Is corporate well-being or mental health support a luxury or a necessity?

A few days ago, I had a very interesting discussion about well-being and more precisely – about corporate well-being, with a global executive from one of the well-known corporate giants.  About the changes he’s made in his lifestyle and the benefits he’s seen since. An amazing accomplishment once understanding where from he’d left health wise and where he was 2 years down the road…

For confidentiality reasons I will be calling him Daniel.

Daniel was telling me about how after so many benefits and positive changes on himself, he was trying to encourage his colleagues start that way too.

And of course, the thought the best and most direct and impactful way would be to talk to the HR. He therefore went straight to the Global CHRO proposing to reflect on replacing some of the existing corporate benefits (i.e.  corporate “drinks vouchers”) with healthier versions like “well-being vouchers”.

Needless to say, that even if the discussion between Daniel and his CHRO was a couple of years ago, very few things have actually changed at corporate level from this perspective, those benefits being still considered “luxury” …

And as I am sure many other HR heads or CEOs are finding difficult to change and adapt their “corporate ships” to something that will sooner than later hit us hard if no immediate actions – especially of a key component of the well-being: the mental health subject, I thought of challenging this a bit.  And not only challenging those executives but also make the link with a key differentiator for the employers in attracting and retaining the best there is – Employee Experience (EX).

I will begin clarifying a bit the terms “mental health” and “well-being” while underlining the impact of the pandemics and not only (the day-to-day rhythm/one stress after another and no “space” to recover, the downsides of connectivity and globalization, etc.) and finalize with some ideas I believe institutions of all kind should reflect on in order to prosper or even survive.

Sadly, many still confuse well-being with SPA related stuff, with nice to have “luxury/nice to have benefits” and still believe the classical benefits will continue to function.

Let’s reflect a bit more on these definitions:

Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Mental health is fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life. On this basis, the promotion, protection and restoration of mental health can be regarded as a vital concern of individuals, communities and societies throughout the world.

While wellbeing “ can be understood as how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.”[1] Most people would agree that wellbeing is something they strive towards and the subjective measure of people’s wellbeing is deemed so important that it is included alongside health and the economy in measures of national well-being.

Now, few statistics with direct impact in our businesses:

A study of WHO underlines the impact at both country level and corporate world:

“The cost of mental health problems in developed countries is estimated to be between 3% and 4% of GNP. However, mental disorders cost national economies several billion dollars, both in terms of expenditures incurred and loss of productivity.”…“In many developed countries, 35% to 45% of absenteeism from work is due to mental health problems.”

And mental disorders include anxiety, PTSD, chronic stress, etc. we don’t need to be hospitalized to enter the group having mental health problems.

Another very interesting research published by Reuters shows that “Mental health disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion in not more than 9 years from now.

Few more stats:

Another research from Marshall et al. 2020- The Health Foundation underlines that  mental health has worsened substantially (by 8.1% on average) as a result of the pandemic. The problem is not just local. It’s global. And the need for intervention is pressing (Xiong et al., 2020-Journal of Affective Disorders)

“Relatively high rates of symptoms of anxiety (6.33% to 50.9%), depression (14.6% to 48.3%), post-traumatic stress disorder (7% to 53.8%), psychological distress (34.43% to 38%), and stress (8.1% to 81.9%) are reported in the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic in China, Spain, Italy, Iran, the US, Turkey, Nepal, and Denmark.”

Seeing and feeling the above, for me it is more than obvious that the workplaces will be significantly impacted and changed.

I strongly believe that the companies who understand in due time that having the right environment will be a key differentiator in attracting and retaining the best talent, will most probably thrive and take “the cream”.

Another recent study of McKinsey‘s on EX (employee experience) is very explicit on the importance of EX in adapting to this new, asynchronous, diverse,  VUCA or whatever name for the world we live today.

We know very well (but not sure how much we actually realize) that “work” is the biggest investment of time and energy (and life) from our awake time. Now more than ever we see and feel that the anxiety and overwhelm levels are the highest since war times.

So how could we imagine a proper EX without concerns about the mental health, physical health, wellbeing in general, psychological safety, meaningfulness of work and the quality of the overall stakeholder experience provided by our companies?

And this is not valid only for the younger generations who are less motivated by stuff that motivated us when we started but more and more 40+ quit their top corporate jobs in favor of more meaningful activities and more time for their families and for themselves…

Without having the impression, I am a foresight specialist or some sort of a predictor whatsoever, I am pretty certain that in not more than 5-7 years success will be measured differently and that the most admired and attractive companies will have wellbeing part of their new cultural DNA. And in parallel, the others might lose their main “fuel “and no AI in the world will turn it around for them without the right people on board.

In conclusion, I believe companies should strive for providing these 3 things besides the intellectual challenges, health and life insurance type of benefits:

  1. Psychological safety
  2. Facilitate and encourage proactively access to:
    1. neuroscience (explained simple)
    2. meditation techniques,
    3. proper therapists,
    4. nutritionists,
    5. sports trainers
    6. medical doctors/services
    7. specialized coaches
    8. workshops on the above
  3. Get involved in supporting the educational systems embedding Social Emotional Learning as a prerequisite for both a more moral and more mentally healthy world in the near future; in order to create a right and attractive environment for the very best people to come and remain.

Situation is complex as many encourage nowadays remote work only and besides many benefits, we have all felt during lockdown there are also many downsides.

Based on my experience with people I believe way more in a hybrid model than in a fully remote one. Whatever hybrid (4-1, 3-2 etc.) depends on the company and sector and many other factors however a team cannot really be a team in online. Real relationships, real trust and compassion – critical elements of functional teams – can hardly be developed in online only.

And great companies have great teams as no matter how smart our plans are, we are close to nothing without the right people and the right teams onboard.

Additional Sources:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/what-wellbeing-how-can-we-measure-it-and-how-can-we-support-people-improve-it