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How Can We Improve Mental Health in the Workplace?

Mental Health in the Workplace -- WhyWhisper Collective

Did you know that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience mental illness in a given year? As many of us recognize, many mental health issues fly under the radar as a result of the stigma that surrounds them.

Those who are silently affected by mental illness can experience issues and limitations everywhere – especially in potentially stressful environments like the workplace. So while we continue to fight against this stigma, we encourage employers to take measures to care for the mental health of their employees.

Beyond its negative effects on individuals, failing to address mental health issues in the workplace is bad for business. Mental illness is the number one cause of disability leave for American business today, and untreated mental illness costs the U.S. more than $105 billion in lost productivity each year.

Luckily, there are ways in which companies can provide support to their employees – here are a few of them:

Address mental health openly & honestly

This might be the most important thing for companies (and individuals!) to do when it comes to mental health. Because of the stigma around mental health issues, it’s difficult to discuss and address openly and honestly, and it means that a large number of cases go undiagnosed and untreated. But in reality, mental illnesses are common in the United States, and we aren’t helping anyone by staying quiet about it.

Workplace environments can be stressful, and stress can be a trigger for mental health issues. Instead of brushing it under the rug, we need to talk about it and open up a dialogue about how workplaces can help mitigate that stress, support their employees, and encourage them to take care of themselves.

If you are unsure about how to talk to your employees or coworkers who you think may be struggling, here are some tips.

Include comprehensive mental health care in your benefits package

Given how prevalent mental health issues are these days, it just makes sense for employers to offer mental health care benefits that are as comprehensive as possible. As of 2010, the Affordable Care Act has provided one of the largest expansions of mental health coverage in generations, requiring businesses to include mental health care in their benefits packages in some capacity. That said, the level of mental health care that is covered is rarely comprehensive or long-term.

Helping employees get access to the mental health care that they need may increase costs upfront, but early detection and treatment of mental illness can also prevent crises and reduce health care costs later on. Encourage employees to recognize signs of anxiety and depression in themselves, and then seek professional help that is subsidized by the health care plan that you offer.

Implement an employee wellness program

One great way companies can prioritize their employees’ mental health is internally, through employee wellness programs. Until recently, many of these programs were centered on discounted gym memberships that employees could opt to use. While encouraging individuals to stay active in this way definitely has positive mental health effects, there are further steps that employers can take to support their workers’ mental health.

For example, employers can actively encourage employees to take breaks throughout the day, whether it be a longer lunch period or several smaller breaks. Or they can provide yoga, massage or meditation at particularly stressful times of the year, or at regular intervals. Another option would be to offer employees the opportunity to work remotely, as needed. Before making any decisions, think about the specific individuals you work with, and what you think would be most beneficial to them. You could even do a survey to determine what their needs are and how you can meet them.

 

Know of a business that is taking action to support its employees’ mental health? Tell us about them and what they’re doing! Here’s how:

If you want to join the conversation around mental health in general, we put together a list of some incredible digital resources to help you get started. 

 

 

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Why Compassion & Fairness Are Critical in Business

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Why Compassion & Fairness Are Critical in Business

by Kate Vandeveld

When people discuss “success” in business, the focus is most often on the bottom line. Numbers are tangible measurements of success that make sense to everyone. At WhyWhisper, however, we also spend a great deal of time defining success in terms of impact: How much are companies doing to make the world a better place, what effect is it having, and what does it look like in practice?

A subject that comes up often is that of employee happiness. Unfortunately, even outwardly impactful businesses and organizations will often overlook its importance. Meanwhile, studies have shown that when businesses treat their employees fairly and make decisions with compassion, it can positively affect their impact and their bottom line.

Why Compassion & Fairness Are Critical in Business

Last week, the White House hosted an event called Working Families: Champions of Change, which included discussions and panels with some of the country’s most inspiring advocates for employee fairness. At the event, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario spoke about the company’s efforts to treat their employees fairly, and why it’s been so crucial to their success. Her main takeaway? By offering fair benefits and showing their employees that they care about them, they make their employees happy, and instill a sense of loyalty that encourages them to work hard and stick around. All of this, she said, affects their employee retention and overall revenue.

Here are some things to consider when evaluating a company’s compassion and fairness:

  • Equal Pay: Paying people of all genders the same salary for equal work shouldn’t be a question – but unfortunately, it is. Today, women are still paid only 78 percent of what men are paid for equal work, on average. According to a report by the American Association of University Women, this problem exists in every state and occupation, is even more extreme for women of color, and gets worse with age. Companies that treat their employees fairly don’t operate like this; they pay men and women equal wages for equal work.

  • Paid Maternity / Paternity Leave: At the Champions for Change event, President Obama noted that in some employment situations, women aren’t even given a paid day off for the day that they give birth. It is crucial that mothers and fathers of new babies are given the opportunity to take time off for the birth of their child without sacrificing pay when it is most needed. Companies that value employee satisfaction prioritize post-birth parental leave.
  • Fair Benefits: Companies that prioritize employee wellness also offer them comprehensive health packages, if they are able. Some small businesses and start-ups aren’t able to cover healthcare costs, but as soon as a company has the capital to offer benefits, they should do so. Lack of healthcare coverage is a huge financial burden for individuals and families in the United States.
  • Paid Sick Leave: When paid sick leave isn’t an option, employees will continue to work while they’re ill, negatively affecting everyone around them. When sick people come into work, productivity decreases, illnesses spread unnecessarily, and morale can quickly plummet.
  • Career Advancement Opportunities: Factors that contribute to employee happiness are definitely not all financial. When employees have clear opportunities for career advancement, they are more likely to work hard to achieve goals and go above and beyond for their employers.
  • Work-Life Balance: Another non-financial indicator of whether or not a company is fair is the extent that it values work-life balance. Companies that expect their employees to work long hours and be available at the drop of a hat foster cultures of resentment and burnout. Instead of encouraging greater productivity, these companies push employees to work less efficiently for longer periods of time, which is detrimental to everyone in the long run.
  • Focus on Culture & Community: Companies that work to foster cultures of collaboration, kindness, and understanding in the workplace are much more likely to have happier, healthier employees. Stressful work environments can lead to a multitude of adverse health effects in employees that create a cycle of negative outcomes – both for individuals and for the company. At the end of the day, successful businesses simply care about their employees, and want to ensure that they are working under conditions that will allow them to thrive.
Why Compassion & Fairness Are Critical in Business via WhyWhisper Collective

When companies take these elements into consideration, here are some of the benefits that they see:

Higher employee retention:

When employees are happy at work, they tend to stick around longer. This is a very good thing, because high employee turnover has significant negative impact on a company. First of all, employee turnover can bring down company morale. When someone on a team leaves, others are often required to pick up the slack without a salary increase. Additionally, when employees see someone leave, it can cause a ripple effect leading to more employee departures.

Employee turnover also has a clear effect on a company’s bottom line. The process of seeking out, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding a new employee can be extremely high. Reported costs vary, depending on the study, but all indicate that it’s an expensive process, especially for higher level positions.

Increased productivity:

To put it simply, when employees know they will be rewarded for their work, they are much more likely to do it well. Incentivizing good work – whether it be with verbal praise, recognition to their peers, financial compensation, or career advancement -- makes a big difference in terms of employee productivity. Plus, most employees simply want to do better work for companies and coworkers with whom they have good relationships. By being fair to your employees, you will foster a sense of community, lessening any focus on office politics, and increasing the focus on output and impact.

Higher revenue and greater impact:

Both of these elements – employee retention and increased productivity – factor into a company’s bottom line as well as the level of impact they are able to have. In fact, according to a 2013 study by Aon Hewitt, for every one percent increase in employee engagement, companies can expect to see 0.6% in revenue growth. Because employee engagement increases with employee satisfaction, companies that treat their employees well will increase their bottom line.

What companies do you know that focus on employee satisfaction? We want to talk about them! Here’s how you can share with us:

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The Freelancer’s Guide to 2015

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The Freelancer’s Guide to 2015

by Kate Vandeveld

The freelance economy has grown tremendously in recent years. In fact, freelance workers are actually projected to outpace full-time workers by 2020.  And for good reason: Freelancing enables motivated and independent individuals to work for the clients whose missions inspire them, while also allowing organizations to tap into the unique skillsets that they need for particular projects.

But freelancing comes with its own unique challenges, from achieving the optimal client-freelancer relationship to keeping your finances straight. As we have quite a bit of experience in the freelance world, we thought we’d pass along some of our learnings.  Here’s our advice for freelancers who want to kick off 2015 on the right foot:

Maintain a Work-Life Balance

Making your own schedule can be incredibly liberating. As a freelancer, you are often free to work at the times when you are the most effective – early morning, late at night, or somewhere in between. The problem is, without the structure of a 9 to 5 schedule, it can become difficult to step away from work and unplug. There is always more that could be done, whether it’s clocking time on a project, researching potential clients, or honing your personal brand.

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But, as with every career path, maintaining a work-life balance is essential for your success (and sanity!). It is so important to “work when you’re working, and not when you’re not.” One way to do it is to set (and adhere to) a schedule for yourself. Whether it’s based on an hourly breakdown or completing certain tasks on a given day, setting goals and limits will give you a sense of accomplishment and give you a clear sense of when it is time to sign off. If you want to do this by choosing a select number of hours to work each day or week, try using time tracking software – it will make your life a lot easier. 

 

Find a Co-Working Space

In chatting with other freelancers, we’ve heard the same story over and over again: At the beginning of the freelance journey, working from home is awesome. No longer do you have to adhere to a “normal” schedule; you can take breaks when you feel the need, and set up an optimal work environment for you. But after a couple of days or weeks, you may start to feel a little bit isolated or unmotivated. The joy of working from your living room is replaced by a feeling that you need to have a separate workspace, with other like-minded individuals to talk to.

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Enter the co-working space. Co-working spaces are offices where individuals work on their own projects in a rented space. If you live in a big city, you’ll find that they are all over the place. Some are catered toward specific niches – tech or creative, for example – while other are open to anyone who needs a space to work. Each co-working space is a bit different, offering different set-ups – from separate offices to open floor plans with desks – and ambiance, so you should definitely do some research and visit the spots that appeal to you before making a decision. Co-working will give you the opportunity to better separate work and home when you need to, and allow you to connect with others who are doing similar or related work.

If co-working isn’t for you, be sure to create a separate spot for working within your own home. And if you want to work outside the home, but can’t find a co-working space, give your local coffee shop or bookstore a try! 

 

Seek Out Networking Opportunities

As a freelancer, you can secure much-needed support and inspiration by finding opportunities to connect with others who are involved in work that is relevant to your field. Without the built-in relationship-building that comes with working in an office, however, you’ll need to seek out these opportunities on your own.  Even though networking as a freelancer takes a bit more effort, it’s relatively easy to do, and will have a big impact on your career development.

Start by using online forums like Meetup.com to connect with other individuals in your area who are working in your field or freelancing. You can also use LinkedIn as a resource for making connections. Reach out to the people in your network who are working for organizations and businesses that you admire, and ask them to connect you with others in the space. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but more often than not, people are more than willing (and even excited!) to help you make connections with others in their networks.

Co-working spaces often provide networking opportunities as well. Before joining one, be sure to check out whether or not they have events like happy hours and workshops that will allow you to spend some non-working time with the other members. 

 

Stay on Top of Your Finances

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Much of the time, managing finances is a little bit trickier for freelancers than they are for corporate employees. Independent contractors often have to handle their own accounting, from billing to bookkeeping to taxes, and many go into it without knowing the first thing about how to do it the right way. It might sound daunting, but there are ways to make it more manageable. Here are some tips that will make handling your finances easier:

  1. Separate your personal and business finances: This will make your life infinitely easier when tax season comes along.
  2. Select a finance day each month or quarter: Managing your finances all in one annual sitting will likely prove to be quite miserable.
  3. Use accounting apps / software: Find a software (like Freshbooks or Bench) that fits your needs, and take the time to familiarize yourself with how it works and how it can help you.
  4. Set aside a certain percentage of your income for taxes: If you aren’t working with an accountant, you can use a free tax estimator to help you decide how much to set aside for taxes.

When it comes to taxes and planning for retirement, Freelancers Union has some great tools that can help set you up for a successful year – check out their tips.

 

Don’t Forget About Health insurance

And last, but certainly not least, don’t forget about health insurance. When transitioning to the freelance life, it may be easy to forget about things that were previously built into your benefits package. Luckily, these days, applying for health insurance isn’t as difficult as you might think.

To get coverage, you can apply directly through healthcare.gov, which provides a great deal of information on health coverage for the self-employed.  You can also turn to third-party sources like Freelancers Union for information about the best package for you.

However you go about it, just be sure to take care of it as soon as possible – open enrollment now ends on February 15th. If you haven’t applied by then, the only way you can get coverage for 2015 is if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. And if you don’t have coverage, you will be penalized at tax time at a rate that is certainly not worth it.

 

Whether you’re a freelancer or not, the New Year provides us all with an opportunity to start off on a better, more organized foot. Take steps to evaluate your work life, and make changes wherever you can improve.

How do you plan to set yourself up for career success this year? Let us know in the comments below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

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