Posted by: Carolyn Lamparella
Date: June 16, 2021
Even before COVID-19, the prevalence of mental illness among adults was increasing. In 2017-2018, 19% of adults experienced a mental illness, an increase of 1.5 million people over last year’s dataset. As we know, mental health can significantly impact worker productivity, costs, and morale.
One way to begin addressing this serious problem is to improve workplace culture. Research conducted by Sigal Barsade, Wharton management professor, and Olivia O’Neill, professor of management at George Mason University, showed that workplace settings with significant “companionate love”* have a positive effect on the emotional well-being of employees. In addition, they found that when employees feel cared for, they are more engaged in their work and willing to come to work.
What does companionate love look like at work? Imagine your co-worker bringing you a cup of coffee, expressing interest in your personal life, and showing you compassion and concern when things aren’t going well. Employees who behave this way in the workplace encourage others to behave in a similar manner. This fosters close working relationships and the feeling of being cared for which supports the mental and emotional well-being of all employees.**
“[The researchers] found that companies with higher levels of companionate love had lower levels of absenteeism and employee burnout. The researchers also discovered that a culture of companionate love led to higher levels of employee engagement with their work via greater teamwork and employee satisfaction.”
Company leaders have the responsibility to become role models for this more compassionate approach to day-to-day interactions. It can start by simply conveying empathy when an employee is struggling. Leaders should make sure to reach out if there are signs of emotional distress and offer resources for employees to obtain the help they need.
Here are some distress signs to look for:
Beyond staying in touch with employees, how does an employer get proactive about solutions? Don’t wait until a crisis occurs! Start now! Develop a workplace culture that supports the emotional health of your employees. Create an environment that promotes psychological safety, where everyone feels comfortable talking about their emotional well-being and asking for help if they need it. It means calling out stigma whenever it is heard, and confidentially educating employees who use stigmatizing language. In many companies, the best approach to moving the culture forward is enforcing a structure, much like leadership training and organizational effectiveness committees or workshops.
Here are some ideas for getting started:
For help with getting started or to ramp up your current efforts related to mental health in the workplace:
*A type of love characterized by strong feelings of intimacy and affection for another person rather than strong emotional arousal in the other’s presence. In these respects, companionate love is distinguished from passionate love, but is high in intimacy and commitment.”