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Why it’s time to revisit workplace mental health initiatives and make them work for everyone

By Myra Khanna, founder and CEO, Sama

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One of the biggest challenges to positive mental health in today’s society is the absence of a holistic view of health and wellbeing.

There is still a huge stigma surrounding poor mental health, with many considering this a weakness or failing.

This stigma is particularly prevalent in men, and we often don’t discuss men’s mental health until it becomes a major issue, especially in the workplace. 

We frequently hear the statistics around suicide rates (it’s still the biggest killer in men under 50 in the UK), but there is an entire spectrum from “mentally healthy” to “suicidal” that it is crucial employers consider when thinking about the mental health of their employees. 

Recent years have seen a huge rise in employer provided provisions to support those who are already struggling (workplace therapy, Employee Assistance Programs, duvet days), but the onus must also be on organisations to actively prevent employees reaching the point of mental ill-health.

This starts with establishing robust structures to support all employees, regardless of their gender, background, or career goals, and ensuring organisational culture does not foster stress, anxiety, or burnout.  

Burnout and an unengaged workforce

Burnout costs the global economy $322 billion (£255 billion) annually.

Preventing burnout – and its associated workplace absences and lost productivity – is already a priority for many organisations, but what is often overlooked is the link between employee engagement and burnout levels.

Employees who are engaged and feel supported simply experience less anxiety and stress; people are far less likely to reach burnout when they feel psychologically safe in their workplace. 

This psychological safety also encourages open dialogue around any mental health issues that do arise, as the associated stigma feels significantly reduced.

For employees of all demographics experiencing stress or anxiety, the ability to speak openly about struggles, without fear of retribution, enhances engagement and promotes commitment to your employer. 

What steps can employers take to support men’s mental health?

To build an environment that has true psychological safety, employers must invest in meaningful initiatives that prioritise individual needs, and encourage employees to build resilience and set their own boundaries.

The most impactful way to achieve this is through offering executive coaching at scale; coaching is the single most transformative development tool, helping employees understand their own challenges, build resilience, and work towards goals – in both their career and life.

Where historically coaching has been reserved for senior leadership teams, there is strong evidence that it’s actually most effective in the first few years of a career, as habits are still forming.

Investing in a coaching platform is the best way for organisations to support all their people with access to coaching, regardless of their role or level within the business. 

How can coaching support men to overcome obstacles relating to their mental health?

Unlike therapy or mentoring, which can often be directive, coaching is centred in empowering people to remove their own barriers to success and unlock their full potential.

Often, workplace mental health struggles are linked to anxieties or insecurities around performance, career progression, or interpersonal relationships. 

Working with a coach, your people will build toolkits that make them stronger communicators, enhance their self-awareness, and develop their people skills to build more robust relationships.

These so-called ‘soft skills’ are essential in the pursuit of healthy workplaces, and should be prioritised alongside other learning and development needs.

Why it is critical to ditch the ‘one size fits all’ approach

There is simply no room for a one size fits all approach to any area of learning and development.

Even with basic skills training and classroom sessions, provisions must be made for different learning styles and competency levels.

So it follows that programs designed to accelerate personal development must be even more personal.

And this is where coaching is truly the differentiator. 

Initiatives focused on men’s health often overlook diverse populations, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community or those with disabilities.

Coaching is the ultimate inclusivity tool, as every employee guides their own development and focuses on goals relevant to their success, removing the boundaries that actually create barriers in their lives and careers 

Truly tailored coaching takes into account the individual needs of each employee; where traditional methods are fairly programmatic (defined number and frequency of sessions, suggested coaching areas set by the business), Sama allows coaches to work on what truly matters to them, and to do so from their individual starting point.

For example, coaching provides a serious boost to those from lower socioeconomic status, allowing people who have faced adversity due to their background to develop confidence and stakeholder management skills.

It can even assist with network building, through guidance on relationship building, mentorship, and sponsorship opportunities.

It’s time to change the narrative

Mental health struggles – particularly those of men in the workplace – show no signs of abating, with burnout statistics increasing year on year.

It’s time for organisations to change the narrative and invest in initiatives that prevent their people developing poor mental health, as well as providing support for those already struggling.

Coaching builds resilience, removes barriers to success, and enhances communications skills, all of which are vital for solid mental health.  

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