How Employee Supremacy Improves Mental Health in the Workplace

In 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office named “Workplace Well-Being” one of its top priorities after the COVID-19 pandemic brought mental health struggles to the surface in a way we have never seen before. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a 25 percent increase globally in depression and anxiety during the first year of the pandemic alone. In the U.S., 41 percent of adults claimed to have experienced “high levels of psychological distress” at some point between March 2020 and September 2022. 

Here are some other surprising statistics about mental health at work: 

  • 84% of workers say conditions within their workplace contribute to their mental health challenges.
  • 81% say they will prioritize finding a workplace that supports mental health in the future.
  • 67% of workers believe their employer should provide support for mental health.

A Societal Shift

As Millennials have become the dominant generation in the workforce, there’s been a push for better mental health support at work. But this doesn’t mean giving out free subscriptions to meditation apps and then dumping the work of four people onto one poor intern. That doesn’t address the underlying reasons for workers’ mental health struggles. Giving them adequate support requires compassion and intentionality, and it should extend to every person in your organization. 

The workforce changes are significant because Millennials are more likely than previous generations to talk openly about their mental health, and the number of them actively seeking support for their challenges continues to grow. And while other generations – namely Baby Boomers and Gen X – are generally more reluctant to share their struggles or seek help, many of them still experience emotional distress and mental health decline.  

With so many different generations in the workplace with disparate ideas of how to handle mental health issues, it’s no wonder that efforts to prioritize mental well-being in the workplace are top-of-mind. 

Career Trauma

Many of us have been unfortunate enough to experience layoffs, inept managers, and/or mentally toxic working conditions. The emotional fallout from these challenges causes what we call “career trauma.” 

Career trauma can happen to anyone working in any industry, and it can come from any number of culprits: 

  • A never-ending and insurmountable workload 
  • A competitive and unfriendly company culture
  • A boss who sees you as a number, not as a human being
  • A colleague who constantly bullies you and those around you
  • An endless series of layoffs

And so many more. 

For your employees, these issues are, at best, demoralizing. At worst, they can cause long-term damage to their emotional well-being and overall happiness. 

As a leader, these issues will eventually come knocking at your door. No amount of mandatory happy hours or fully stocked breakrooms can save you from the turnover – and associated cost  – that comes from a toxic workplace. This is the disadvantage of putting profit over people — the people who actually produce the profit. 

Shareholder supremacy, or shareholder primacy, dictates that the shareholders of a company take precedence over every other aspect of business. This often happens in organizations with large investors demanding maximum return, no matter the cost to the employees. But signs point to this being a large part of the reason why workers in the U.S. have career trauma to begin with. 

Employee Supremacy

Do a cursory Google search on mental health in the workplace, and you’ll find countless articles and studies making the case that employers who prioritize their employees’ mental health actually see a monetary return on that investment. 

For example, a survey found that respondents who claim to be in “excellent” or “very good” mental health have far fewer missed work days per year than those who said their mental health was “fair” or “poor.” Additionally, a study found that for every one dollar employers invest in preventative mental healthcare, they save $4.  

But what if your primary focus was the well-being of your employees that ultimately could lead to more sustainable, long-term financial incentives?

Employee Supremacy is the belief that when a business puts employee well-being at the center of the decision-making process, success will follow. Not only does this employee-centric model help retain employees, earn employee trust, instill customer goodwill, and improve productivity, but it also gives the business a financial boost.

When people come to work at The Receptionist, they’re always floored at how well the company takes care of its employees. Most of us have some form of career trauma in our past, and working at The Receptionist can be a healing experience. 

In this video, Andy Alsop, founder and CEO of The Receptionist, explains our Just Cause: To build a world where a company’s profits fuel the mission to be in service to its employees and the community. 

Our Just Cause necessitates a new way of running a business. Employees at The Receptionist receive top-tier support and benefits, including a monthly stipend for mental healthcare. Not only that, but our employees tend to stay with the company for longer periods of time. 

“I’ve had offers for double my salary from other companies,” one employee said. “I always turn them down because I love it here so much.” 

When employees remain in their roles for longer periods of time, turnover becomes less of a concern for leadership. This retention saves companies money on frequently going through the hiring process, onboarding new employees, and getting them up to speed so they can begin to fulfill all of their duties. 

Additionally, when you retain employees, you preserve all of the institutional knowledge built over time. This knowledge proves itself invaluable when it comes to supporting customers, because multiple people within the company are familiar with the products, the customers’ history, and the company’s policies. It also helps everyone better navigate product innovation, because workers know what customers are asking for, they know what has been tried in the past, and they can more easily see a better path forward. 

Employee Supremacy in Practice

Many leaders balk at the idea of putting people over profits, but studies have proved the efficacy of a people-centric workplace time and again. Employees who feel safe and well cared for are known to be more productive, stay with the company longer, and are overall happier.

There are, of course, many statistics to support the idea of Employee Supremacy, but we can actually see it manifest in successful organizations. 

For example, Sir Richard Branson, the entrepreneur behind the sprawling Virgin brand, is vocal about his “employee-first” business philosophy. 

“It sort of should go without saying and it’s sort of surprising that it still doesn’t go without saying at some companies. If the person who works at your company is 100% proud of the job they’re doing, if you give them the tools to do a good job, if they’re proud of the brand, if they’re well looked after, they’re treated well, they’re going to be smiling. They’re going to be happy, and the customer is going to have a nice experience. So my philosophy has always been if you can put your staff first, your customers second, and your shareholders third, effectively in the end, the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and the staff are happy.” 

The Virgin Group brand, founded by Branson in the early 1970s, today employs roughly 71,000 people globally and brings in an annual revenue of nearly $20 billion. By creating an employee-centric business model, Branson and Virgin Group have realized the kind of financial success that most entrepreneurs only dream of. 

In the early days of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton sent a memo to management associates in his stores. In it, he stated, “our people are our greatest assets, and effective management is the key to our profitability and a future for us all.” 

Fostering a Mentally Healthy Workplace

Fostering a people-centric workplace isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Even if you have shareholders to whom you are beholden, you can still find ways to develop your employee supremacy. 

Encourage Work-life Balance

Make sure employees have space to take time off when necessary. Organizations that make it difficult for workers to unplug and have time for themselves are more likely to have higher turnover and more stressed-out employees.

This means having a no-contact policy for those workers who are on paid time off, and if you have unlimited vacation, going as far as requiring employees to take a certain amount of time off every year.

Give Regular Recognition

When employees receive recognition for going above and beyond in their jobs, they are four times as likely to be engaged. High levels of employee engagement are a good predictor of company success.

Taking the time each week to call out employees for a job well-done costs nothing but pays off in big ways.

Have Empathy

People are not robots; and yet, many employees often feel as though that is what is being asked of them. But we are humans and thus, have human problems. We go through challenges in life and are sometimes unable to work for various reasons. When this happens, an employee-centric workplace gives the employee space to get things back on track without giving them a hard time. In leadership, a little empathy goes a long way. 

Create Psychological Safety

Psychological safety in the workplace means employees have the freedom to share their productive critiques, opinions, and ideas about the company without fear of retaliation. When people feel safe in that way, the company has the opportunity to benefit from all of the institutional knowledge discussed earlier. 

Concern over mental health in the workplace is not a passing trend that will eventually disappear. Putting your employees first and ensuring their well-being only serves to help the company. People are always, always more important than profits.

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