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How recognition supports employee mental health

10th Oct 2022
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Every year, the 10th of October marks World Mental Health Day. Officially recognised by the World Health Organization, this is a day (and week) to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health. 

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on mental health all over the world, to such an extent that the WHO now recommends integrating Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) within all aspects of preparedness and response for all public health emergencies. In the UK, recent data shows that the number of people contacting the NHS seeking help for mental health problems is at a record high.  

In this time of mental health crisis, it’s more important than ever that employers take the time to understand how and why their own employees may be struggling, and take action to support them. Key to this will be employee recognition, as revealed by Gallup and Workhuman’s latest report  on wellbeing in the workplace. 

The state of employee wellbeing  

The ongoing effects of the pandemic, including the shift to remote work, and now also the increasing economic challenges in the UK, continue to have a detrimental impact on employees’ mental health. It’s no wonder then that this has facilitated a shift in employee expectations and priorities when it comes to their work. According to a survey by Project Healthy Minds, two-thirds of millennials and Gen Z employees now consider their mental health when choosing an employer, and 77% would quit a job that negatively affected their mental health.  

In order to understand the extent to which employees are thriving (or not), Workhuman asked global respondents several questions related to their physical and emotional health. The results were shocking - 54% said they feel mentally exhausted and drained after every workday; 58% said they do not think much about what they’re doing at work and function on autopilot; and 44% said they have trouble staying focused at work. Workhuman’s survey also highlighted that working parents in particular feel much more stressed than their non-parent colleagues. This may be why parents are slightly more likely (+3 percentage points) to be looking for a new job this year, according to the research, with 25% of those job seekers citing the primary reason as better flexibility and work-life balance

It goes without saying that an employee’s mental wellbeing – whether impacted by external or work-related factors – has an impact on their ability to work in the long term. So not only do employers have a moral duty to support their employees during these challenging times, they will need to do so if they want to ensure continued business success. 

How recognition can help 

The good news, despite all these challenges, is that there is a simple solution employers can implement to support their employees’ mental health today and in the long term – namely, employee recognition. This can refer to any type of workplace programme that places an emphasis on recognising and rewarding employees for a job well done, whether that’s from managers or peers, or provided privately or publicly, such as through social recognition.  

Recognition has already been proven to be an effective way for organisations to demonstrate they care about wellbeing. Gallup and Workhuman’s recent global report, for example, shows that employees who receive recognition from their peers at least a few times a month are nearly two times as likely to strongly agree their organisation cares about their overall wellbeing; and those who receive recognition from their manager, supervisor or a leader at the same frequency are nearly three times as likely to strongly agree

What’s more, recognition and reward do not only have to be tied to work-related activities – it can also encompass employees’ personal achievements, like marriage, children, or a birthday. In fact, when an employer recognises both life events and work milestones, employees are three times as likely to strongly agree that their organisation cares about their wellbeing, per Gallup and Workhuman. When employees and leaders recognise and reward each other frequently, celebrating life events as well as work achievements, it ultimately creates a positive company culture founded on mutual gratitude, belonging, and human connection – and this, more than anything, will ensure employees’ mental wellbeing is supported in the long term. 

Crucially, Gallup and Workhuman’s report found the key to what is needed for truly effective recognition. In short, recognition must be authentic, personalised, equitable, fulfilling, and embedded in company culture. Organisations are already realising the positive impact of this approach. Just recently, Gallup and Workhuman’s Wellbeing Report found that UK employees are five times as likely to strongly agree that they belong at their organisation when the recognition they receive is authentic; 4.5 times as likely to strongly agree when recognition is an important part of their workplace culture; and 3.5 times as likely to strongly agree when their organisation has a system in place for recognising work milestones. 

Invest in the employee experience 

Employee recognition is not only a nice-to-have – it’s what employees themselves want. When asked how organisations should be taking care of workers’ mental wellness, four out of ten workers answered, “by rewarding them for good work” (42%).  

Mental health is just one aspect of the entire employee experience. Investing in an effective, long-term recognition strategy allows organisations to take a holistic approach that supports not only employee wellbeing, but their sense of belonging, connection to their company and colleagues, and ultimately improves their productivity as a result.  

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