We are living in an age of connection. Our world no longer consists of believing that each person is an island, and the idea of self-made success is fading. The disappearing emphasis on independent achievement is being replaced with the concept of social support and networking. The workplace is no exception in this paradigm shift toward interconnectedness.
As warm and fuzzy as the idea sounds, the concept of looking out for the emotional and mental well-being of employees is more than just a nice sentiment. Employers increasingly are faced with demands that they create a nurturing atmosphere in the workplace, and are facing backlash for failing to do so. Business giant Google knows this all too well. In spite of being considered an innovator in tolerance, diversity, and creative expression, Google is currently in a human resources mess.
Walking the tightrope of providing for the psychological needs of all employees can be a difficult task. Employers can love it or hate it, but the expectation of providing a psychologically safe space in the office is not going away. Here are seven tips that can assist with finding a balance that will help to protect the mental health of your employees, thus resulting in a more productive workplace.
1. Set the Rules
Expectations for behaviors are best set in the beginning. Employers who are seeking to revamp a workplace culture that is already established may encounter resistance from those who are content with the status quo. Know that this resistance to change is common human behavior, and devise a planfor setting out the new expectations for employee interactions in a systematic fashion. Determine, ahead of time, to create an environment that is culturally educated and aware of sensitive issues. Mental health diagnoses, gender identity, and sex-discrimination are among some of the current hot-button concerns to consider when designing the parameters for employee interactions.
2. Manage Effectively
Working for a difficult boss is a commonly cited source of employee stress, and mismanagement complaints abound. The top stressors for employees include excessive workload demands and negative interactions with coworkers. Working toward improving your own management skills in these areas can alleviate nearly three-quarters of employee grievances. Do your research, and find what management techniques work in this current cultural climate. Reducing the workplace stress for your employees can result in their reporting of an overall higher assessment of quality of life.
3. Discourage Gossip and Encourage Open Exchange
Part of setting the tone for a good workplace atmosphere is to emphasize that all concerns are valid. In an atmosphere where constructive criticism is met with sincere consideration, the drive to make complaints in secret is diminished. Utilize training sessions that instruct employees on how to communicate needs effectively, and educate yourself on diplomatic approaches to problem solving. Being open to listening to, and then incorporating, the needs of the individual can head off unwanted strife between staff members and management.
4. Foster Team Cohesion
While teambuilding exercises have been around for a long time, the psychological needs of the employee—apart from the success of the business—have rarely been forefront. Modern teambuilding exercises incorporate sensitivity for the individual, and place an emphasis on appreciating the unique personality and skill set each employee brings to the table. Utilize group activities as a means to encourage your employees to appreciate one another for such differences, and to decrease tendencies toward competition.
5. Encourage Employee Development and Contribution
An employee who feels unappreciated and poorly assigned is not a happy employee. Avoid the situation of growing employee discontent, and eventual resentment, by making a regular effort to acknowledge achievements and to maximize employee effectiveness. Taking the time to appreciate a job well done, and striving to find the right niche for your employees, will result in an increase in their job satisfaction. It is not only the employee who will benefit from this. A contented employee is also likely to result in an increase in your overall business productivity.
6. Utilize a Collaborative Problem-Solving Approach
Modern employees expect they will be included in the process of finding solutions to workplace problems. It is no longer enough to utilize the manager position in an authoritarian manner. Replace the old idea of the “compliment sandwich” with a problem/suggestion/question approach. When faced with a problem, first engage in active listening and communication. Then propose your own solution for the issue. Finally, ask for employee feedback about what might work best in the instance. The ultimate decision in how to proceed is yours, but an employee who feels his or her feedback is taken into consideration is more likely to be on board with the final outcome.
7. Have a Concrete Complaint Procedure in Place
Even after you have done all you are able, the possibility remains that an employee will find the workplace environment to be a cause of distress. A wise employer will anticipate this, and will act preemptively by providing employees with a clear, non-convoluted pathway for expressing a grievance. Whether you choose the ultimate route of arbitration or litigation for resolving disputes, ensure that the employee is empowered with the information necessary to seek relief.
Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D, is a licensed clinical psychologist and a certified chemical intervention specialist. He is the founder and chief clinical director at Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center with locations in Malibu and San Francisco.