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3 ways for leaders to build a happier workplace

How do you promote mental health within your team? Empowerment of staff, and acceptance of emotions are the ingredients to this recipe, Aditi Sharma Kalra finds out. 

Every year on April 7, the World Health Organisation (WHO) organises World Health Day. While it may seem hard to get excited about yet another “world-something-day”, this year, simply acknowledging World Health Day as a company could leave you with a healthier, more productive workforce. Why? Because this year's focus lies with depression.

With its “Depression: let’s talk” campaign, WHO aims to get more people to both seek and get help. In South-East Asia alone, it affects nearly 86 million people. Given those numbers, chances are that someone on your team is suffering in silence, or knows someone who is.

While there's lots you can do to facilitate the conversation at your workplace, simply creating a happier working environment is the first step. By celebrating World Health Day with employees, companies can help take the first step toward eliminating stigma and ensuring people access the support they need.

As a leader, how do you create happiness at work, and within your team?

1. Give employees control over when and where they work

For one company, it comes down to "giving all employees complete control over when and where they work." Sydney-headquartered 33 Talent is the only certified-ROWE, i.e. Results Only Work Environment in Asia Pacific, which means the focus is on supporting the team to get the results they need, not on them being in work for a certain number of hours, or working from a certain location.

Group managing director, Rob Fanshawe, explains the health benefits of ROWE: "Fundamentally, by setting clear goals and then giving employees the tools , but on their time and place terms, that 'control' of their life means they can prioritise learning, diet, exercise, social (family) time and other elements that keeps their wheel of life full on each spoke. Reduced stress and increased productivity are just some of the many benefits we see in our employees."

According to most studies, by 2025 80% of the workforce will be Millennials and 50% contingent. In this context, Fanshawe adds: "Old management structures and industrial workplace practices just will not cope and most companies just don't have any effective way of managing people in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) we are now entering. The above benefits of ROWE, are fundamental as the 4IR will have a huge impact on not only what we do but also who we are. This is all ranging from how we see ourselves to how, when and what we do for work and leisure, how we develop our skills, careers, compete, and socialise."

2. Reinforce your core values through actions

A culture of empowerment strikes the right chord with Cheah Lyn Ee as well, manager of organisational development at 7-Eleven Malaysia. To build a culture of ownership within the convenience chain, the team took employees on a journey to "Smile, Serve and Grow" - each element reinforcing an action or behaviour that seeks to reinforce the culture.

Cheah explains: "Our ‘Smile’ policies include casual work attire, multiple work hours option, pre-natal screening time-off, year-round employee events and more. With over 2,000 stores in Malaysia, we ‘Serve’ communities through our annual Semurni Kasih Programme and support vendors from marginalised communities. Through it all, we nurture our talent to ‘Grow’ within 7-Eleven by cultivating effective leaders to create a happier workplace for everyone."

3. Acknowledge that all emotions are equal

As such, happiness at the workplace isn't only derived from employee empowerment, communication, or the rewards on offer - the missing ingredient is the acknowledgement that emotions exist!

This point is made by Lynne Chai, human capital executive at 8I Holdings, a Singapore-based investment holding company investing in both public-listed companies and private businesses.

She clarifies: "Oftentimes when companies think about creating a happier workplace, welfare and benefits seem to be the key ingredient. In 8I, we believe to create a happier workplace, we must acknowledge that all emotions are equal; just like the movie – Inside Out, joy often comes from sadness or other emotions."

In view of this, the core values observed within 8I's culture encompass trust, active listening, compassion, love and an appreciation of employees are, adds Chai. "Through these, we create a space that it felt like home; a happier and fulfilling workplace."

Perhaps most of you already have these principles of empowerment and emotions imbibed within your leadership style, but hopefully you're also expressing them often enough. So maybe send your staff an email, include a paragraph in the monthly newsletter, or show your support for occasions such as World Health Day on social media. Simply start the conversation.

As for the next step, pay it forward - with your understanding of the building blocks of happiness at the office, create awareness among your people managers and even consider offering training on how to manage a team member with depression. Every action counts to building a healthier team.

- With inputs from Laura FransenPhoto / 123RF

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