Psychology as a tool to manage mental resilience in the workplace
Just as people get given a computer to facilitate their work, so they should also receive tools to manage their mental health in the workplace, argues psychologist Sofia Viotti
Are we given enough training in mental resilience? And should companies teach their employees skills to help boost their wellbeing? According to psychology, the answer is yes: companies should be more focused on offering wellbeing training and equipping employees with the skills they need to take care of their mental health.
In the 2023 edition of its report ‘Join The Workplace Revolution’, Coor surveyed 500 Nordic employers and an equal number of employees about their perspectives on the future of the workplace. In the survey, employers identify the mental wellbeing of employees at work as the most important area to focus on in the next two years.
Sofia Viotti, a psychologist, speaker and author who is often engaged by employers to help organizations develop, perform, and thrive, is not surprised by this response. ‘Often, people contact me when they notice stress in the organisation or when employees are caught up in worry and self-criticism.’
‘It is starting to change, but until now, psychology has been seen as something to turn to when someone is not doing well…’
Viotti is pleased to see more employers discussing and prioritising mental health in their workplaces, but she also observes that these efforts often come unnecessarily late. ‘It is starting to change, but until now, psychology has been seen as something to turn to when someone is not doing well. In such cases, perhaps employees are sent to a psychologist through occupational health or a motivational speaker is hired for an hour in the hope of a quick fix.’
The Coor report indicates a growing awareness of the importance of the psychosocial work environment. Employers are showing a strong willingness to adapt and develop their offices into attractive hybrid workspaces where employees feel good and want to be.
However, the report also reflects a cautious position amid uncertain socio-economic conditions. Over the next two years, the budget for renovations and personnel-related activities will shrink for half of the employers due to economic pressure.
Sofia Viotti warns against allowing a crisis in the office to become prolonged. ‘If you find yourself in a situation of pure firefighting where employees are forced to prioritise rest or training, it may work for a while, but it is unsustainable for the human brain to postpone recovery in the long run. The consequences affect both the individual and the company, and the road back can be long.’
Prevention is better than cure
The task of preparing for a potential economic downturn while also investing in employee well-being is difficult but not impossible. Sofia Viotti advises employers who want to engage in this to bring in organisational psychologists who can help companies work in the long term. ‘We can teach basic knowledge of how the human mind works psychologically, how to take care of oneself, how to break free from stress, and how to avoid getting stuck in unhelpful behaviours such as procrastination,’ says Viotta.
She continues: ‘Today, there is too much responsibility placed on the individual to understand these things, but it should be in the organisation’s interest to offer this knowledge as a tool for work, just like providing a computer to do one’s job.’
‘It should be in the organisation’s interest to offer knowledge as a tool for work just like providing a computer to do one’s job…’
Sofia Viotta believes that there are also many things that employers can do in the here and now to support their employees. ‘The most important thing is not to guess what is needed for people to feel well. Instead, dare to ask and do it often. A person’s situation can change, so what worked well six months ago may no longer work,’ she says. ‘It is common for managers to hesitate to ask their employees what they need because they are afraid of not being able to deliver the solution the employee desires, but it is always better to have an open, continuous dialogue about it. Perhaps a compromise can be found.’
Flexible work plays a role
The Coor report clearly shows that employees’ demand for optional and flexible office presence remains high after the pandemic years. The percentage of decision-makers who experience challenges in getting employees back to the office to the desired extent has even increased by 18 per cent between last year and 2023.
In addition to the challenge of increasing the attractiveness of the office with limited resources, employers also need to take care of their employees’ mental wellbeing during working hours, even when they work from home. Sofia Viotti’s best advice is to let go of the idea that one solution fits all and not get stuck at a superficial level.
‘When having a dialogue about what would enhance wellbeing in the workplace, it rarely involves switching to nicer furniture or repainting the office. What attracts people is a sense of community and feeling that being present is meaningful. The most irritating thing in workplaces with mandatory presence is when, at the end of the workday, you feel like you could have stayed home.’
During the pandemic years, many people testified how remote work facilitated the juggling act of life with children, exercise and household chores. Many companies, supported by these arguments, have taken the opportunity to significantly reduce their office spaces. A few companies have even completely phased out their physical offices.
Sofia Viotti points out that the dream of permanent remote work is not representative of all people or all periods. ‘If you are new to a city or new to your workplace, it is not attractive at all to work from home all the time. It can be very lonely, and the onboarding process for new employees can be deficient. It is the freedom of choice that is important, that one should be able to choose to participate in a social context when needed.’
Self-compassion is about taking care of and helping oneself. It means having an understanding of how one’s own body and mind work ,and trying to create favourable conditions for one’s wellbeing. Sometimes it involves supporting oneself in something difficult and sometimes actively taking action for change.
Tips and tricks
Sofia Viotti offers her advice to employers who are looking at boosting employee wellbeing at work:
- Have open communication and find out how your employees are doing. As a manager, lead by example. Be open about how you feel and what affects you.
- Regular recovery during the workday is crucial. Encourage your employees to work at a moderate pace and take breaks.
- Show trust and support for your employees and avoid creating a sense of control. After the pandemic years, we already know that those who work from home do what they are supposed to do, and often even more. Your job is to support them in the best possible way.
- Include remote workers in the social context by inviting them to meetings that serve a purely social function. Have virtual coffee breaks together or have an after-work event at the office.
- Create an atmosphere where people want to meet their colleagues. Have clear purposes for on-site meetings and add a social element to them, such as having breakfast together.
Wellbeing in focus for the future
The office environment is now a make-or-break question for Nordic companies. The hybrid office is here to stay, and mental health and wellbeing are the areas that Nordic companies consider most important to focus on over the coming years.
Access Coor’s ‘Join the Workplace Revolution’ report here.