How Does Employee Individuality Play into Workplace Health?
The function of the workplace relies on collectivism to function… but does that always benefit employees or the employer?
From the language used in job adverts to the policies that keep a workplace running smoothly, often the focus is on the collective rather than the individual.
Whilst on the outside this might be beneficial in terms of an emphasis on collective achievement and acting cohesively, it also instantly creates an ‘us’, which can also mean that there is a ‘them’ or ‘other’.
In terms of health and wellbeing in the workplace, this means that there will inevitably be employees that feel as though they have to hide their individual health circumstances.
Can collectivism isolate employees?
Just like you wouldn’t expect an employee to feel comfortable discussing race, gender, sexuality, or another protected characteristic in a room full of people that don’t share it in common, they are also unlikely to feel comfortable discussing their health.
Collectivism has benefits, of course, as many see it as a form of equal opportunity.
However, it is also reliant on the suppression of individual values, beliefs, and motivations – if there is a deviation from the group or ‘norm’, this is usually instantly noticed and viewed unfavourably.
Culture is key to supporting people with health conditions, but this is reliant on them feeling comfortable in disclosing information or asking for help around their health.
Are they likely to do this in a culture that places emphasis on being part of a collective that doesn’t necessarily make space for them as an individual?
The individual nature of the employee
Each employee has something to contribute to the organisation.
But are organisations making space for their contributions, or creating policies that stifle them?
Take neurodiversity as an example – it’s likely that if you asked an employer how many neurodiverse employees they had in their organisation, they wouldn’t even be able to answer.
This is because the workplace environment isn’t comfortable enough for employees to disclose their neurodiversity.
Organisations need to show a clear commitment to promoting diversity in their culture, from recruitment to policies and initiatives, in order to open up space for all employees.
– 2 x as likely to meet or exceed financial targets
– 3 x as likely to be high-performing
– 6 x more likely to be innovative and agile
– 8 x more likely to achieve better business outcomes
A collective culture is unlikely to materialise these benefits as individual employees are aligning with the group rather than embracing the individuality they bring to the table.
How can you support people as individuals?
Creating policies and programmes that treat and support people as individuals pays its own rewards.
For starters, it enables workplaces to have a greater understanding of employees with health conditions and the type of support that they might need.
This begins by treating the employee as an individual, rather than focusing on their health conditions, as each individual will deal with it differently.
– Core values
An inclusive workplace is an environment in which difference thrives, rather than a workplace that stifles individuality to the detriment of the organisation, employees, and employee health.
Does the workplace environment make space for diversity?
For example, avoiding bright fluorescent lighting to minimise sensory overload for neurodiverse employees, or implementing flexible hours for those that need to attend doctor’s appointments.
Celebrating difference rather than shying away from it, or being performative, will go a long way in embracing individuality and the benefits that come with it.
– Acknowledging a full spectrum of health and wellbeing
If only one facet of wellbeing is acknowledged and addressed, it is unlikely to have any positive impact on an individual employee’s health.
This includes the impact of workplace culture on employees (e.g., problems around presenteeism and how they link to wider issues around mental health).
When it comes to employee health, employers placed the following as the most highly valued benefits at work: mental health support, critical illness cover, HR advice for employers, HR and wellbeing training, income protection, and vocational rehabilitation programmes.
Unsurprisingly, these benefits cover many of the facets of wellbeing, such as emotional, occupational, financial, and intellectual – which is why they are likelier to have a more significant impact on employee health than an area that targets only one area.
It can be a collective effort
Rather than a collective culture, organisations can employ a collective effort towards supporting the health of employees.
Collaboration in developing health policies and programmes means that individuals are able to contribute openly, but more importantly, they know that their differences are embraced by the organisation.
This opens up the space for empathy in the workplace, as there will be greater understanding of health differences if they are openly discussed without stigma.
Is there anything more valuable to an employee than being validated, understood, and as a result, supported?
It begins with the individual – but it takes the collective.