Fostering Wellness in the Workplace
By Julie Boardman
At Xero, we strive to create a positive environment where everyone feels they belong and that they can do the best work of our lives. We believe that supporting the mental wellness of our people is an essential component to running a compassionate, successful business.
That’s why we’re proud to announce that we’re marking World Mental Health Day by making changes to our Wellness Leave policy. The new policy means that Xero staff can now take time off for their own personal wellbeing, in addition to time off for physical or mental illness and when a partner or dependent requires care.
To learn more about the importance of fostering wellness in the workplace, the team at Xero Denver office had the opportunity to speak with Alexandra Yannacone from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. She shared insights about how all of us can work to manage stress in the workplace and support our colleagues.
According to Yannacone, one in five Americans have a mental health condition, and 40 percent of American workers describe their jobs as “very stressful.” In addition to the human toll, there is also a very real economic impact — a World Health Organization-led study estimates that depression and anxiety costs the global economy $1 trillion annually in lost productivity.
Yannacone explained that it’s important to understand that employees can experience workplace stress due to a variety of factors, including work-related or home-related issues. The good news, according to Yannacone, is that these stressors are something that we can do something about. For example:
- Be proactive and preventative: “We know there are more stressful periods at work or in our personal lives, like the holidays,” Yannacone said. “It’s about being prepared and thoughtful ahead of time. Each year we fall into these same routines and start panicking, but often we know some of these things are coming. Same with work, most jobs we know when our more stressful times are. We need to learn how to declutter and destress ahead of time so when we’re in the midst of it we can really pay attention to the task at hand.”
- Pay attention to your stressors: “Deep down a lot of us know what our stressors are and too often we avoid addressing them, but it’s important that we face them head on,” Yannacone said. “Ask yourself, ‘what is it and why is it stressing me out?’ If we figure out the root cause, often, we’re able to address that part of our life.”
Yannacone also explained that it is vital to develop techniques for recognizing stress in our coworkers. She said you might notice a change in a coworker’s behavior, like if they go from normally energetic and social to being isolated and pulling away. Once you recognize it you can address it and offer your support.
“Often, we project what we would find helpful for ourselves in these situations, but often it’s better to actually ask them what would help them,” Yannacone said. “A lot of the time we talk about stress – but it might be something bigger. It’s about helping them be connected and doing our best to be supportive. But if it’s something that’s out of our hands, it’s about making sure they have the connections to get support if they need it through an Employee Assistance Program or similar.
Finally, Yannacone discussed the importance of creating a positive work environment where everyone feels they belong and encouraging and supporting the mental wellness of employees.
“We’re open and we talk a lot about physical health in the workplace,” Yannacone said. “Workplaces will hold healthy eating competitions or encourage teams to participate in fun runs, and these are great programs to get people to think about their physical health, but we tend to neglect our mental health.”
“Mental health affects our work, relationships in the company, productivity and family life. If organizations aren’t addressing that they’re really doing a disservice to their employees. Think of it the same as physical health. Employees need to know there will be no judgment or repercussions if they surface issues with their mental health. Just like if someone came in to work with a broken leg, accommodations would be made for them. We haven’t yet made it completely okay to talk about mental health issues. But the more we talk about it, the more we allow there to be more openness about it and create an environment where, if people are struggling, they can get help.”