As Mental Health Awareness month comes to a close and we are approaching Pride month, we ask what diversity, inclusion and belonging mean for mental health. In a blog post published last week, we talked about the importance of mental wellbeing in the era of remote working and gave tips on how employers can promote healthier environments. This week, we address the importance of diversity, inclusion, sense of purpose and belonging, and their impact on employees’ mental health.
Work is central to our lives. For most of us, it takes a large chunk out of our precious days and can often be stressful and tiring, which can negatively impact our wellbeing. It is therefore important that our interactions at work cultivate positive feelings and experiences that can have a favourable effect on our mental health and overall performance.
“Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed.” Shawn Achor, author of ‘The Happiness Advantage’.
Unfortunately, minorities and individuals with protected characteristics that include race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religious beliefs, and disability, are often more likely to have negative experiences at work. They are more likely to face various forms of direct and indirect discrimination and be affected by conscious and unconscious bias. Lack of diverse representation can also be problematic, as it may lead to employees feeling underrepresented and unsupported, which can result in reduced confidence. Lack of commitment form leaders to encourage diverse and inclusive environment can also mean that the experiences of employees with diverse characteristics are overlooked. All of this can have serious and adverse effects on mental health of employees and can affect their psychological safety at work, the most important factor for building effective teams1.
Where do we start?
Diverse and inclusive environment that facilitates a sense of belonging is of paramount importance for employees’ mental wellbeing.
Inclusive environment must start with the company leadership. Leaders and managers must be trained and acquire a good understanding about mental health, diversity, and inclusion. This needs to be followed by implementation of strategies in each of these areas to build effective and sustainable support systems that serve as a strong foundation. This requires consistent actions that create an open environment, where employees always feel supported. To put it simply, employees will not seek support, if the company culture is toxic or if they do not feel that their colleagues or leaders are open to conversations.
There are several ways in which organisations can optimise their approaches to achieving inclusive environment that supports mental health of diverse employees. So, let’s take a look at some of the most important components.
Representation and diversity
Organisational diversity is important at all levels. Representation of minorities in leadership positions is especially significant, as it can increase employee confidence and can be a big step towards eliminating the bias of ‘’how leaders should look like’’. It can also help with tackling discrimination, as employees who may otherwise not feel confident reporting cases of discrimination, might feel more empowered to do so. Organisations must put efforts in ensuring that their recruitment practices are inclusive and that they are able to attract and retain diverse talent.
Leadership involvement in building inclusive teams
The language and approaches that leaders use inevitably influence the behaviours and perceptions of employees, as well as play a significant role in building the organisational culture itself. Leaders must encourage and facilitate open conversations around mental health and inclusion, whilst also ensuring that discrimination is never tolerated. They must demonstrate that everyone in the organisation matters, which can be achieved through simple but consistent actions, such as encouraging contributions from everyone, giving individuals the chance to express themselves and ensuring that any feedback and complaints are always taken seriously.
Language is central to communication and has a direct impact on how we perceive the world around us. Inclusive language is a way of communication that uses words and phrases that are welcoming, positive, and of course, inclusive of diverse characteristics, as the term implies. It is one of the most crucial foundational blocks of inclusive culture, as appropriate communication can ensure that individuals with a variety of diverse characteristics are acknowledged and respected. Adjusting the language in a way that is inclusive, can shift mindsets and challenge both, conscious and unconscious biases, which often negatively impact mental health of employees. Leaders must have awareness of what constitutes inclusive language and ensure that all company communication is conducted in a way that makes everyone feel acknowledged and respected. They should also be open to feedback and encourage individuals to challenge language that they might deem to be exclusive.
Purpose and belonging – the glue that holds the organisation together
A sense of belonging is the feeling of connection with others, and the feeling of being valued and respected. Positive relations at work and a sense of belonging and purpose favourably affect mental health of employees, ignite motivation and enable them to thrive. Employees with a high sense of belonging take 75% fewer sick days and see a 56% improvement in job performance2.
There are many ways in which a sense of belonging can be cultivated. We have already addressed the importance of representation, leadership involvement and inclusive language, all of which can help to foster it. However, the organisations must not stop there. Helping employees to form meaningful and positive connections with each other is another crucial step towards reaching this goal. A good example of this in action is creating Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that are based on shared characteristics, experiences or goals, and can facilitate formation of strong relationships among employees. However, it can also be something as simple as carving out time to involve employees in shared fun activities, which can also be a significant step in the desired direction.
It is important to note that the complexity of mental health means that every individual who may struggle with it, will be impacted differently. Creating a work environment that provides outstanding support, respects diversity, and facilitates sense of purpose and belonging is unlikely to eliminate the individual struggles. However, it will most certainly go a long way in ensuring that employees feel supported and in turn, motivated and empowered to perform to their best abilities. Inclusive work environment is a continuous effort that requires companies to consistently reflect on how the leadership and company structures facilitate it. So, to see the fruits that inclusive culture can bring, organisations must not only plant the seed, but also water it.
At Lumorus, we take mental wellbeing of our employees seriously. This has led us to adapt a range of practices that help to foster a supportive environment.
Our highlight of the week is an hour of Among Us game, where we get to see each other’s competitive side, besides having plenty of fun!
Our weekly team meetings include gratitude moments, where each person shares something that they were grateful for in the previous week.
These simple, yet consistent actions has helped us to build stronger relationships and to get to know each other in more personal capacities.
Whilst our approach might not work for everyone, we hope that companies can find their own unique ways to help them build a more supportive and inclusive environment that values diversity, fosters belonging and, as a result, positively impacts mental wellbeing of all employees.
Lumorus is a UK-based governance, leadership & organisational health consultancy. We provide bespoke services using a mixture of diagnostic tools and development that assist organisations and their leaders to perform and create long term value. To find out more about our organisation, visit our website at https://www.lumorus.com.