2023 Workplace Trends: Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

Unispace’s Regan Donoghue explores how employers can support employees’ mental health in the workplace.

– Stay tuned as we share more 2023 trends for the entire month of December & beyond –

Mental Health in the Workplace
Credit Christopher Barrett

In the wake of pandemic era isolation, fear and anxiety, corporate employees are dealing with an unprecedented number of mental health issues affecting their engagement, happiness and overall productivity at work. Post pandemic data from the World Health Organization shows a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide, and a study from Mind Share Partners disclosed that approximately 76% of full-time U.S. workers reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year – an understandable outcome of working through chaos and uncertainty.

As employers look toward the future of their organizations, a focus on supporting the mental and emotional needs of their employees will be key to building a productive and goal-oriented workforce moving forward. Whether a company is considering the best return to office strategy, implementing a hybrid work model or continuing to manage a fully remote staff, there are many ways that employers can help employees alleviate stress, promote mental wellness and empower them to be their best selves – no matter where they’re working from.

…A focus on supporting the mental and emotional needs of their employees will be key to building a productive and goal-oriented workforce moving forward

Rethinking The Metrics

After the disruption caused by the pandemic, many companies are moving away from the increasingly outdated practice of using KPIs to evaluate an individual’s performance, and toward a more holistic, team-wide model of purposeful benchmarking. Asking individual employees to meet specific, numbers-based goals is not only stressful for them, but many employers are finding that these measurements don’t necessarily line up with increased revenue or the furthering of the company’s overall purpose.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, investment strategist Michael Mauboussi noted that using these types of fear and data-based performances measures is the corporate equivalent of using batting averages to predict homeruns. Creativity is stifled by fear, and when employees are working toward meeting antiquated KPIs, they are wasting precious time on busywork that is often not in alignment with the company’s vision and goals. Instead, employers should refocus their priorities onto ensuring employees understand where the company wants to be going, and how their individual roles work together to make that a reality.

Reworking The Office

To set up employees to thrive in an in-person office after nearly three years of remote work, they need a workspace that’s comfortable, customizable and accommodating to their individual workstyles. Reimagined office spaces need to be designed to bolster mental wellbeing, and many employers are replicating home comforts by offering breakout areas with ample soft seating, introducing relaxation pods and wellness rooms or setting up baskets of blankets around the office.

If an employer can create a space in which employees can feel truly productive, that’s incentive to come back into the office on a regular basis.

Offering flexibility is also key. Whether on start times, total hours, a combination of remote and in-office working patterns or giving employees a place to go if they need to avoid uncomfortable situations, providing true flexibility in where and when work can be completed is essential to improving employees’ mental health.

The workplace itself should be also reconfigured to reach those goals. For example, noise pollution is still one of the most common complaints in offices today. Providing soundproof pods for Zoom meetings or quiet rooms where in-office workers can go to complete heads-down work without distraction is essential—especially given the constant distractions hybrid workers deal with at home. If an employer can create a space in which employees can feel truly productive, that’s incentive to come back into the office on a regular basis.

Empowering Mental Endurance At Work

After forming new self-care habits at home, many employees have realized the importance of working for a company whose culture supports mental health. Employers have also come a long way in addressing mental health issues in the workplace.

For example, Unispace has designated “white space” time on Friday afternoons, which employees can use to work on new creative endeavors, relax or refuel. Other companies have created policies that designate one day per week for meetings or shifted to “no meeting Friday” policies, and some are considering the benefits of four-day work weeks. Many organizations also now provide mental health days to all employees—something that was not present pre-pandemic—and still others have provided employees with the freedom to come and go from the office as needed to accommodate their family and personal obligations.

Efforts such as these make employees feel valued and help create a better community and culture. A recent survey shows that 79% of the respondents missed the social aspect of office working when COVID-related restrictions were in place and 78% felt disconnected from their colleagues while working from home. With that in mind, creating a community to alleviate the loneliness epidemic and allow for dedicated spaces where teams can meet, reconnect, and collaborate is essential.

Setting Healthy Leadership Boundaries

While many companies are quick to claim “work-life balance” as a perk of their culture, this only goes so far if managers are overstepping their own boundaries on a regular basis. Whether or not it’s intentional, managers who work on the weekends, send 11pm emails and never take PTO sets a precedent for those who report to them. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not an effective way to manage, and leaders who aren’t taking care of their own mental health can pass their stress and anxiety down to their employees.

Mental health has never been more relevant…

So often working parents are forced to choose between being an effective employee and being an effective parent, but leadership has the power to prove that work doesn’t need to be that way.

Overall, while challenges facing each company will vary, employers need to start reframing how the workspace—be it in person, virtual or hybrid—can support employees’ mental health and wellbeing needs. Mental health has never been more relevant, and the better prepared companies are to support the needs of their workforce, the more productive their employees will be at crunch time. If we’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that change is hard, but managing it from an employee-focused vantage point can help to create a better, more equitable, and engaged workforce in the future.

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