organization. This vulnerability from a senior leader led to other colleagues feeling safe to share their own challenges and experiences. By sharing his story, this executive created a safe space for open dialogue and reduced the stigma of mental health within that workforce.

For employers, the goal is to ensure employees can receive help when they need it, not to urge them to seek help. Listening at scale is one way to identify support opportunities in the work environment to better promote mental health and well-being. Crowdsourcing, a highly transparent method of listening, is particularly powerful for creating a psychologically safe culture through its inclusive, engaging method, which invites all employees to co-create and prioritize solutions. 

When it comes to mental health and well-being, inviting employees to share and prioritize what actions can improve well-being is a powerful way to gather insights for action across all employees and foster a culture where open discussion of mental health and well-being is normalized. Listening at scale during major events that can increase stress or anxiety, such as recession-driven layoffs, global pandemics, or mergers and acquisitions, provides organizations with data-driven insights on the most effective actions for improving well-being while also fostering a psychologically safe culture for continued conversations on mental health. 

  1. Encourage Mental Health Breaks and Self-Care

If your organization successfully creates a psychologically safe work environment, then employees should feel comfortable taking days off to de-stress, recharge, or focus on their mental health. Once again, this needs to be a policy that is modeled from the top down and reinforced throughout the organization. Encourage employees to use sick days, PTO, or even unpaid days when they need to decompress. Take people at their word, treat them as adults, and show empathy when mental health breaks are needed.

Of course, this can be accomplished with small breaks throughout the workday as well. To encourage employees to take a needed reprieve, there are location-based strategies that can help foster self-care. This includes creating “recharge rooms” or other office areas where employees can go to take a moment to relax, calm down, or just breathe. These spaces typically have dim lighting, tranquil music or white noise, aromatherapy, comfortable furniture, or other means of promoting mindfulness and rest. Remote workers can do the same by having an area away from their computer, dedicated to relaxation, to which they can retreat.

Cultivate Intelligent Coaching, Perceptyx’s new AI-powered leadership development product, contains a cognitive load tracker that allows managers to recognize in real-time when their own workload — such as emails replied to, chat messages sent, and meetings attended — has increased and a self-care break may be needed. Users receive updates in their flow of work about their cognitive load, and Cultivate notes whether this load has increased, decreased, or remained about the same. This intervention is designed to make managers aware of their stress and workloads, which they might lose track of during particularly busy periods, and help reduce after-hours work, burnout, and multitasking. By providing objective data to employees on their well-being, organizations can take a proactive approach to help employees recognize when a break or additional support may be useful.

  1. Train Leaders and Employees to Build Empathy, Understanding, and Resiliency

While most leaders are not mental health professionals, they can still be taught how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental health issues and discreetly make employees aware of mental health resources available within the organization. Managers do not need to be the sole support system, but they do need to understand how to identify signs and approach the subject with care and empathy.

The importance of building leaders’ skills around empathy and support is further highlighted by a key finding from a recent Perceptyx study: of employees reporting high anxiety or depression due to a workplace event, direct leaders were the most frequently cited source of support, outpacing other resources such as colleagues, employee assistance programs, peer support programs, and more. 

Perceptyx’s Cultivate product adds an automated solution to this problem of developing leader empathy and compassion at scale, analyzing both active feedback from 360 surveys and opt-in passive listening signals from workplace communication channels, such as Slack, Google Workspaces, Microsoft 365, and Microsoft Teams, to identify a manager’s blind spots and coaching needs. It then delivers hyper-personalized leadership insights and actionable recommendations to the manager via nudges and a metrics-rich personal dashboard. 

Research based on a sample of 2,500 anonymized managers across six different enterprise companies showed that this form of AI coaching could significantly change behavior by nudging managers to provide more detailed feedback and more frequent recognition to employees, while also nudging them to use more positive, empathetic language in their communications. By providing these highly tailored insights and development resources to leaders at scale, organizations can more effectively develop the empathetic, supportive leaders that are critical for promoting health and well-being within their teams.

Employees can also benefit from practical skills building like resilience training. This type of training helps employees improve their ability to adapt well to stress and recover from adversity, trauma, or tragedy. While there are many different types of resilience training, organizations can use listening data to ensure their specific programs are promoting the intended, positive outcomes.

For example, one Perceptyx customer administered two resiliency programs to reduce stress and burnout in a subset of their workforce. They then used listening data collected from the participants to measure how well each program improved resilience and decreased stress. This data helped the organization make an informed, evidence-based decision on where to focus its efforts and resources in order to best improve resilience and stress levels across the organization.

  1. Offer Mental Health Assessments and Support

In many cases, employees do not know where to find mental health resources or are poorly informed about the resources available to them. To remedy this, consider creating a hub on the intranet that provides resources for mental health and reminds employees how to find this information. Provide the option of virtual therapy sessions or more easily accessible offerings to employees, so that time, convenience, and availability does not stop them from receiving help when needed. If virtual resources aren’t an option, extend the appropriate time off work to utilize these resources — and make sure employees know they won’t be penalized or stigmatized for taking that time. As an alternative, some healthcare facilities actually have mental healthcare professionals rounding the floors of hospitals, offering on-the-spot consultations, conversations, or simple check-ins with employees. For employees who might need only short-term, targeted assistance during work assignments, one of our consultants has written about a simple intervention she developed to provide "psychological first aid" to colleagues. 

Perceptyx customer research has found that when employees who are self-reporting high anxiety or depression due to a safety event on the job receive help from within the organization, they are more inclined to have more favorable perceptions of the organization overall compared to colleagues who did not receive support from within their organization. To exemplify this point, one Perceptyx customer offers a mental health support program for its employees who experience anxiety or depression due to events experienced at work. As part of this program, employees who have been trained to provide support receive decals on their clothing, clearly noting that they are support resources. Since this program’s inception four years ago, data proves the program is having a positive impact, and use of the program continues to grow. Specifically, employees who have utilized the program and received support are significantly more likely to rate the organization higher on all aspects of employee safety and the employee experience, including that they feel managers care, that they are being listened to, that they are supported, and that they have the resources they need. 

  1. Urge Use of a Mindfulness Checklist

Mindfulness is defined as the ability to be fully aware and present in the current moment, including the ability to focus and acknowledge where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing. Mindfulness can reduce stress and improve feelings of well-being, making it an important practice for organizations to encourage. It can perhaps be thought of as another form of employee listening, only this time the employees are taking time to listen to another voice they may never pause to hear — themselves. 

One way organizations can promote mindfulness is through a checklist that helps employees focus on their immediate environment and creates clear boundaries between home and work. For example, a mindfulness checklist can be used at the beginning of the workday to focus attention on the tasks ahead or at the end of the workday to shift attention to personal demands. 

One organization’s checklist includes the following:

  • Acknowledge one thing that was difficult in your day then let it go.
  • Think of three things going well and be proud of your work.
  • Reflect on something you are grateful for.
  • Concentrate on one sound, one visual, or one smell that you are experiencing right now.
  • Take a few deep breaths.
  1. Consider Physical Health and Wellness Programs

Healthy eating and being physically active can also boost one’s mental health. Offering healthy food alternatives in cafeterias and vending machines, sharing healthy recipes or offering cooking classes, encouraging walking groups at lunch, having an on-site gym or virtual exercise classes, offering discounts to gym memberships or other types of healthful programs can play a part in helping employees feel better overall — physically and mentally. These are solutions that needn’t be implemented in a top-down manner, as employee listening can help source answers regarding what employees want in this respect. 

Put These Tips into Practice: Well-Being Programming Can Deliver Significant ROI 

Investing in employee mental health is not just a moral imperative but also a sound business strategy, with compelling data on return on investment (ROI) indicating that neglecting mental well-being can cost companies substantially. According to a 2021 study by the National Safety Council and NORC from the University of Chicago, businesses that invest in mental health programs realize an average ROI of $4 for every $1 spent. Similarly, AMA data underscores the organizational costs of physician burnout — a 7% physician turnover rate costs an organization with 500 physicians an estimated $6.76 million per year in turnover alone. This indicates a direct correlation between mental well-being and staff retention, which consequently affects the company's bottom line.

Data from the World Health Organization indicates that the global economy hemorrhages a staggering $1 trillion each year from untreated anxiety and depression affecting productivity. These economic losses manifest in a variety of ways, from absenteeism and presenteeism — costing around $27 billion per year as per the Harvard Business Review — to disability claims and skyrocketing healthcare costs. One study found that companies saved $1.38 for every $1 invested, and for smaller companies with fewer than 500 employees, the ROI was even higher at $1.67 for every dollar invested.

It's crucial to recognize that these ROI figures likely underestimate the real potential gains, as they don't fully account for qualitative benefits like improved company culture, employee engagement, and overall workplace satisfaction. Effective mental health programs not only alleviate financial burdens but also enhance "soft skills" such as empathy and communication, making the company more attractive to current and prospective talent. Given the pervasive role of mental health in every facet of daily life and work, organizations can ill afford to treat it as a box-ticking exercise; a proactive and nuanced approach is essential for both ethical and economic reasons.

Perceptyx Can Help Your Organization Prioritize Employee Mental Health

Obviously, employers should offer these services because caring about your employees’ overall well-being is the right thing to do. But there are also business benefits to supporting the mental health and well-being of your employees. When employees are struggling with their mental health it can negatively impact business outcomes, including job performance, productivity levels, engagement, communication with managers and co-workers, workplace safety, and absenteeism. It can also lead to higher healthcare costs for the employee and employer. Perceptyx research further finds lack of organizational support for health and well-being is a top 4 driver of turnover; when employees do not feel organizations are supporting their health and well-being, they are much more likely to leave.

When employees receive the mental health care they need, however, it can effectively lower total medical costs (because they tend to improve physical health as well), absenteeism, and presenteeism (defined as employees being physically present but not fully functioning in their role due to illness). Proper treatment and care also lead to higher levels of engagement and increased productivity. According to the Center for Workplace Mental Health, more than 80% of employees who are treated for mental health issues report improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction.

For organizations, the benefits of mental health support and services are clear — both for your employees and for your business. If you aren’t yet offering some type of resources for your employees, employee listening can give you data-based insights on where to start. If you are offering resources and services and want to understand their efficacy or how you can improve them, a mature listening program can help you discover how well these might be working and whether you are delivering what employees are telling you they need. To learn more about your organization's current level of listening maturity, take our free interactive maturity model assessment or reach out to Perceptyx for more information.

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