How to instill a positive mental health culture within your startup from day one

A happy and healthy workplace is a rich environment and there’s mounting evidence that workplace culture fosters a more productive organisation. In light of recent events of the pandemic, mental health has been at the forefront of the discussion.

According to 2021 Mind the Workplace Report, which highlighted challenges that employees face, 83% reported that they felt emotionally drained from their work59 % said that their supervisor does not provide enough support to help them manage their stress. Less than 5% percent strongly agreed that their employer provides a safe environment for employees who live with mental illness.

The 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends study reported that 80% of people identified wellbeing as essential or very important to their organisation's success. Therefore, it is feasible for any entrepreneur or organisation to build a positive work culture from inception. Focusing on workplace wellbeing places your employees as the principal asset showing them you value and support them from a holistic perspective.

As a result, employees become partners investing in their careers, the culture, the workplace, and the organisation. This harmonious cycle propels growth and innovation in both individuals and the organisation. Creating a workplace culture of wellbeing from conception sets you apart from those trying to unlearn toxic work policies that have created negative climates.

What is a positive culture?

First, let's talk about what is a positive work culture. Workplace culture is the overall tone and nature of the business. A positive workplace culture is an environment that generates a cycle for workplace positivity, remembering like attracts like. Unique in each organisation, workplace culture includes values, beliefs, norms, behaviours, goals, and attitudes.

Foundations of positive culture are the following:

  1. Open and Honest communication
  2. Growth Mindset
  3. Creating a Reward Systems
  4. Aligning Purpose and Core Values
  5. Engagement

How do I achieve positive mental health culture? 

Organisational readiness is inextricably linked with the ability to align human strengths such as decision-making and adaptability and company values continually. Being intentional about crafting culture and initiatives that align with values, creates a positive work culture that will keep your team invigorated and solidify the organisation's success. Building on the five foundations of a positive culture, here are some ways you can instill a positive work culture now.

  1. Start with your why and revisit it. What was the reason you started your business in the beginning? Was it to help an underserved population, fill an unmet need, to an answer to a calling? Whatever is, let that be your intent in every area of the business. Allow your “why” to be the guiding light in establishing your mission, core value, policies, procedures, and most importantly, company culture. A Deloitte survey found that 76% of these employees believed that a "clearly defined business strategy" helped create a positive culture.
  2. Treat your employees like customers: Long are the days where employees were obligated to work. With so many options for income, you must build policies that engage them throughout their tenure. Engagement starts with leadership. This could be displayed in the form of creating holistic career development plans, designing a collaborative environment, or shaping an ecosystem that values input from everyone. Many people associate their sense of self and value in their at-work accomplishments. So don't forget to also develop innovative ways to measure and evaluating engagement throughout the company.
  3. Make work meaningful: This goes back to aligning purpose and core values. Once the organisation's policies and practices align with core values, it naturally lends itself in developing positions and duties that also embody purpose, making work more meaningful. Now workers have a new perspective on purpose, mission, and work-life integration. You can concentrate on authentic and transparent leadership and policies that reinforce the importance of an employee's value and meaningful contribution that positively impacts the organisation.
  4. Keep a Student-Teacher mindset: There's a saying that "when the student is ready, the teacher appears." Funny enough, it's also been told the other way around. Either way, it's about embracing the teachable moments. Leadership and their employees should operate from a constant shifting of the student-teacher relationship. At any given point, no matter your title, you could be the student or the teacher in the situation. Cultivating this mindset into the inception of your company allows for flexibility and innovation. Each role has a perspective and an advantage that helps to offer a clearer, more robust picture from which, truly informed decisions could be made. 
  5. Check-ins and Time-outs: Building in policies that allow for check-in and time-outs. Regular Check-ins allow the space for open and honest conversation without the fear of repercussion. Check-ins could be a simple practice that you do once a day or once a week to see how everyone in the organisation is doing - checking in builds workers' capacity for empathy, seeing bosses, direct reports, and co-workers as humans who also have a life outside of work. Time-outs are equally as crucial as check-ins. Creating policies that allow workers to have the time-outs permits them time to focus on refueling themselves and reinforces the value an organisation has on their wellbeing. Time-outs are not vacation days! This can be implemented in policies that allow for every first Friday of the month, the company takes a time-out or a time-out bank, which allows employees to schedule their time-outs, as needed.

Additionally, these practices, check-ins, and time-outs create a community environment that would enable everyone in an organization to be accountable to and for each other. For example, suppose a coworker and or direct report sees that you need a time-out or just wants to check-in.

In that case, they can communicate their opinion without fear of stigma nor being perceived from a negative perspective. Again, this is building mental health promotion into your policy's practices and organisational culture from day one.