What startups need to know about creating a mentally healthy workplace

- May 24, 2023 3 MIN READ
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Workplace culture is the environment that you create for your employees. It plays a powerful role in determining their satisfaction with their career, their interpersonal relationships and their career progression.

The culture of your workplace is determined by a combination of the company’s leadership and the employees’ values, beliefs and attitudes, which translate into behaviours and interactions that contribute to the relational environment of your workplace.

In general, these are the intrinsic rules that govern interpersonal connections in the workplace between peers.

Positive workplace culture is created by an organisational focus on psychological safety and wellbeing.

Research defines workplace psychological safety as an environment where employees feel comfortable to voice their ideas, willingly seek and provide honest feedback, collaborate, take risks and experiment in support of innovation, learning and continuous improvement – all elements also identified in ‘agile’ workplaces.


The importance of psychological wellbeing

When we consider what makes a workplace mentally healthy, we need to consider aspects of psychological safety and culture and innovate by ‘reverse-engineering’ the constructs that we know create a toxic workplace.

We need to promote psychological wellbeing in our people by incorporating a sense of individual control over six key attributes: autonomy, environment management, personal growth, positive relationships, having life goals and a sense of self-acceptance.

One of the ways that we can foster a mentally healthy workplace is by truly embracing diversity, equity and inclusion principles, not just ‘ticking the box’.

Embracing difference in the work environment is something that is written into many workplace codes of conduct, but is rarely embraced in application. Group dynamics come into play, and many conservative workplaces appreciate diversity, as long as it’s packaged in a dark suit and white shirt.

Yet every workplace requires a variety of personality types to ensure its people can innovate and find creative solutions to complex challenges.

Difference can be expressed through personality, but it can also be created by action.

When a member of the team acts in a way that seems to expose the team to scrutiny, it is not uncommon for the renegade member of the team to be excluded while the rest of the team band together to protect themselves from further ridicule.

Psychological constructs around group membership often facilitate this type of behaviour in workplaces, but it can have a significant negative impact on the person who raised the alarm.


Diversity, equity and inclusion

Forbes highlight a plethora of research that demonstrates the benefits of diversity on financial and operating performance across all sectors.

Ensuring that your business has a proactive focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is not just a ‘nice’ social responsibility approach, it has significant positive impacts on the bottom line of every business across every industry.

How we manage and treat our people at work can be directly linked to managing psychological safety at work. In essence, mentally healthy workplaces are those in which delegation with authority is a daily occurrence, trust is fostered, innovation is encouraged, mistakes are expected and supported and there is no such thing as a bad idea!

Toxic workplaces are almost the opposite – power and control are wielded like weapons, independence is discouraged and fear stifles organisational improvement.

There are multiple ways that people may feel unsafe or disempowered in the workplace. Leaders need to understand why these situations occur, and provide clear guidance to support their people to foster psychological safety and create a mentally healthy workplace.

By taking a proactive approach to the challenges that can arise in the workplace, no matter if your business is large or small, you will improve the culture of your workplace.

Ensuring your people feel valued and supported by their employer will create a mentally healthy work environment, demonstrating increased employee satisfaction, reduced staff turnover and boost the general feeling of happiness in your workplace.

  • Kerry Howard, author of How to Heal a Workplace: tackle trauma, foster psychological safety and boost happiness at work.