Do Organizations Need Workplace Well-Being Plans?

The World Health Organization has offered three key recommendations to prevent mental health problems from arising, or worsening, at work.

Among many other things, technology stresses me out. This is truer than ever now that I am working from home most days without in-person IT help. We all have our stressors; some of them, like the technology issue for me, have gotten worse with the increased isolation from the pandemic.

As most of us became accustomed to the threat of COVID, and the threat of serious illness lessened for most vaccinated people, I assumed “normal” life would return. Instead, many of us mostly still work at home without the pre-pandemic in-person support systems. That means many are still experiencing added pressure to get everything done with fewer resources and the additional stress of working in an environment that may be more convenient location-wise, but is not necessarily well equipped to serve as a workstation.

Maybe a “workplace well-being plan” is what organizations need. The World Economic Forum recently published an article on workplace well-being spurred by a look at how well companies in New Zealand are adapting to the 2015 Health and Safety at Work Act. The law requires workplaces to look after the physical and mental health and well-being of their staff. Yet, as the article points out, a recent survey of New Zealand workplaces revealed that more than a third have no workplace well-being plan in place.

3 Recommendations

As workplace well-being is an international challenge, the World Health Organization has offered three key recommendations to prevent mental health problems from arising, or worsening, at work:

  1. Organizational interventions to identify, remove, or mitigate, psychosocial risks.
  2. Mental health training for managers to identify and support healthy work practices and healthy workers.
  3. Interventions for employees to increase their personal coping capacity.

The first, removing or mitigating psychosocial risks, can hinge on handling a person who elevates the stress levels of others. I have repeatedly experienced this over the years. Threats to mental health caused by co-workers and managers can range from abusive, dishonest managers to people who may intend no harm but are not competent. The intentionally difficult person is the most upsetting, but an otherwise innocent person, who is not good at their job, can be equally damaging. For example, let’s say you have an IT employee who is not prompt and conscientious about their work. That person will cause undue stress by leaving employees without the needed computer hardware and software resources to do their jobs. Those difficulties can create stress as the employee with the computer that doesn’t function as it should is left scrambling to figure out how to do workarounds to meet the responsibilities of their job.

It’s easier to put systems in place to evaluate and remove incompetent people from their jobs than it is to spot, and take action against, damaging managers. One obstacle is that these abusers tend to be manipulative people, who have long since won over the boss/employment decision-maker. The boss may not believe that their most trusted employee is abusive or unfair to those working under them.

Most employees won’t go to a boss and complain about an abusive manager/supervisor for fear of retribution. I did years ago, and had the problem downplayed; it was never fixed. I suspect this abusive manager had gotten ahead of me and poisoned the well ahead of my conversation with our boss, so the boss was not open to seriously considering the concerns I raised. In another scenario, I experienced a manager who misrepresented my contribution so his own would be inflated. It wasn’t until that manager retired, and the truth about his “contribution” became apparent—that, if anything, the department operated much better without him.

Don’t Rely Solely on Manager Input

In training department heads and executives who manage supervisors, it’s important to stress the importance of never relying solely on manager input about those working under the manager. While it can be challenging from a time-management perspective, it’s important for department heads and executives to meet one-on-one, alone, with individuals who work under the supervisors the executives/department heads manage.

“How’s it going, Sally? How’s the workload? How are you working with your supervisor, Judy? Do you feel you’re able to work well with her? How often do the two of you meet and collaborate on work? Are you getting the development opportunities you want?”

Or: “I get the impression from Judy that the two of you aren’t hitting it off. She has expressed concerns to me about how the two of you interact. She seems put off by your approach to interacting with her. So I wanted to get your take on that.”

Or: “Judy says you don’t want to be included in the meetings we have from time to time to put future plans in place. She says you’re so happy with your current responsibilities that you most likely don’t want to grow into greater responsibilities. The way she tells it, it’s Judy who’s carrying the heaviest load in the work you do that she supervises. Is that an accurate description?”

There’s nothing like hearing impressions and descriptions of the workplace directly from employees, rather than through an intermediary, who may have an interest in misrepresenting an employee.

Do you have a workplace well-being plan in place for your organization? How do you spot and fix threats to well-being, such as incompetent employees and abusive managers?