Supporting Employee Mental Health

Part 1: Minimising Pressures & Maximising Boosts.

At a glance

Welcome to the first of a two-part White Paper, where we explore some of the key trends in areas of wellbeing during the pandemic and how, equipped with these insights, employers can do their best to support their employees.

The year 2020 was chaotic, to say the least—thrown into completely new circumstances, both organisations and individuals were left grappling with the situation, not knowing what to do or how best to cope. This year, whilst the challenge remains ongoing, there is seemingly an end in sight.

Naturally, our thoughts are now turning to post-pandemic life—what will it look like? Will we keep some of the approaches that we may have once seen as a temporary measure (remote working, for example)? What will returning to some semblance of ‘normality’ feel like?

With still uncertainty remaining, it’s more important than ever to be guided by two things: data measurement a real care and consideration for people’s wellbeing. That’s why we decided to share these insights from our latest research—so that you can make decisions from the most informed place, on findings that reveal where people are struggling the most and need your support.

The insights contained in this paper paint a very clear picture—one of employees struggling to take care of their basic wellbeing needs, facing high pressures and in real need of support. Keep reading for an introduction to the research and the headline findings, before delving in deeper to explore the focus areas of this paper: the pressures faced by employees, and the positive ‘boosts’ that can help bolster against these, including actionable steps you can take to support these areas.

Jump to the stuff that matters most...

About People Matter
The Science
Introduction to the Research
High Level Findings
Minimising Pressures
Tips for Minimising Pressures
Maximising Boosts
Tips for Maximising Boosts
Where do we go from here?
Breaking Bad Recorded Workshop


About People Matter

We combine leading human understanding and technology to design wellness solutions that help people and organisations thrive.

For the individual we have an app, Okina which provides personal insights for the individual to better understand their current state of wellbeing, and how to either improve or maintain this.

For the organisation there is Okina Care, we have developed our cultural analytics platform that delivers deep insights from across the organisation, giving real time access to identify areas of concern and create specific interventions where and when it’s required the most.

Unique to People Matter our Digital Self technology provides an in-depth view of how individuals' digital working environment affects their wellbeing.

If you would like to find out more about how your current and future wellbeing strategy can be supported through our innovative technology, please check out the website or get in touch.


The Science

At the core of our work is our leading behavioural science and psychological research. This has lead to our deep belief that when we understand what makes us tick and are able to influence our social environments to be nurturing, we humans are inherently proactive with our potential.

By providing a framework we can enable both organisations and individuals to develop a mind-set, language and understanding into mental health.

The framework also provides a structure for teams and managers to have more open and objective conversations, through better understanding and awareness.

To find out more you can access for free further information that will help provide a better understanding into the meaning behind these different constructs and their influence on the psychology of positive mental wellbeing and resilience.

View download pack


The Research

The findings we outline in these white papers come from a 2020 survey of 956 working individuals aged 18+, who were working full- or part-time (minimum 21 hours/week). The majority of respondents were located in the UK, and the breakdown by gender in the sample is as follows: 52.5% identifying as male, 46.7% as female, 0.7% as not wishing to disclose and 0.1% as non-binary/other.

The survey assessed the pressures people were experiencing, the positive factors in their environment, their emotions and their behaviours. These areas correspond to the four key areas of the scientifically validated model that People Matter uses to measure wellbeing: Pressures, Boosts, Emotions and Behaviours.


High-Level Findings

Below are the key areas of concern identified from the research we conducted during 2020 and examined across the different constructs within the whole PEBB model:

Boosts

People have too much to do in too little time, with 40% saying their level of pressure is unhealthy
People are lacking support in their lives, with 24% of respondents feeling no sense of belonging

Emotions

Behaviours

Many are battling with anxiety and feel unable to control their worries: 32% feel "trapped by anxiety"
People are struggling to find time to rest and switch off: 49% don't have time to look after themselves

Pressures



With 24% of our sample reporting feeling ‘completely burnt out’, and 40% feeling concerned that they are not coping well, there is a clear and urgent need to learn how best to support employees and to act on this without delay.

Our hope is that the insights and suggestions contained in this paper will serve as a guide to inform how you care for and support those in your organisation, highlighting the most pressing areas to address. We would advise seeing these as a starting point, from which you may then want to go on to explore further the specific needs within your particular organisation.


Diving in deeper: Pressures & Boosts

The rest of this paper explores in greater detail the first two overarching areas: Pressures and Boosts.

These two areas look at the external social and environmental factors that are so important to our wellbeing, addressing the positive and negative influences in individuals’ physical, social and work environments.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 which focuses on Managing Emotions & Behaviours.


Minimising Pressures

What do we mean?

Within the People Matter model, ‘Pressures’ refers to the factors of an individual’s environment that challenge and drain them of energy.

A large part of this comes down to the demands placed on a person—is their workload unrealistically high? Are they completely overloaded, constantly tackling a never-ending to-do list? And what about the difficulty of those demands—are they too challenging, stretching someone much too far outside of their comfort zone?

Closely related to this are time-related factors—how much time pressure is the individual experiencing? How fast do they need to work each day—can they work at a healthy, manageable pace, or is everything hurried through with a sense of urgency?

Also within Pressures, we look at other elements such as whether an individual has the time and space to properly focus, whether they feel psychologically safe in their environment, and how stable things are—do they have to deal with others’ emotions a lot, or work in volatile situations with highly changeable demands? All of these things increase the pressure felt by a person.


Why is it important?

Managing Pressures is crucial both for the health, wellbeing and safety of individuals and also for the success of an organisation. Keeping the demands on a person in check will help to reduce stress and anxiety, and avoid things escalating to the point of experiencing serious issues such as burnout and depression.

For the business, the knock-on effects of this are also clear—and it’s much more than having fewer absences and reduced presenteeism. Over-pressuring people leads to a lack of focus, attention and motivation, more mistakes, and stifled innovation—so lifting some of that pressure to give people space and energy to think will actually result in better quality work and more creative problem-solving.


Our findings in detail

Our research suggests that people have too much to do in too little time, with 40% saying the level of pressure on them feels unhealthy.

Too much to do…
35% report having too many commitments to manage
33% feel stretched too far outside their comfort zone
40% claim they are not on top of their responsibilities/tasks
26% feel others’ expectations of them are unreasonable

...In too little time
29% said they can’t sustain their current level of pace
35% report they don’t usually have enough time to get everything done
30% claim they are not able to work at their own pace
31% feel they don’t have enough time to take breaks
31% feel they don’t even have enough time to think.
22% say they usually have no uninterrupted focus time

Tips for minimising Pressures

Organisations & Leaders

Ask, and listen.

When it comes to pressures, simply listening to your employees is the easiest, yet most impactful step you can take. Make sure people have appropriate opportunities to speak up about how they are finding their workload, time pressure and any other demands.

Be careful with how you talk about resilience.

Whilst working on building individual resilience will increase the level of pressure that a person can handle, it’s important not to put all the onus on the individual to take responsibility for this.

No amount of self-care is going to make someone immune to the harmful effects of a completely unrealistic workload.

Advising employees to work on their resilience whilst the organisation takes no action to help is essentially saying to them ‘Deal with it—it’s not our problem.’ But it is—so make sure you show that you are changing things for the better too.

Measure to inform action

Organisations now need to be on the front-foot of employee wellbeing, ensuring that environments, processes and strategies bring out the best in people. Leaving it to chance is no longer an option.

Launching a measurement survey and supplementing that with insights on working patterns, will help you to understand exactly where the pressure points are and develop practices and boundaries that help employees thrive.

Check out our free How to Measure Mental Health at Work Guide & Toolkit

The Health & Safety Executive directly outlines that workplace pressures and demands need to be addressed as one of their 6 core Management Standards


Managers

Open up the conversation.

Actively encourage open discussion about the pressures facing your team, so that people don’t feel like it’s a sign of weakness or underperforming if they are struggling with their responsibilities. For inspiration, see the conversation starters on the next page.


Foster psychological safety.

Think about how you can best create a team culture that is trusting, respectful of everyone, values all contributions and in which people feel safe sharing their honest opinions. Focus on acceptance and learning from mistakes, rather than judging and punishing.


Normalise setting aside ‘focus time’.

Encourage people to block out periods of ‘focus time’ in their calendars if they need the undisturbed time to get things done (then be sure to respect this time).

What are you Role-Modelling to others?

When are you contacting colleagues?

Try to refrain from sending emails or messages outside of official working hours. Not only will this make it easier for people to switch off outside of work and prevent them being faced with a backlog of messages to deal with in the morning., but it sets a healthy example of work-life balance.


Are you setting & respecting your own boundaries?

People tend to feel obliged to say yes—so demonstrate setting boundaries around your own working practices and saying no to things when you need to. This will encourage others to feel able to do the same, to manage their workload and protect their wellbeing.

Team Check-in & Conversation Starters

These simple questions can provide you with a high-level indication of how your team is doing in this area. People can be asked to respond on a simple rating scale for each question, such as:

Green going well
Amber okay, could be better
Red a serious issue

Questions to start you off...

   Is your day-to-day workload manageable?
   Do you usually have enough time to do your best work?
   How sustainable is the amount of pressure you’re feeling at the moment?
   How easy is it for you to find uninterrupted time to accomplish what you need to at work?
   Does your work environment feel respectful of everyone?

From this point, you can open up discussions based around the questions above, focusing on learning more about anything that’s mostly been rated as Red or possibly Amber too.

Ask your team for input into how such issues could be improved—they’ll likely appreciate the chance to have their voices heard. You can then refer back to the previous page for ideas on what actions and changes might be helpful to implement—although bear in mind this list is not exhaustive.

Where appropriate, you could also provide relevant advice to team members using the ‘Tips for Individuals’ below.

Advice for the Individual

The following quick tips are intended to help individuals to think about how they can take control and manage the Pressures in their lives. Our second paper goes into detail on these and many more helpful behaviours.

Speak up if you are overloaded

If you are overloaded with an unrealistic amount of work, the most important thing you can do is make sure that your manager and colleagues are made aware. Nothing will change if no one knows there is an issue.


Set clear boundaries

Decide on boundaries between your work and personal time, whatever this looks like for you—think about working hours, when you check your emails etc. Be sure to be clear about these to others, and honour the boundaries you have put into place for yourself.


Find ways to relax and recharge

Everyone deals with pressure differently, so find whatever it is that helps you to unwind and restore your energy, and make sure that’s a priority in your life.


For a full, detailed assessment of Pressures and other areas of your team’s wellbeing, get in touch with us to find out how you can use Okina in your organisation.

Find out more


Maximising Boosts

What do we mean?

Within the People Matter model, ‘Boosts’ refers to the positive influences and things in life that excite, motivate and fulfil us.

One key part of this looks at the relationships and support available in a person’s life. Do they have healthy, positive relationships? Do they feel supported by the people in their life, and able to reach out for help when they need it? Do they feel included and a strong sense of belonging, or lonely with no one to turn to?

Another element within Boosts is an individual’s sense of meaning. This looks at the extent to which a person is able to live in a way that aligns with their values, to feel a sense of purpose about what they do and feel like they are making a positive difference somehow.

We also look at Boosts such as whether an individual feels they are growing and developing as a person. It's important that they feel appreciated and valued in their role, through both recognition and self-affirmation.

Do employees have enough freedom and control over their days to live and work in a way that suits them?

These are all important contributors in lifting a person up and (to some extent) balancing out some of the pressures they may experience day-to-day.


Why it’s important

Finding ways to increase the Boosts in employees’ working lives has real benefits, again for both the wellbeing of the individuals and also for the success of the organisation.

If an individuals’ work environment provides the right conditions for these boosts to be felt, it will improve not only wellbeing but also motivation and engagement. Someone who feels supported, appreciated and valued, with opportunities to learn and a clear purpose in what they do, is going to show up to work feeling very differently to someone who feels no support, is never recognised for their contributions and is micro-managed all day long (for example).

These conditions also enable greater psychological resilience—meaning people are set up to flourish and to be able to cope effectively when those pressures do creep up for some reason.


Our findings in detail

People feel like they are lacking support in their lives:

24% of people don't feel a sense of belonging at work
43% of people usually deal with their problems alone
34%
of people feel like they aren't learning anything new in their role
20% of people feel like they are ignored or isolated at work

40% of people feel like they have to conform in their wellbeing can be effected by their direct manager

However, there is some good news with 78% of respondents reported feeling some sort of sense of purpose - that they are contributing to something important, that their work is meaningful, and/or that they are making a positive difference somehow



Tips for maximising Boosts

Organisations & Leaders

Provide opportunities for growth and learning.

There are plenty of ways to support employees’ personal development and support them feeling fulfilled and engaged—from training courses to a dedicated personal development ‘allowance’ for each person, from external speaker sessions to mentoring and coaching opportunities.


Allow autonomy and freedom.

Consider giving employees more control over both how they work and what they work on. Having greater choice in how they work on a daily basis will allow individuals to work in a way that suits their personal strengths. Providing some freedom to join particular projects is also a great way of further supporting that sense of growth and development, as employees are able to find things that interest, challenge and excite them.


Raise awareness of formal support.

Hopefully your team will feel safe and able to turn to each other for day-to-day support, but when things get tough, it’s crucial that people know where to turn to if they want to access more formal support sources (for example an Employee Assistance Programme or counselling services).


Managers

Get to know your team members’ strengths.

Spending time getting to know where your team members’ natural strengths, preferences and interests lie will allow you to easily take these into consideration when allocating work. This will allow individuals’ to do work that aligns with their true selves and feels meaningful and motivating to them.


Show appreciation (even for the small things).

Making a habit of thanking people and showing your gratitude will not only give them a boost, but will likely filter through to improve the team culture as others notice this behaviour and start to do the same amongst themselves.


Foster healthy relationships.

Whilst relationships between people can’t be forced, you can still create the opportunities for employees to bond with each other. There’s no need to overthink this—something as simple as going out for the occasional team lunch can be a great catalyst, especially if your team has been working remotely throughout the pandemic (and providing it’s safe to do so, of course).


Team Check-in & Conversation Starters

These simple questions can provide you with a high-level indication of how your team is doing in this area. People can be asked to respond on a simple rating scale for each question, such as:

Green going well
Amber okay, could be better
Red a serious issue

Questions to start you off...

  How supportive does your work atmosphere feel?
  Do you feel appreciated at the moment?
  Do you feel close to the people you work with?
  To what extent are you in control of how you do your job?
  Have you had opportunities to learn or grow recently?

From this point, you can open up discussions based around the questions above, focusing on learning more about anything that’s mostly been rated as Red or possibly Amber too. Ask your team for input into how such issues could be improved—they’ll likely appreciate the chance to have their voices heard.

You can then refer back to the previous page for ideas on what actions and changes might be helpful to implement—although bear in mind this list is not exhaustive. Where appropriate, you could also provide relevant advice to team members using the ‘Tips for Individuals’ below.

For a full, detailed assessment of Pressures and other areas of your team’s wellbeing, get in touch with us to find out how you can use Okina in your organisation.


Advice for the Individual

The following quick tips are intended to help individuals to think about how they can increase the positive Boosts in their lives. Our second paper goes into detail many more helpful actions individuals can take to support their wellbeing.


Connect with others

Never under-estimate the value of spending time with friends, family or close colleagues. A solid support network is one of the strongest resources available to support wellbeing.


Find your ‘why’

Exploring your values and what’s important to you will enable you to find ways to incorporate these into your life and find things you truly feel passionate about.


Focus on your own growth

Whether it’s work-related or personal projects, continued learning and development is a great way to support your wellbeing and sense of fulfilment.


Seek support when you need it

Formal support services are there for a reason—if you’re struggling or going through a tough time, consider finding out about what’s available to you and how it could help.


For a full, detailed assessment of Boosts and other areas of your team’s wellbeing, get in touch with us to find out how you can use Okina in your organisation.

Find out more


Where do we go from here?

Our hope is that these papers and the suggestions within them will serve as a valuable starting point for organisations to understand the key areas of need and implement the most appropriate strategies as a result. It is also important to stress the value in first taking stock of the current state of employee wellbeing within your organisation.



Breaking Bad Workshop

In this free 23min video, People Matter's CEO, Amy King shares ways in which you can inspire action and build healthier cultures, that enable people to build resilience, avoid workplace burnout and be at their best.


Watch Video



Supporting Employee Mental Health Part 2

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this white paper series, ‘Managing Emotions and Behaviours’, coming soon. In this paper we’ll explore more of our research findings focusing on the more individual influences on wellbeing, including practical actions and habits that can be implemented to help manage our mental state.

How to measuring mental health at work

Obtaining a detailed measure of wellbeing through a thorough assessment will enable you to be confident that you are truly serving the particular wellbeing needs of your employees—with any decisions and resulting actions being informed by real, current data specific to your organisation.

Please visit our Actionable Guide & Toolkit for if you are interested in using a data-led approach for measuring employee wellbeing.


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Written by

Emily L Jarrett,
Lead Psychologist, People Matter