By Kewin Kerruish, Head of HR, Isle of Man
Mental health awareness. It’s not just about social media posts and cakes. Suicide is the largest cause of death for men under the age of 50. I’m not 50 yet, but I fully intend to get there, so I try my best to look after my mental health and general wellbeing, but it’s not always easy.
My cousin and three men from my year at school have died by suicide, so this is a very real issue and not just something I have read about. Therefore, I find it disingenuous when I see social media posts from companies demonstrating they care about mental health by having bought everybody a cupcake, when in reality they are doing nothing to support their employees in maintaining good mental health.
Unless we actually help and support each other, short-term words (and cakes) don’t build strong and sustainable foundations. With one in six people experiencing mental health problems in any given week, it’s important for companies to consider the impact of mental health in the workplace.
To improve mental health care at work, we first need to understand what employees need from their employers. Everyone is different, and the goal is to be inclusive. If we find out what our employees like and dislike about working in our company, we can build a foundation of support and an environment receptive to change.
Listen to lived experience
I feel extremely fortunate that IQ-EQ uses the Gallup engagement survey. The survey, which uses 12 questions to measure employee engagement, gives employees a chance to communicate their needs with their managers.
Statements are rated on a five-point scale, and cover subjects such as work expectation, feeling valued, having someone to rely on or talk to, and feeling important in the wider company.
What has an engagement survey got to do with mental health?
My short answer is that it has everything to do with mental health, both at work and outside of work.
Studies show that giving employees a voice drives engagement and employee retention, meaning it creates an environment of accountability and success. What’s more, an organisation’s culture affects the ability to have open conversations that can improve employee support, which affects us in work and in our personal lives.
Surveys such as Gallup send a clear message that we’re willing to listen, and we want to improve the lived experience of our employees. In a recent McKinsey survey, almost half of employers wanted to increase engagement, but only 38% of those respondents said they were tracking engagement. When employees are engaged, we can support them. If they’re disengaged, we need real-time change.
A time to reflect
Every year our anonymous employee survey gives us lots of information to assess our levels of engagement. Not only is the data really helpful to the business, but it lets us reflect on our own lived experience.
I keep a printed copy of the survey questions beside my desk so I can actively reflect on my experience at work. When I encounter a problem, or feel like something needs to improve, I grade the experience against the scorecard, and if I see room for improvement, I raise it with my manager.
I’m not a doctor, nor am I a mental health professional, but I’ve seen enough mental health-related issues (good and bad) to give me a decent insight into how my own mind works. Opening discussions, no matter how difficult, helps both as an employee and a HR professional.
Surveys give us time to reflect, both professionally and personally in how we do our day-to-day job. They feedback to our organisation our shared truth: we’re all unique and have different experiences. Promoting wellbeing at work increases productivity by as much as 12%, showing we all benefit from having these open conversations.
To encourage change and make a difference, we first need to listen.