Mental Health Day: How to boost your staff morale

HRD investigates how one company turned around its staff morale in just a couple of years

Mental Health Day: How to boost your staff morale

It was Virgin Group founder Richard Branson who said that “if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business”.

Saturday 10th October marks 2020’s Mental Health Day – a time to reflect on how better to safeguard our employees’ wellbeing. 

Research indicates that one-third of New Zealanders have a personal experience of mental distress, and for people of diverse backgrounds the figures are much worse.

Citizens who’re LGBTQ+ are almost twice as likely to have a personal experience of mental distress (67%), while Māori and young adults aged 18 to 24 years also have higher rates of mental health problems. 

OMD NZ is a media company based out of Auckland. Kate Rengey, OMD NZ’s people director, told HRD that the company’s leadership team are strong advocates for the health and happiness of their employees.

“They genuinely believe that happy, healthy employees produce great work and that by doing workplace inclusion well, we will do well because of it,” she said.

And it seems the research agrees. Harvard Business Review found that happy employees enjoyed an average of 31% higher productivity and 37% higher sales, with creativity three times higher.

Read more: Happy employees, great business

However, due to a number of external factors, employees at OMD NZ have not always reported high staff satisfaction and morale.

Following the loss of a couple of major clients in 2017 staff morale fell, confidence was waning, and employee turnover became unsustainable. Just 53% of OMD’s people said they planned to stay at the agency for another 12 months, while satisfaction was down to 68%.

A significant insight from the survey was that more than half of staff said that they had considered leaving because the company did not provide adequate flexibility.

In response, OMD introduced a “People First” platform encouraging staff to take “control, belong and develop”.

“These pillars focused on building togetherness and common purpose across our teams, and creating systems for our people to design and deliver many activities themselves,” said Rengey.

To offer employees greater flexibility in the hours they worked and where they were located, it launched a new set of Flexibility Guidelines in May 2018. They also created a mentoring programme, in which 62 per cent of staff were paired with a mentor, to ensure people felt nurtured and supported in their careers.

In fact, ten of the 13-strong leadership team are mentors in the mentoring programme, including CEO Nigel Douglas, who has three mentees.

To embrace the company’s new approach around employee happiness and inclusion, the company never miss a chance to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week, Pride Week, Māori Language Week, International Women’s Day and Chinese New Year.

An Employee Assistance Programme and weekly mindfulness sessions were offered, along with a change in the way new staff are brought into the company, with a “Welcome to OMD” video.

Read more: What makes your employees happy?

And with a particular focus on helping staff from diverse backgrounds, OMD implemented a grassroots diversity and inclusion committee called “The Pack”. This involved four people passionate about Corporate Social Responsibility including Diversity & Inclusion.

“We’re proud of the partnership we’ve created with our grassroots Diversity & Inclusion committee ‘The PACK’ and our Culture Club,” said Rengey.

“Together, we’ve celebrated such a wide range of events and initiatives throughout the year.”

Additionally, weekly “Who Am I?” or “Pecha Kucha” quizzes highlight the diverse backgrounds and differing interests of staff.

The collective impact of these initiatives have seen 87% of staff claiming they were “likely to refer OMD to others”, an increase of three per cent on the previous year.

Absenteeism and staff turnover also dropped, and female representation in OMD’s senior leadership has risen from 28% to 46%.

Rengey said that building a happy, healthy and inclusive culture is about constantly keep an eye out for ways to empower your people.

"Offering them opportunities to lean in, share their thoughts, contribute their ideas and then help bring those ideas to life is really empowering,” she said.

“It creates connection, and helps people to feel a greater sense of belonging within an organisation, so it starts with empowering your people.”

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