As people prepare their transition back into office life, leaders and managers need to take action – the experience of a pandemic work-life will forever be imprinted on their employees minds. Can we blame them? Millions of people were obliged to enter unknown territory under the ambivalent name of remote working.
From the industrial revolution came the need for ergonomics. People were bending their bodies backwards to meet productivity quota. These days, you aren't bending your back, but your mind. Yet, right now, raising workplace-awareness on mental health is nowhere near as common as ergonomics.
In the past few years, the term “workplace” has drastically changed – unfortunately it isn’t the case for “human nature”. This implies that work is not just about satisfying material needs, it’s about establishing a meaningful place of a person in society. Gallup research shows that, before all of this, people were already demanding a renewed focus on their life anyway. Their specific request? That work is not just a job, and managers need to consider all facets of an employee’s life.
Kati Kamilova, Happeo’s People Processes Manager is your go-to gal if you’re searching to explore new approaches on how employees view their own wellbeing and health. We thought it would be a good idea to mine Kati's brain and identify some tactics and habits that you can use to improve your workplace’s happiness and well-being.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
1. How are you making sure awareness of mental health is understood at all levels at Happeo?
“First of all, we have an open-communication. When I first started at Happeo, i had a meeting with every single Happster and told them that my door is always open if people want to talk about something – I made it clear from the start that they can do that with me, it’s just normal to talk about mental health and participate in these events that we organize. We also position them from an angle of ‘let’s be more happier, let’s be more productive’, it’s more open rather than saying that ‘it’s a bad thing what’s happening to you’, it’s better to focus on the positive side of things so that it doesn’t seem as grey or taboo.
Mental health is mental health – it doesn’t matter where you are, if you’re in a high position or an intern, everybody can suffer from the same things so it’s important that people are treated as human beings – sometimes you have to forget about the titles and just think about ‘it’s a human being’, they also have feelings, and how you go about it, is important. We organize trainings that fires up everybody: we did yoga, we talked about nutrition and now we’re focusing on development and it’s really about how do you communicate, how do you talk on the human level, there’s no hierarchy in mental health.”
2. How are you talking about mental health and stress? Is it a difficult subject to approach?
“Before it used to be a difficult subject to approach because sometimes people would see that as a weakness or they just don’t want to talk about it because they’re afraid to ask for help but I truly believe that it’s important to address it at the early stage because it will prevent things like burnout or employees leaving which at the end of the day, is much more cheaper to keep people happy and on-board rather than finding new employees. It’s important for people to take mental health days, you don’t have to be sick or have a fever to call in sick, even if you just feel overwhelmed or just don’t feel like you’re in a good mood, it’s important to notice how your mood changes and take the day off, just focus on yourself and return to work much more happier.
I’ve seen some quite a lot of people come to me and say: ‘Oh this is happening in the team and I saw somebody was frustrated’ and then i’ll schedule a call like ‘Hey, what’s up’ just to see if people want to open up to me on their own and if they don’t, I try to find ways to bring it up but not in a way ‘Oh, you know, somebody told me’ but more 'I've noticed that maybe you would want to take a day off or two’, it's okay to take time off because I also see that people are very eager to really deliver 110% of their knowledge and energy, and it's a startup, it's a very fast-based environment and people don't want to miss out on anything – they really want to contribute. Sometimes it's good to tell them ‘you know what, it's okay, take some time off, you can miss a meeting or two, it’s not a problem, we’ll still be here when you come back.”
3. Are employees aware of the mental health of their colleagues and what factors may affect this?
“I think now, especially when we’re remote it’s difficult to understand how people are actually feeling because you can pick yourself up for a 30 minute meeting and it makes you think that the person is really happy – but we don’t know what happens in the backend, people may be suffering. That's why it's important to offer as many channels for people to communicate or, you know, engage them in some activities. And now that we are allowed to go to the office, I thought we could provide some more things to meet.
Our CEO, Perttu is providing walks with him where you can just talk about anything that bothers you. So this is also very good. We are also going to be sending out a happiness survey where we're going to see how people are in general, if they are happy with the work that they're doing or their team.
Then we'll know more as well: how people are feeling and if there's something else we need to be doing to raise the happiness level.”
4. How do you enable leaders and managers to create a space for staff to raise issues and give them safe space to talk about home as well as work issues?
“It’s actually on my to-do list, but I have noticed that, for example, in the Customer Success team, our CMO does regular check-ins with the help of questionnaires, which is already really good. She's doing a really good job at that.
After the happiness survey is going to be sent out, there's going to be questions there, but that’s only if people are comfortable sharing their issues with the managers and if they're comfortable with giving feedback to their managers.
My next plan is to create a program where there's going to be much more coordinated one-on-one’s with development check-ins and seeing if there's a certain direction where our employees want to grow and how and how the managers can help with that.
We did the development course for all Happsters, which was on the same level for everybody. But in the future, we can also look into developing our managers into leaders and give them training on really how to accept feedback, give feedback, and how to deal with difficult situations, if there's an escalation, for example.”
Stress “Free” Employees
5. How are you ensuring that employees are trained, supported and confident on mental health?
“That's a good question. Well, I mean, I hope that it helped when we had those sessions with the coach on the happiness journey. We’ve also implemented a buddy system, we want our employees to feel supported by managers but also their colleagues. If you set some goals for your work or for your mental wellbeing, it feels nice to hold somebody accountable and realise ‘okay so you're my buddy in this’
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw two colleagues in a meeting saying ‘You're going to be my buddy so let's set some rules and goals’, that was nice to see. It's very difficult to monitor your employees’ well being – it's just the constant reminder that It's going to be okay. We have a channel now for Happiness and Wellbeing in Happeo so I was already thinking that maybe I should do more weekly posts about certain subjects so people can be constantly reminded about their mind and wellbeing and not only SQLs.”
6. How are you helping employees deal with stress, practically?
“I order them champagne! (laughter). In the beginning, I think I was much more on top of that with the yoga exercises and nutrition sessions. I just kept them moving until they started organizing those exercises themselves. You just have to keep active and try to go for walks. Our CEO, Perttu always says in meetings, that if you want to talk to him about something that bothers you, you can also reach out to him. So I feel like we already provide this stress-free zone, but since we are still working remotely, we’re thinking about if we need to put more effort into it or not.
Almost every week we had some kind of session and all materials are always available in Happeo, a tool that people can just look in – all the documents, all the videos are uploaded, including half-hour meditation so people can do it at their own time. The tools are there, but it's up to themselves to make use of them.”
7. Can you name or describe Happeo’s guidelines on mental health issues?
"We don't, but I think we could set them up because it helps. We already started with the Wellbeing channel and I think from the information that we have there, we could set up some guidelines.
Start your day with a smile and do yoga exercise, set your intentions for the week, make a nice planning and stick to it, make sure that you fill in some breaks in your calendars so that your fellow colleagues know that this time, is only for you. Try to focus on you and not be distracted by your emails – nobody should bother you during that time. Then of course get yourself a mental health buddy, with whom you check in, maybe have lunch together or a coffee break and see how you both are doing.
Set up some 5 or 10 minute walks outside. I'm going to actually make use of this recording and actually put them down in a Happeo post, it seems like common sense. As a person, you feel like ‘this is just normal stuff’ but we get swept up with so much work that we just forget to do that.”
8. Do you regularly ask your colleagues about their wellbeing?
“Yes. Every time I have a call with people, if it's one-on-one, it’s easier to ask compared to when there's 10 people on the call. If we’re only two people on the call I'll ask: ‘how are you doing?’ and usually, they will start talking about work when my original question was ‘how are you doing, at home?’. Try to talk more about personal stuff, for example how was their weekend, how are their kids – If you just ask a close question ‘how are you doing?’, people usually say ‘good’, it's the quick response, it's automatic. What I would recommend is using the follow up question to that response: ‘but why is it good?’
That’s where you see people going ‘ Actually it's not that good. I just said it because it's a habit’, they will usually proceed to telling you more. So I think that's good progression.”
9. In your opinion, are employees confident enough to be open about health issues and that they will be taken seriously if they disclose a problem? How do you give them this confidence?
“I think so. From what I've seen and observed so far, people are very open to giving feedback and saying things – whether it’s something they don't like, or they think that something should go in a different direction. So I think people have been quite open about everything. Which is nice.
So far it's working. I think we do need to provide maybe more tools for that, like anonymous feedback or something. That is what’s missing at the moment.
People just do that. The company culture really helps because it's very open, it's very family like. We're not only colleagues, but also friends, so people feel more comfortable just talking about things that bother them – when you feel that the other side is listening it can really help. We're highly skilled people with interpersonal skills (laughter). So far it's been really good.
A healthy mind is healthy employee productive work, if you make people feel understood and appreciated, then they perform better work, especially in these times, because it's very different, you really have to trust your employees that they're doing what they're supposed to be doing, you cannot walk behind them and look at their screen, you can’t be monitoring what they’re doing from nine to five work.”
Workplace innovation drives the new economy. Whether that’s remotely or at an office – you know that a major shift needs to happen, and I'm not talking about just another policy change, but a global work-culture turnaround. Start to offer your people a safe place to talk before you consider weekly yoga sessions, as close-door policies aren’t welcome anymore in 2020 and beyond.
It’s pretty easy to create a win-win situation. Don’t you think it’s time to modernize your workplace with more productive, engaged and most importantly, happy people?
If yes – I'm glad we’re on the same page. Time to switch off and take time for yourself.