By Dr. Bill Howatt and Michel Rodrigue
It pays to invest in employee wellbeing. Flourishing employees are good for the bottom line.
Languishing and flourishing are mental states that predict how we perceive our world. The Keyes' mental health continuum suggests all workers fall somewhere along a continuum from languishing to flourishing.
Two employees can be in the same position, experience the same situations, yet perceive their circumstances differently. The languishing employee is more likely to experience unpleasant emotions and view the situation through a prejudiced and negative lens. On the other hand, their flourishing colleague will often see the same set of circumstances through a positive lens.
This likely isn't a revelation to you, but you may not have considered this reality in terms of how it affects organizational performance.
Languishing employees may lack the knowledge and skills needed to navigate negative feelings, impacting how they show up in the workplace. For a while, these negative emotions may not affect the quality of their work. However, the longer they languish, the greater the chance their negative emotional state will begin to affect their performance. And if left unchecked, the situation can escalate and put them at risk of developing a mental illness or experiencing chronic stress that can further harm their physical health.
The CSA Psychological Health and Safety Standard suggests that engaging in activities that promote mental health and reduce the risk of mental harm, such as languishing, should be considered a strategic imperative for organizations.
On top of protecting employees from unnecessary mental and physical harm, evidence shows that creating an environment that enables employees to flourish, and instituting a robust mental health strategy based on measurable outcomes, can dramatically improve financial results. Flourishing employees perform better than their languishing peers, and happier employees are more profitable employees.
Make sure you have the data and research you need to support your investment
Workplace mental health is evolving, and, understandably, CEOs, boards of directors, and senior leaders require data and ongoing measurement to see that creating a psychologically healthy and safe workplace profoundly affects organizational performance.
- Get a baseline. Use employee engagement surveys, assessments like the Mental Fitness Index, focus groups, team meetings, and one-on-one interviews to determine your top three programs or policies that positively charge emotions and three that cause unpleasant feelings that drain employees.
- Define the costs of doing nothing. Calculate the cost of doing nothing about workplace mental health or of continuing to do what you've been doing (if you have a plan in place that isn't working). Collect baseline data about factors that increase costs, such as lost-time or concerns about excessive work demands. Understanding the financial risks of poor employee mental health can be a powerful catalyst for change.
- Recognize social determinants of health. Are you meeting the basic needs of employees? There is ample research to show that basics such as shelter, food, the ability to pay bills, and access to medical care are all essential to overall wellbeing. Look at your policies and programs to confirm that they address these basics and make sure they are designed to help employees flourish.
The employer/employee relationship is being redefined as a result of the pandemic. "The great resignation" reflects the changing contract between employers and employees. Investing in workplace mental health is no longer nice to do; it is imperative for attracting and retaining talent. One-off initiatives and piecemeal programs will no longer suffice. There must be long-term commitment and follow-through. Focusing on mental health this way will mitigate risks related to turnover and absenteeism and ensure employees can work to their full potential.