The constant threat and ongoing changes caused by the pandemic have left many employees in a heightened state of anxiety. Over the medium to long term, an unpredictable environment can also impact employees’ energy, sense of control and ability to perform well at work.
Traditional support mechanisms, including Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), play an important role in helping employees manage challenges. However, EAPs are typically under-utilised, and employees who do seek help usually delay until problems have become complex and difficult to resolve.
The role of self-care
An organisation may have multiple mental health prevention and support mechanisms in place. However, employees are uniquely qualified to understand, monitor and optimise their own wellbeing – to prevent issues from arising. The choices they make and the habits they follow every day have a significant impact.
Leaders can improve organisational resilience by encouraging employees to take more responsibility for their own wellbeing. That’s why self-care is an important of Aon’s integrated strategic approach to mental health risk management, which aligns with ISO 45003:2021 principles and aims to, simultaneously:
- Prevent work related harm and reduce psychosocial risk
- Promote the positive aspects of work in line with the health benefits of good work
- Respond to support people with mental illness as it manifests in the workplace.
Creating a self-care culture
As lockdowns commenced throughout Australia, people bonded together in the spirit of facing a shared struggle. This saw many leaders becoming more transparent about their personal challenges.
However, entrenched cultures are hard to change. Now, leaders need to continue setting a good example by showing vulnerability, prioritising their own wellbeing, and demonstrating positive self-care decision making to employees, so they feel safe to put their wellbeing first, too. Having a conversation about mental health in the workplace can also increase help-seeking behaviour.
Employers that don’t prioritise employees’ mental health are more likely to experience people and business performance issues.
With employees working remotely, you never really know how people are doing. You don’t know if someone has been quiet all day. You can’t tell if they have skipped a meal break. These days, our workplace support networks look and feel quite different. Now, every individual is carrying much more of their mental health load themselves.
That’s why it’s critical for leaders to educate employees and managers about self-care, about evidence-based approaches that genuinely empower people to nurture healthy habits and develop coping mechanisms. These approaches can also reduce the need for reactive support and even hasten the recovery of employees who do require clinical intervention.
However, wellbeing and self-care mean different things to different people, and senior managers who appreciate this and lead by example are the hallmark of a genuinely healthy workplace. They promote help seeking behaviour, commit to developing integrated mental health strategies, foster a collegial environment, and communicate clearly to build trust.
Leaders also need to give employees permission – and place the onus on employees directly – to prioritise self-care. However, developing awareness of one’s own needs isn’t easy for everyone, so employers should consider using multiple tools and activities to help create a sense of rejuvenation, in whichever form that may take for different individuals.
Dr Martin Seligman is a positive psychologist and the creator of the PERMA+ Model. Dr Seligman states that, to achieve overall wellbeing, individuals need nurturing across five domains:
- Positive Emotions
The ‘plus’ extension of this model includes:
Practical ways to encourage self-care
Here are some ideas for improving employee self-care using the PERMA+ model.
- Partner with a charity to help employees replenish wellbeing through community service
- Create physical or virtual environments that connect employees who share common interests. For example, a book club or an Intranet page for bushwalking enthusiasts.
- Introduce fitness or competitive sport, so people can experience rejuvenation through physical exertion. Consider subsidising gym memberships or massages.
- Encourage spiritual connection by creating prayer rooms or recognising dates that are important to employees. For example, Diwali or Hannukah.
- Source group discounts to cultural events, which can generate a sense of wellbeing from social connection and exposure to the arts
- Set rules for appropriate meeting times and encourage employees to turn off work devices after hours. Offer flexible work arrangements so people can access the support they need.
- Ensure self-care initiatives support diversity and inclusion so all employees feel cared about.
- Offer full or partial days off as a reward for a job well done or major projects that required extra stamina
These initiatives not only improve wellbeing. They can enhance the overall employee experience and lead to higher performance, improved employee retention and a faster rate of innovation.
To learn more about helping employees stay healthy and positive, watch this on-demand webinar featuring Graeme Cowan, co-founder of R U OK? with Aon’s mental health lead, Stephen Dowling, and clinical psychologist and client manager, Michelle Hawtin.