Businesses are increasingly recognising the value of psychological safety at work. Ingrid Green talks to one of the change makers.
It makes sense that happy staff will be productive staff, and how to achieve that has become a big issue in organisations today.
Jennifer Hogarth of Prima Careers has welcomed the change.
“Ten years ago it was all about the physical health perspectives – making sure staff were physically safe and well at work. Over the last five years it’s done a full shift,” she says.
As national general manager, employee assistance program (EAP), Jennifer sees a lot of companies taking more responsibility for the mental wellbeing of their staff. They want to know how their people are.
“Where are people’s lives? Are they functioning and are they doing fulfilling work?”
EAP providers support corporate businesses with confidential and independent psychological services like counselling.
“Employees are able to use us confidentially about a variety of issues – it could be personal issues or workplace issues, and … we support organisations in preventative mental health solutions.
“We help organisations create a mental health strategy and help with the implementation using workshops, training sessions and a variety of programs.”
Jennifer is enthusiastic about the recognition mind training is getting in the corporate space.
“When we talk to clients specifically about mind training or mindfulness/meditation, essentially the way that we describe it’s training the mind as you would train your physical body in a variety of ways to maintain optimum health.
“We encourage individuals and organisations to consider mindfulness as a way of maintaining and improving the quality of the mind.
“It’s essentially present moment awareness. At an individual level it encourages the mind to stay focused and present and attentive to what you’re doing at that point in time – and what you’re feeling at that point in time.
“It’s really around self awareness of behaviour, of thoughts and of emotions. In today’s world that’s really hard to do.”
Of course, technology has had a huge impact on us all. Jennifer says we’ve become addicted to our devices, and it’s vital we learn to recognise when it’s time to switch off.
“It give us time to do a variety of [other] things – to be creative, to be connected with others, for enjoyment. It’s really important to stay away from devices at certain times.”
"What it takes to be a mindful leader is leading from the front. Look at your own self-care and your own mental health – and then encouraging others to do so."
In the corporate sense, Jennifer deals with educating employees around mindfulness, using a number of strategies.
“It’s getting people to be aware – when they’re in a meeting are they fully present and listening and contributing to what’s going on, or are they distracted?
She references a 2010 study by two Harvard psychologists which showed that 47 per cent of our time is typically not spent in the present moment – and that’s not making us happy.
“We’re spending almost half our time thinking about something else,” Jen says of the study, published in the journal Science.
The benefits of addressing mindfulness in the workplace are many, says Jen.
“Mindfulness is one tool in your tool kit to help with positive mental health.”
For individuals, reduced stress and improved connection between the more primitive and emotional parts and mature of the brain have been backed by studies.
“You know when people sometimes suddenly fly off the handle or have an outburst – when you’ve done mindfulness training that sort of thing can be reduced. You’re much more aware – you’re able to catch those outbursts a lot quicker.”
And mindfulness training comes in many forms.
“It’s not one size fits all. While it’s important for me to have a sitting practice because I’ve got three kids and sometimes it feels like I’m on a rollercoaster, for others it could be sport or swimming lengths.”
In the workplace, being present can be linked to increased productivity, while improved mental health leads to higher levels of engagement, feeling more fulfilled at work, and improved relationships with peers and managers.
“Within teams it can strengthen work relationships, communication between each other and improve conflict management.”
So what about leaders?
“What it takes to be a mindful leader is leading from the front. Look at your own self-care and your own mental health – and then encouraging others to do so.
Cultural change, she says, is the hard part.
“Some organisations have done it on a large scale. They’ve started small at one particular office and then, gone online and expanded globally across their network.”
She says starting small and having key sponsors and ambassadors at a grass-roots level is the way to go.
“Really creating an opportunity for everyone to be involved. Not making it compulsory, but using it as an opportunity. Start small and as interest and traction builds over time, then expand into other locations. And regularly communicate the benefits.”
In terms of stickability she says, it’s all in the leadership.
“It’s using the language, having the conversations, being able to listen to team members.
“It’s walking along the corridor and if someone is looking unhappy, stopping and asking them, how are you? Do you need any support?”
The change is slow but positive.
“Particularly with big organisations it’s a slow and gradual change. It’s a shift in mindset, particularly for managers, and also for leaders – keeping it on the business agenda.”
What can we do?
Time out from devices.
“Set very clear boundaries. Make that rule and stick to it.”
Healthy eating and exercise.
“Slowing down in order to speed up. If you know there is an intense period coming up at work you need that slowing down and resilience-building in order to prepare for it. It’s a cycle; you can’t stay in that fast pace.”
“If you work long hours, take time away from your job, connecting with others.
Exercise or movement in nature
“Particularly if you live in the city. It gives you that grounding and sense of connection to the universe.
Kindness and compassion
“When we’re kind and when we do nice things for other people it has an intrinsic effect on us.”
Reading books on topics that you enjoy
Interests and hobbies outside of work
What can companies do?
Training and workshops around awareness: emotional awareness resilience training, support and information about EAP
Health and wellbeing programs including coaching programs, office environment, healthy eating at work.
Using all the tools and continuing to learn
“As people our stress levels are always going to go up and down, but it’s all about having the resources to be able to deal with it.”