Well-Being at Work: The Next Chapter

A story circulating earlier last week highlighted a unique side of a conversation often frequented by business leaders and HR experts alike - well-being.

Madalyn Parker, a web developer who suffers from chronic depression and anxiety, emailed her colleagues explaining that she would need to take a few days off to focus on her mental health. 


Madalyn’s CEO, Ben Congleton, saw her email and openly praised her bravery in helping normalise the stigma associated with mental health in the workplace.

He explained why he was so keen to support his employee:

“It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance… Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.”

The email quickly went viral, attracting over 35,000 likes and 10,000 retweets from people who yearned for well-being to be more widely interpreted; wanting employers to take a similar attitude toward the care of their employees.

While most employers would likely not see this as a viable excuse for missing work – it does offer a refreshing perspective about the importance of re-evaluating well-being at work and the influence this has on productivity.

Is there an obvious imbalance between the parity of mental and physical well-being?

Should we view well-being issues with a further degree of care and social concern?

If the open response to Madalyn’s story is a wider indicator of popular opinion – then yes.

Further research would appear to support this. The Mental Health at Work Report 2016 issued by Business in the Community revealed some startling statistics;

 “77% of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health at some point in their lives”.

“35% of employees did not approach anyone for support”

 “76% of line managers believe they are responsible for employee well-being, but only 22% have received training”.

It would appear that the stigma of mental health is undermining the awareness of the wider well-being narrative.

Voicing her initial fears about well-being in 2014, Madalyn previously wrote:

“How can I have an honest and frank discussion with my superiors about my mental state and still have them trust me to get things done and value me as an employee?"

While this assumption proved to be brilliantly unfounded, her account in accordance with the BIC’s Report highlights a concerning disconnect between the perception and reality of the employee experience.

Of course it is optimistic to consider each of us approaching the working week with the steadfast certainty of Mary Poppins – however, this dialogue emphasises the equality required in our approach to well-being.

If strategy, thought, assessment and focus, are each acquired through the power of mental capability – how can one be expected to fully express his or herself if they are battling so hard to suppress their ‘other’ self’?

“When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.” - Ben Congleton

Going the extra mile to support employees in this capacity makes perfect sense. As Ben further observed 'I cannot believe this is not standard practice at all organisations; building environments where employees feel psychological safety. From that you can get so much goodness and so much performance”.

Commercially, happy and healthy employees are appreciable assets. Employees gain knowledge and reinforce the skilled fabric of an environment. The more experienced people become, the more they grow their ability to generate further value in a range of other ways.

An organisation that is equipped with such awareness should, as they look to invest time, training and resource, recognise the significance of this and view any well-being implementation as a high-value partnership between themselves and their employees. This type of employee-focused environment may seem like an indulgence, but it is a proven solution for positivity and retention. Employees who feel most supported, are most committed to their organisations and are 87% less likely to leave than employees who consider themselves disconnected (Corporate Executive Board). 

So what should we take from this story?

That if employees exert a ‘grassroots’ awareness – an equal mindfulness between peers about addressing the imbalance of well-being and mental health, the ability to co-create initiatives and advocate parity begins to take shape. Individuals need to trust that they can express without stigma, any concerns without the fear of compromising their professional standing.

Under such a consciousness, a culture can blossom under the pattern of a ‘business’ initiative, not an HR initiative. The difference may seem irrelevant, however the meaning is not. Where the latter may extend the boundaries of acceptance in an institutional sense, the former can diminish the inequality of mental health from an active, humanist sense – the variance is care.

If we can agree that our emotional state at work matters as much as our physical, let’s champion this as a progressive business model; a new way of thinking wherein true value is attained from caring about our people being at their best, and not solely as employees, seen through the lens of 9am to 5pm.

On the theme of collaboration and open communication – why not read our Blog "Top 5 Ways To Make Your HR 'Hygge'". Hygge translates as a feeling of contentment with oneself, others and one's surroundings. It is a Danish term that is taking professional environments by storm; unsurprisingly, making Denmark one of the best places to work in Europe – see what positive changes it can bring to your organisation's talent management strategies.