Updated: Nov 16
Traditionally, organizations believed that offering benefits that target physical health was sufficient for employee wellbeing. But recently, it is evident that mental fitness is just as crucial in cultivating a resilient workforce (1).
What is Mental Fitness?
Mental fitness can be defined as having and maintaining a state of well-being and cultivating awareness of how we think, behave and feel.
A study by Deloitte found that 300,000 people affected by poor mental health lose their jobs each year and 15% of the working population have an existing mental health condition (2).
Clearly, in our current climate of burnout and uncertainty, mental fitness is more than just a buzzword and it goes beyond using fancy meditation apps. Rather, it’s about ensuring your team is regularly strengthening and maintaining their mental muscles to thrive and survive.
Improving Mental Fitness in the Workplace
When it comes to our physical fitness, we recognize there are different degrees of health. And we’re encouraged to increase our fitness even if we’re not suffering from a particular ailment. Organizations and leaders should view mental health through a similar lens.
Encouraging mental fitness starts with a redefining of mental health as a spectrum. On this spectrum, people can range from being more or less mentally fit.
Helping employees be proactive about their mental fitness ensures that an organization stays in good enough shape to weather storms like the pandemic. Not only that, addressing mental health at work has been shown to increase productivity by as much as 12% (3).
Here are some ways organizations can build a culture of mental fitness that thrives even during unprecedented times.
1. Education and training
Stigma and lack of knowledge is a huge reason why we still see problems with mental health interventions.
Education and training can be as simple as reminding your employees to make use of your in-house Employee Assistance Programs. Companies can also regularly hire mental health professionals to provide workshops on stress management and psychological first aid.
These investments go a long way forward in preventing problems while highlighting the importance of building mentally healthy routines. Not only does this save the company money in the long term, but they also help employees achieve greater heights at work.
2. Encourage open and safe communication
A 2019 study by Accenture, found the six factors that make a supportive organization (4). Among the six was how safe employees would feel disclosing a mental health condition to people in leadership. The study also discovered that mental health issues drop by 40% when workers feel like they’re in a safe and supportive environment.
So in order to increase mental fitness among teams, leaders should encourage employees to be open about their concerns and experiences. It could be common issues like depression or anxiety, or more enduring conditions like schizophrenia or ADHD. Ultimately, having people share their neuro-diverse experiences promotes a sense of psychological safety in the workplace.
3. Value people over profit
Although companies are paying employees to put in their hours, employees should still be treated as human beings and not revenue-churning machines. (Even machines break down when overused!)
Managers should regularly assess whether there’s a balance between workload and the resources to complete them.
Furthermore, humanizing your employees means acknowledging their lives beyond the office. This means instituting proactive policies like flexible hours and creative downtime (5). Embed a culture that allows staff to take care of other areas of their lives as well.
4. Cultivate a shared purpose
While burnout largely stems from overwork, scientific literature suggests another overlooked cause - a lack of purpose (6).
Author Simon Sinek famously talks about “knowing your why.” (7) He shares how one of the biggest catalysts for burnout isn’t about what you do, but rather why you’re doing what you do. That’s why equipping people with purpose and meaning, rather than thoughtless to-do lists, builds mental fitness and buffers against burnout.
Hence, the best thing leaders can do to optimize their team’s mental fitness is to give employees clarity about their role. Provide them with a deep understanding of how their work specifically contributes to your business goals.
Workplace mental fitness hovered at an inflection point before the pandemic. Clearly, the past two years have accelerated the dire need to support people through their challenges. The question is no longer about illness and functioning at the bare minimum. Rather, proactive effort to strive for mental fitness is what we need to thrive in times of crisis and beyond.
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