Three habits to adopt in 2023, to build a healthier workforce

Three habits to adopt in 2023, to build a healthier workforce

In March 2020, society’s view of mental health turned on its axis. But it actually shifted it in two different ways. On one hand, life became intensely difficult during the pandemic, as we witnessed grief and loss on a huge scale (some, personally experiencing it). Dealing with challenges, whether navigating working from a flatshare, or with children at home… these things became an everyday hill to climb. But, there was also a positive effect – as we started to open up. Talk more candidly about our mental health challenges. This translated into workplace culture, as companies started to raise the topic with employees. Wellbeing became a buzzword and we saw a greater focus on leading with empathy.

But, two and a half years on, the comms industry is still suffering. State of Us (a mental health network which was set up by CCgroup, Harvard and Innovate Comms) wanted to investigate the issue and understand how. We commissioned research with 1000 comms professionals through Coleman Parkes and the results raised real alarm bells. Half of respondents reported having experienced severe stress, anxiety or burnout in the last twelve months – up to three times on average. And what’s more, they told us that when they are speaking up, they’re not always getting what they need. Almost eight in ten respondents who reported their mental health challenge to their employer, went on to feel discriminated against by colleagues.

It’s clear that while progress has been made, more needs to be done. As we head towards 2023, there are three habits I’d love to see companies adopt:

1. Extend empathy to everyone by practising cultural competence

The pandemic may have subsided, but humans are experiencing trying times right now. Inflation has reached a high at 11.1%, feeding a cost-of-living crisis which is forcing millions to make choices between whether they drive to work, heat their homes or feed their families. A high-profile rapper has just openly attacked the Jewish community, on his social media platforms which reach millions. Criminal charges have still not been made, after Chris Kaba, a 24 year old black man, was shot dead by police in September. Conversations around Qatar and the World Cup are intense. A tragic attack on an LGTBQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs. These ‘cultural moments’ will affect different people in different ways, depending on their personal situations and experiences. Applying emotional intelligence, and being aware of the headlines which may be affecting team members – along with providing support and acknowledgement around these difficult times will go a long way in making them feel supported, and ultimately like they belong.

“It’s clear that while progress has been made, more needs to be done.”

2. Get comfortable with tears in the workplace

Almost every time a colleague has cried (and it’s happened a fair amount over the years), it’s accompanied with profuse apologies, shame and embarrassment. But crying is an entirely normal and human response, and more often than not, relieves stress and makes the person feel better. And isn’t it unjust that while it’s commonplace to express frustration, anger and disappointment at work, crying carries stigma and traditionally, is punished? Whether it’s the result of a person feeling anxious, stressed or burnt out – or an uncomfortable conversation about bias, where someone is challenging a group, or a person to think more deeply about structural oppression…. In this new world of practising openness, we need to get comfortable with discomfort. I’d also love to see the phrase ‘don’t cry’ banned, because telling others to suppress their tears is a toxic habit. From a young age, we often block emotions which cause us to weep, but we wouldn’t do that with any other feeling. Crying makes us feel better, and there is no shame in it.

3. Open up the conversation about mental health between agencies and clients

In our research survey, we asked what caused the burnout that was so acutely felt and the overriding answer was ‘too many demands on my time’. What came in second though, was ‘corporate/client bullies’ This came above commute time, poor pay and poor culture, which shows just how much of an issue it is, for professionals on both sides of the fence. The ‘them and us’ mentality which can exist can exacerbate mental health challenges, but starting a conversation with your client (or agency, if you’re working in-house) will go a long way in enabling you to take action around team challenges, and promoting a more healthy relationship. The best agency/client relationships are based on trust, after all.

As with any D&I journey, tackling mental health in the workplace is tough and requires vulnerability and empathy, in order to do the work. It can’t be a tick box exercise, and employees won’t feel better, simply because their employer arranged a webinar on wellbeing.

It’s positive that progress has been made and people feel comfortable speaking up about their mental health challenges, and find support rather than pity and judgement. But there’s still work to be done. And in the not-too-distant future, I hope we’ll simply be talking about ‘health’ in the workplace – and we’ll no longer distinguish between mental and physical.

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