The working environment post-pandemic, whether we like to acknowledge it or not, has changed – the demands on an office environment, and on the employer have changed. Pre-pandemic, we thought we were doing a good job if we put plants in our offices to help the ambiance. But symbolic gestures are not enough, we have to look at what our employees need.
And we’re not talking salary or benefits, so let’s take that off of the table. What do our employees need from us?
We could go on about the structure of the work place, that they need targets and feedback – for their development and for the operational performance of your business. We also like to go on about the company culture – hard to pin down but we know it has something to do with a supportive work/life balance, about a “listening” environment, about development and if you’ve got a bit lost in the sauce, you often find employers throwing benefits out in hope of finding a cultural balance.
So, let’s pause…
Our employees need us to look out for their mental health – and not in a “questionnaire once a year” type of way but actively having “mental health chats”. We know that our jobs are stressful; everyone has different capacities for stress and so you need to step out of your own perspective and into theirs when having the chat. What are they struggling with at work and in general – we’re not there to “fix” everything but to support and guide.
I saw a TikTok the other day about a “Designated Crying Room” and as much of a foreign not-British concept as that sounds, I’ve seen one in a client’s office before. It was a small room with a sofa, a little bookcase with a collection of hand-me-down fiction books and over time it had gained the nickname of the “Crying Room”. It wasn’t just for employees to sit and cry in obviously… it permitted the employee for 15 minutes a day to step away from their desk and sit in a safe, comfortable, calm, non-workspace to decompress. It raises the question, is it important to consider investing in a “safe space”?
What are the benefits to creating a space like that… it’s quite evident that you’re stepping up your support of employee’s mental health, especially if you allow them to take 15-minutes from their work-time (not from their break allowance) to step away and use the room. You can hold your mental health chats in the space, giving these conversations a different feel from any other “performance” or “work-related” conversations. By providing fiction books, a phone mount so that music can be played (to a reasonable level), a water dispenser, soft chairs – you’re building a space that people will be comfortable in.
But where is the benefit? I hear you ask. The aim for your business for your people is to create a place where they want to work, they enjoy (the majority of the time) their job, and when they move on they take good things to say with them. Creating a safe space if you work in an office, a small room or corner that has been divided off, is a small ask and allows your in-office team to manage their stress more effectively, take time out of their day to mentally download (notebooks are a good idea!) their issues allowing them a better perspective, to call in a mental first aider if they need to talk to someone else to talk to – which allows you, as the employer, to gain a heads-up on what is going on with your team. The worst position for an employer to be in is for something “mental health related” to crop up and you had no idea there was an issue.
But what if you have a hybrid team or a work-from-home team? How do you create a “safe space” for them? Well that starts in a similar way, you make your intention clear to your team – that mental health chats are a regular occurrence, normalising the questions “how are you?” “what’s going on with you?” “how is everything with you?” and learning to recognise emotion through text message. If you have a structured working day e.g. 9am to 5pm, then giving them the same space – take 15-minutes away from your screen (outside of your normal break time) to step away, encourage them to journal their feelings and what is going on with them, so that in your mental health chats they can share a little bit (if they want to) and you can gain a greater perspective.
As employers we talk a lot about efficiencies – making processes and people perform more efficiently to drive results etc – but studies have found that building in “down time” like a 15-minute mental health rest (or allowing the flexibility of that option to exist) can drive overall efficiency far better than working your team from the dot of 9am to 5pm.