The emotional side of business rarely gets discussed inside boardrooms, but outside, it greatly affects a company's performance. Unlike cognitive culture, which shapes how employees think, or behavioral culture, which influences how employees act, emotional culture influences how employees feel. The underlying moods your teammates and employees experience can have a positive or adverse effect on their overall state of wellness.

Regardless of size, your company has an emotional culture, and chances are, the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 and the reeling events of 2020 have affected it. And while focusing on a co-worker's feelings might fall out of the formal job description, research has shown that not only understanding mental wellness but also consciously cultivating it in the workplace can be lucrative.

In fact, research by Deloitte found that employers who invest in mental health support for staff tend to become more profitable. Among the other benefits are increased employee engagement, effort put into tasks and quality of work. So as we settle into the murky era of work amid a pandemic, below are three clear strategies you can use to cultivate mental wellness.

GIVE EMPLOYEES THE FREEDOM TO SELF-REGULATE I'm what you might call an “extreme health” hobbyist. From cold plunges to complex supplement stacks and IV drips, to extended water fasting and daily meditation, my personal pursuit of health probably doesn't mirror the majority of our employees. Luckily, creating a culture of mental wellness isn't about impressing your own fitness or nutritional habits on others; it's about giving your team the freedom to exercise their own.

One of the best ways to do this is to encourage employees to structure wellness routines into their workday. This doesn't mean exempting people from team meetings or enforcing mandatory meditation breaks. Rather, it's empowering employees to schedule time in for themselves amid their workday and supporting whatever helps them stay regulated on an individual level.

For some employees, this might mean logging off at 4 p.m. to prepare dinner for their family. For others, they might get out for a mid-afternoon walk or bike ride. In our office, we have an employee who takes a 10-minute drive to his local archery club field to shoot arrows at 55 yards.

The point is, every employee has a unique way of managing their energy and emotions on any given day. For most of us, the factory mentality of work happening between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. no longer applies, particularly now, with an estimated 42% of the U.S. labor force working from home and many others in hybrid scenarios. In fact, taking breaks can have a positive impact on productivity.

Telling employees it's OK to take breaks is commonplace. However, if your leadership team is booking back-to-back meetings, sending emails on weekends or metaphorically patting employees on the back for being the last person to log off, you're sending mixed messages. Most employees take cultural cues from those higher up on the corporate ladder and will follow the acceptable norm of work-life balance.

With this in mind, it's important that team leaders buy into the importance of mental wellness and are encouraged to share their own practices with their teams as a way of leading by example. In talking to employees about the ways I structure my own time away from the screen, I see a marked increase in them not only taking needed wellness breaks themselves but also sharing the often-unspoken nuances that can greatly affect their own work performance.

CREATE A SPACE FOR DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS Even when mental wellness is encouraged, it can be difficult to confide in a colleague over a personal problem or confront a co-worker about a controversial issue at work. Not everyone will turn to human resources, their manager or even a work friend when they are struggling with a problem. Leaders who recognize that both communication style and comfort level around difficult topics vary are better positioned to create diverse opportunities for employees to express themselves in ways that feel safe.

For instance, since the pandemic started, one of the ways we've made space for difficult conversations at my company is by ensuring social experiences happen even when a physical connection isn’t possible. From virtual bubble tea chats between employees to self-organized buddy systems for new hires and games between teams, we encourage employees to get creative and engage in non-work related interactions.

While this is done in part to help employees who might be feeling the impacts of self-isolation, it also allows for more informal conversations to flow. Often this is when the most important discussions take place as colleagues are more likely to confide in what's weighing on their mental health when guards are down.

It's often said we spend a third of our adult lives working. And while it's true we work for income, we also work for an overall sense of purpose, identity and well-being. In the best of times, our emotions are challenged at work. Add in the stress and uncertainty of a global pandemic, and there is a lot more for employees to process.

Band-Aid benefits like personal days and massage therapy may have been enough to combat workplace blues in a pre-pandemic context, but that's no longer the case. In a world that experts say is still recovering from collective grief, holistically investing in mental wellness is critical to ensuring your emotional culture is healthy and paying long-lasting dividends.


As first published in Forbes:


As visionary as he was, Thomas Edison probably didn’t foresee the Big Brother implications of video surveillance when he premiered the Kinetograph, a primitive movie camera, back in 1891. And he certainly couldn’t have predicted that the technology he helped pioneer would eventually feed into algorithms that analyze keystrokes, web-browsing habits, and faces, all in the name of calculating a productivity score for anxious employers. Yet here we are, in the spring of 2020, with tech surveillance startups seeing an egregious uptick in sales and executives scratching their heads trying to solve the problem of how to promote productivity in a remote workforce.

While the temptation to monitor work-from-home employees is real, leaders who offer more freedom, even in the remote workplace, are having less trouble with the transition and noticing a remarkable upside.

AUTONOMY BREEDS TRUST AND ENGAGEMENT It may seem counterintuitive, but giving employees the freedom to complete their work creatively without the pressure of logging their hourly input not only mitigates anxiety and builds trust; it leverages their individual strengths and can add more value to the process.

A study from the University of Melbourne found that employees who were given more control over areas such as schedule, workflow, and input on strategy were more motivated, engaged, loyal, and mentally well. When employees were given more autonomy, the study showed, they were more likely to be self-driven and possess intrinsic motivation, which decreased the need for external rewards. It also showed teams were more competent and connected and less susceptible to burnout.

The argument isn’t for anarchy. Every work environment needs structure and a strong direction for employees to be aligned. But once that’s established, there should be room for employees to take ownership over their individual contributions and create in a style that is intuitive and plays up their strengths. This looks different in each work environment. In our business, for instance, which spans both tech and cryptocurrency, some areas, such as marketing and content have more room for creativity than others, such as software development or finance. What I’ve found is for areas with less rope, the simple act of asking for input on the vision and end goal can go a long way in increasing overall engagement. For people who crave more structure, there can still be clear guidelines and boundaries, but allowing them to partake in important conversations gives them a greater sense of ownership over their work.

FOCUS ON THE DESTINATION, NOT THE JOURNEY Counter to the wise adage that “it’s the journey, not the destination that counts,” in business communicating the endpoint is often more important than marking the trail. Agree on the critical logistics: meeting place, arrival time, luggage essentials; then let your employees choose how they get there. Some might take a motorcycle, others might fly or choose an evening drive. If what vehicle your employees choose, what time of day they travel, and the route they select all lead to the same place, it can only benefit to allow them the freedom they desire to enjoy the journey.

Many employers and managers make the mistake of doubling down on systems and mandated processes that don’t work for all. This often hinders both performance and employee engagement. The DNA of your team changes with each hire. If you allow more flexibility in how goals are achieved, you are better positioned to capitalize on both the individual and collective strengths of your team.

This same principle applies to communication. Some employees communicate best in Slack, others email, Excel, or Powerpoint decks. Allowing for variation in work language may seem like an invitation for chaos, but in reality it gives employees an opportunity to express their core ideas and contributions through a medium that is intuitive to them and plays up their strengths. Different work languages may also resonate better with other key members of your team.

Bottom line is, if you’re too stringent with process—and this often derives from a need for more visibility and control—you risk burying talent or deterring it from entering your virtual door. This is particularly true for the emerging workforce. A defining trait of Gen Z is their need for individual expression. Having the ability to deliver work in a way that feels more authentic is a huge draw for this generation, which already makes up 24% of the workforce and is expected to grow to 30% by 2030. Employers who are willing to capitalize on individual contributions in a platform-agnostic way will have a leg up on their competitors both now and in the future.

KEEP THE VIRTUAL WATERCOOLER OPEN If there’s one area where micromanagers and autonomous leaders may meet, it’s at the virtual watercooler, albeit with different agendas. Since much of the global workforce has been mandated to work from home, Zoom happy hours and virtual lunch breaks have become the new norm. For micromanagers, meetings, however casual in intent, mean more time to monitor for employee engagement, informally grill for productivity, and ultimately steal glances behind an otherwise closed work-from-home curtain.

For autonomous leaders, however, these meetups not only serve as an optional social outlet for employees self-isolating at home; they can also lead to invaluable feedback that might otherwise be missed. I’ve come to realize over the years that many of the most important workplace conversations don’t take place during scheduled meetings or even in 1:1 reviews; they take place when the pressure is off and guards are down. If you build in casual interactions to the workday, even the most introverted employees are more likely to voice important opinions and keep communication open, which can lead to impactful insights.

MEASURE WHAT MATTERS Regardless of your leadership style, we can all agree businesses need to meet key performance metrics to thrive. However, many companies make the mistake of putting too much emphasis on measuring input—particularly when they have less visibility into the day-to-day operations of their team. In today’s digital world, there is no lack of access to technological tools, from Time Doctor to Hubstaff, that allow managers insight into time spent, keystrokes typed, and web pages browsed. But putting too much emphasis on managing the process can be a distraction from the end goal and use up valuable resources. It ends up adding to the problem rather than creating a solution.

When you’re focused on tracking output, that is, the big milestones that really move your business forward, it often requires no more than a weekly check-in to allow teams to touch base on what’s been completed and what’s on the schedule moving forward. For areas such as product development that may require monitoring at a more granular level, a daily stand-up in Slack can be a digitally transparent way to communicate what’s being worked on and any impediments in the way. This allows leaders detailed vision as needed, while still putting trust in the managers they’ve hired to oversee key areas of the business.

INNOVATION VERSUS INVENTION All employees thrive in environments where trust is reciprocated and individual differences are not only supported but applauded. While the stars may be temporarily aligned for Big Brother cultures to flourish, when the economy rebounds and employees have more optionality, companies that chose to surveil to prevail may find they’ve alienated precious talent and irrevocably damaged their employee brand. On the flip side, companies that have embraced the merits of a flexible work environment will not only have experienced a smoother and more effective transition into the next generation of work culture but will also continue to build their value proposition for talent. It’s the case of choosing innovation to embrace the future rather than clinging to invention to stay in the past. Even Edison could agree with that.


As first published in Fast Company: