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  • Topics covering working life, wellness, parenting, management, etc.

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Local Service Partners

Local Service Partners are independent EAPs with which WPO has established strategic relationships for the delivery of global EAP services in alignment with the WPO models, processes and quality standards.

  • 28 June 2023
  • 8 months

Mental Health Promoters: What they are and what they offer to the workplace

Emily Fournier

Marketing Specialist

A strong, positive workplace culture is now the top priority among todays job seekers. More than competitive earnings, expansive benefits, candidates are now on the hunt for an employer whos enjoyable to work for—better yet, with. As todays unsteady climate continues to push ESG, DEI, sustainability and corporate social responsibility to the forefront of an organizations overall strategy to appease their shareholders, equally so are these concerns rising to the top of employees interests in 2023. They want to work for employers who demonstrate a steadfast commitment to their holistic wellbeing: upholding their work-life balance, promoting their personal and professional growth, empowering their communities, fostering strong social bonds, bolstering their financial, recreational, and environmental health, and the list goes on.

An organizations culture, at the end of the day, offers a glimpse into just how committed employers are to the promises they might make on paper, whether in job listings, advertisements, or within their mission and values statements. As such, everything comes down to culture. Toxic cultures are why people leave; positive cultures are why people want to stay. Toxic cultures burn employees out, kill their motivation, and hinder their productivity; positive cultures provide continual nourishment, drive ambition, and enhance performance.

Wellness at the Center: The Divide Between a Toxic and Positive Culture 

What separates a positive culture from a toxic one? A lived commitment to wellbeing, where wellness becomes more than just a term but a practice thats carried out within all operations and interactionschampioned by the organization and everyone within it. 

How do organizations achieve this? Awareness campaigns and organization-wide training go a long way. Transforming management into coaches who lead with kindness, empathy, and compassion helps staff to feel more supported, and in turn, improves their wellbeing. Hiring third-party consultants to come on site or offer virtual assistance; providing access to robust health and wellness benefitsthese are all great (and important) steps toward cultivating a positive, healthy culture, but they also have their limitations.  

Specifically, such top-down and outside-in approaches often result in siloed care and support: helping individual employees grasp concepts associated with wellbeing and helping them to improve their own. This surely extends to those around them to some extent, as they learn to be more understanding, sympathetic, and compassionate toward others as much as themselves. But theres just not a lot of—or not enough—opportunities for collaboration between peers when relying on these strategies alone.  

Promoting Wellness at Work: The Value of Mental Health Promoters 

That said, mental health promoters can serve as the missing value to an organizations wellness equation: fostering strong social bonds among peers, offering employees the chance to actually demonstrate what theyve learned and the skills theyve gained through their organizations training and awareness campaigns, and enhancing their personal and professional development by allowing them to try their hand at a leadership position.

So, what exactly is a mental health promoter?

Mental health promoter; ambassador; ally; advocate; officer. These are just some of the various titles used to describe an employee who is passionate about wellbeing at work, and who is thus appointed to help drive it.  

In effect, a mental health promoter is someone who can: 

  • Drive outreach strategies by effectively communicating key wellness messages to peers 
  • Organize and lead wellness-related activities in the workplace 
  • Act as a mediator between a distressed employee and the many services and resources made available to them through their employer through their ability to: 
  • Recognize signs and symptoms of ill-health in colleagues; and 
  • Guide them through the process of accessing support 
  • Serve as a liaison between employees and those responsible for designing, investing in, and implementing the organizations wellness program 
  • Educate employees on healthy lifestyle choices and promote healthy habits 
  • Raise awareness for key health issues and combat and reduce stigmas 
  • Encourage participation in wellness initiatives and conversations 
  • Be counted on to exhibit positive health behaviors and a positive attitude toward taking care of ones health 

They are not:  

  • A therapist 
  • A psychologist 
  • A licensed professional 
  • A substitute for counselors, consultants, or coaches 

Although it is important to note that, given the sensitivity and sense of responsibility required for the job, promoters are still properly screened, trained, and provided with ongoing support throughout their service to ensure they’re providing the best and most appropriate support to their peers. 

Whether theyre a fitness or mindfulness enthusiast, a foodie, a self-care guru, or simply someone who is charismatic and passionate about supporting the wellbeing of others, a mental health promoter can be anyone who demonstrates a strong commitment to their organizations wellness objectives and values, a profound concern for their peers, and a reliable adherence to the organizations code of conduct. 

When instituted properly, they become the face and voice of the organizations wellness program, offering a fresh—and, more specifically, familiar–look intended to appeal to the very people who are meant to benefit from the program in the first place. 

Why are mental health promoters needed? 

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Rethink that soon after transpired, most, if not all, organizations quickly began to abandon their strategy of placing workplace wellbeing on the backburner, recognizing the suddenly visible role that they play—whether through their benefits offerings, environment and culture, or the nature of the job—in shaping their employees health and wellbeing.  

As such, it is estimated that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of employers now offer a corporate wellness program, reaping benefits that include—but are not limited to: 

  • Higher productivity 
  • Enhanced performance 
  • A six-to-one ROI 
  • Lower absenteeism/presenteeism 
  • Reduced healthcare costs 
  • Better health outcomes 
  • Morale boosts 
  • Increased engagement 
  • Improved retention, job satisfaction 
  • Improved recruitment efforts 
  • A 233 percent increase in customer loyalty 
  • A strengthened internal culture

But although findings indicate that wellness programs are now a major concern for some 90 percent of job seekers, low utilization rates of such programs (ranging between just 20 to 40 percent of ones workforce) hint at likely gaps in the design and implementation of current programs, resulting in a failure to meet or speak to employees needs and interests.

Thankfully, however, a closer look into this lack of participation reveals that the problems—and their solutions—are clearcut. Specifically, research shows that even when employers offer wellness programs and attempt to demonstrate support for their staffs overall wellbeing, employees remain largely resistant toward opening up about—let alone seeking help for—their mental health at work. This is especially true when it comes to talking with management: Whether its persisting stigma, lack of felt support, fear of retaliation, or concerns over a Big Brother culture, recent reports have found that a large swarth of todays workforce simply isnt comfortable with turning to their managers for support.

Not only does this distrust and disconnection reinforce toxic workplace conditions and perpetuate poor health outcomes, but it also undermines the performance of organizations wellbeing programs as employees consequentially miss out on opportunities to learn more about the resources made available to them, and how they can go about accessing them. Moreover, a failure to engage directly with employees in conversation about what their health and wellness needs are results in programs that ultimately miss the mark and offer little value to employees personal or professional lives.

That said, by instituting a mental health promoter program, organizations can work to quickly turn each of these setbacks around. In the presence of a mental health promoter, employees have access to a comfortable, confidential, and informal first point of contact whom they can turn to about their wellbeing needs—free from the fear of possible retaliation or termination; a like-minded peer who can promote the services offered by the organizations wellbeing program and explicate the programs relevancy to their specific needs; an admirable role model who can demonstrate how employees can access available resources; and a representative who can advocate for program modifications on their behalf.

What are the benefits of mental health promoters? 

In a 2019 study conducted by Mayo Clinic on the impact of wellness promoters on employee engagement, satisfaction, and overall wellbeing, researchers revealed that employees whose organizations implemented a promoter program responded more positively than employees from organizations without promoters on every single measure—with differences ranging from two to 12 percentage points.  

Specifically, the study reported that among employees with a promoter present in the workplace: 

  • 85 percent responded favorably about their physical health 
  • 84 percent responded favorably about their social health 
  • 72 percent responded favorably about their financial health 
  • 69 percent responded favorably about their general wellbeing 

Interestingly enough, some of the largest differences in favorable responses were observed among questions regarding staff relations, internal culture, and the work environment, as employees with a mental health promoter were between 9 and 12 percent more likely to agree or say that:

  • Their organization offers enough support to help employees lead a healthy lifestyle, and that their employer takes a genuine interest in their wellbeing 
  • There is a spirit of cooperation and teamwork, and a high level of trust within their work unit 
  • They feel free to speak their mind without fear of negative consequences 
  • Efforts are made to make everyone feel part of the team 
  • Leadership behaves in ways that model the organizations values 
  • Their immediate supervisor does a good job of explaining the reasons behind decisions and changes 
  • Their immediate supervisor encourages them to develop their talents and skills 

Why is that? 

There are several explanations as to why promoters can not only help to improve employee wellbeing but strengthen relationships and reinforce the organizations culture, starting with: 

  • They have their fingers on the pulse, ears to the ground needed to personalize wellbeing initiatives. As much as it may bother some leaders to do so, there is no shame in admitting that there are differences that exist between the lived experiences—personal and professional—of those in the C-suite and those on the ground floor. While these differences are inevitable and nothing to be ashamed of, they can contribute to a disconnect between what leaders think their employees needs and interests are, and what they actually are. By designating promoters from all different levels, departments, and locations within the organization, leaders can gain a better understanding of what their employees want or need most from their employer when it comes to wellbeing support, and use the confidential, anecdotal data thats collected by their champions to shape and personalize their programs.
  • They make sure that employee wellbeing initiatives are employee-led. Various studies have determined that perceived influence at work—or an employees voice in the workplace—has one of if not the biggest influence on employees mental health and general wellbeing compared to all other conditions of the workplace. Lacking a voice in the workplace can lead to feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, and compassion fatigue, research shows, as employees not only fail to successfully speak up for themselves but also for their peers. On the other hand, reinforcing employees agency and self-efficacy by allowing them to take on leadership roles and spearhead wellness initiatives by becoming a mental health promoter or otherwise influence, guide, and help revise the designing and implementation their wellbeing programs helps to instill a sense of ownership and emotional investment in the programs that results in increased engagement and motivation to succeed.
  • They provide a direct line of communication free from power imbalances or tight schedules. Although a growing majority of employees have called on their employers to do more to support their mental health, engaging in one-on-one conversations might not be what they necessarily have in mind: According to the latest findings, less than one in three employees say that they would seek the support of a manager if they were struggling with their mental health, citing fear of negative impact on their job prospects, but also boundary issues. That said, while being pulled aside by a manager can feel like an invasion of privacy (and quite nerve-wracking), being confronted by a peer who demonstrates a genuine concern for their coworkers wellbeing and makes an effort to connect with them and understand their health and wellness needs can feel empowering and make the conversation a much more comfortable one. Moreover, while managers having to work around demanding schedules to set up one-on-one time with their staff can inadvertently signal to employees that their mental health and wellbeing is not a priority, the flexible availability of promoters can help take some of the load off managers shoulders while also helping to accommodate employees own schedules.
  • They work directly on the frontlines (or, in this case, the ground floor) to help start and normalize the conversation. Even as employers expand their wellness perks to support and appeal to an increasingly health-conscious labor force, research finds that perceived stigma within teams or units can undermine their utilization. In fact, one study found that, of the nearly two-thirds of workers who reported to have taken at least one mental health day in the past year, nearly half of them lied about the reason, fearing judgment from their peers. That said, while leaders involvement in destigmatizing mental health and help-seeking in their communications with employees is important, unless such efforts are paired with a more horizontal approach in which employees are encouraged to converse with each other about their mental health and help-seeking efforts, such a top-down approach will inevitably fail to inspire cultural change. Mental health promoters, on the other hand, can make an impact from the ground up by initiating and normalizing conversations about mental health, potentially even sharing their own experiences with mental health and demonstrating the benefits of being vulnerable with ones peers at work.
  • They inspire participation through role-modeling, organizing, and a little help from Banduras social learning theory (SLT). Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the key factors thats been driving low or fair program utilization rates over the last few years is the transition to remote work, research from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows. Teams are no longer physically in the office with each other—and if they are, theyre certainly not together as often as they were prior to the pandemic. This is especially detrimental to organizations wellness initiatives, as decades worth of research has affirmed that coworkers, whom people spend more time with than their families, their friends, and their neighbors, have a significant influence on individual behavior—especially health behaviors. In fact, studies have found that when employees are surrounded by peers who demonstrate positive health habits, such as eating fruits and vegetables and getting enough physical exercise, they are much more likely to adopt those same habits. As Banduras social learning theory posits, people learn most effectively socially, rather than through individual study; in other words, people learn by observing those around them, i.e., role models, imitating their behaviors, and—depending on whether they get positive or negative reinforcements for such behaviors—deciding to either adopt or abandon them. Now more than ever, as teams are scattered across different locations—even countries—having peers that they interact with on the day to day demonstrating and proactively encouraging healthy habits and empowering colleagues to participate in wellbeing programs is imperative to the success of the organizations wellbeing strategy.

And lastly, they create a sense of community and belonging-essential for wellbeing. 

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. Contact us to learn more. 

This content is intended for general information only. It does not provide specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.

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