Healthy Minds at work…Goes much deeper than Gym Memberships and Mindfulness Classes

A lot has been written about mental health in the workplace, and thankfully, leaders, banging-head-against-wallmanagers and business owners are starting to see how important it is that healthy minds and bodies make up their workforce.

Whilst we have an idea of what a healthy body looks like, we’re perhaps less sure of what a healthy mind constitutes. We need a little stress in our lives to function, for example. Though mindfulness practices are a step in the right direction, unfortunately, they only scratch the surface.

Three-quarters of the working population cite their managers as the reason they’re unhappy at work or why they seek new opportunities. ‘They don’t listen’, ‘They don’t understand’, ‘It’s clearly ‘them and us’’ are all popular lamentations from employees painfully aware of the lack of understanding their manager demonstrates.

It’s expensive to hire and train new staff when the one you’ve hired, trained and developed decides to leave. If 75% of workers simply spend their time shifting companies, shouldn’t we focus on simply putting things right? Wouldn’t that be cheaper for companies?

So, how easy is it to nurture healthy brains?

It doesn’t have to be laborious. For example, think about the way you communicate with your team, as their leader. Words can be weapons capable of wounding if they’re chosen without care.

But before leaders can hope to better communicate or engage with their team members, they should first try and understand them.

Neuroleadership is the concept of applying neuroscience to create or enrich leadership practices. Over the last decade we have learnt so much more about the brain as an organ, and research into the workings of the mind and brain, highlight that many of the established management practices are no longer appropriate in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous working environment of today. And why shouldn’t we see the brain as key to leadership and performance, when it’s the command room for all our thoughts and actions?

Our brains are larger than ever before, and we use more and more of our grey matter as we continue to evolve. On top of this, our brains are always switched on in today’s 24/7 world; they don’t get the downtime they used to.

That said, there’s no reason why our brains can’t thrive in today’s frantic, pressured workplaces, if we look at the way we lead our people and the working practices we follow.

Psychological safety is paramount!

Leaders should look at fostering a psychologically safe climate – one where employees feel motivated and appreciated, where they can voice concerns or suggestions without fear or insecurity. As a result, mistakes are fewer, attendance is higher, and employees become more content.

Of course, that’s a simplified view. There’s much more to providing a healthy workspace for brain and body. Instilling autonomy, imparting clarity, and aligning work with skill levels and passions are also vital elements.

Whilst it could be open to debate, what a healthy workplace could look like, it’s perhaps easy to see what would make up an ineffective one: employees working in a ‘blame’ culture; a common lack of motivation; devalued, isolated, indifferent and/or antagonistic team members. Because factions form and engagement between team members begins to fall apart. If people felt safe to raise concerns in organisations, the term ‘whistle blower’ wouldn’t exist.

An ineffective leader is not a write-off. They may simply lack the confidence or experience to talk openly and comfortably about how team members are feeling and coping.  An understanding of Neuroscience can help leaders and managers recognise when an employee is experiencing overwhelm, as well as equip them with the skills to open up conversations where employees feel safe to talk about how they are feeling and the support they need. Having an awareness and understanding of Neuro-leadership can support better decision-making; it can bring clarity of mind, and help leaders give effective feedback to their team.

No employee would speak up if they thought what they said would be held against them. Whilst managers across the country may think they’re already fostering an open, honest workplace, is that really how employees feel? Do the actions of departments match their supposed ethos? In practice, are your employees’ concerns supported and investigated, or are they easily dismissed?

Openness isn’t just there for pointing out mistakes. It’s also gives employees the confidence to share their ideas and innovations, without fear of being laughed at or criticised. Either way, it only takes the experience of one employee to set a precedence for others.

Creating a brain-friendly workplace, where people can thrive – even in our technology-driven world – should be paramount. In 2018 and beyond, employee wellbeing goes much deeper than gym memberships and mindfulness workshops…

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