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Tips for supporting employees to flourish

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June 24, 2024
By Bill Howatt

Credit: Getty Images/Alessandro Biascioli

For leadership and HR to impact workplace mental health, it’s prudent to understand the science behind good mental health. In a previous article, I introduced tips to help employees move from merely surviving to flourishing.

Employers should know that helping employees flourish is a protective factor of mental harm. When employees come to work just for a paycheque or do not feel a sense of belonging, they risk stress, mental harm, and injury.

Flourishing can facilitate a sense of purpose and mitigate an employee’s risk of languishing and experiencing meaninglessness and loneliness. Employees benefit when they discover how flourishing facilitates a sense of purpose that promotes mental health. Employers can positively influence employees’ attitudes about their roles and careers by helping them understand their value to the organization.

The term flourishing comes from the Latin word “floreo,” which translates to the English word “bloom.” Research suggests flourishing individuals are more likely to be happy, satisfied with life, and physically healthy on well-being measures. They have secure social connections, a clear life purpose and meaning, and low anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

I often write about mental fitness to offer guidance on habits that can help people increase their energy to engage their lives to their full potential. Vitality (i.e., energy) level predicts the likelihood someone will engage in behaviours and habits that promote well-being. Flourishing is the desired outcome of mental fitness.

One observation from my clinical work is that employees who experience more positive than negative emotions have more opportunity to flourish, providing the energy to create the best version of their lives and discover their meaning. Research suggests individuals who experience more positive affect (i.e., emotions) and meaning in life are more likely to thrive.

Having written and researched loneliness, it is becoming more evident that flourishing is a critical mental health protective factor. Martin Seligman’s PERMA model—which focuses on positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments—highlights that when a person has a clear sense of purpose and meaning, their risk of languishing (i.e., feeling “blah”) decreases.

When languishing, one tends to question what is good in their life and life’s meaning. Meaninglessness can be defined as experiencing intense feelings of loss of meaning in life, which research has found is a predictor of loneliness. Evidence suggests a person’s sense of purpose insulates them from loneliness. This line of research also indicates purposelessness increases a person’s risk of loneliness. In essence, feeling insignificant contributes to meaninglessness, followed by loneliness.

Loneliness is a form of emotional distress experienced as a difference between what one has and what one wants regarding social relationships. Loneliness is due to low-quality relationships. It differs from isolation because a person can feel lonely around others, which can negatively impact health. For example, one meta-analysis of 70 studies found that lonely individuals were 26 per cent more likely to experience early mortality than non-lonely persons.

Tips to mitigate employees experiencing meaninglessness and loneliness

Employers and leaders should not assume either new or experienced employees have the knowledge, skills, and habits to support their mental health. They should help employees understand the why, what, and how to promote mental health to get them on the path to flourishing, a protective factor from the growing health concern of loneliness.

  • Mental fitness education: Mental fitness education can introduce employees to positive psychological skills like the PERMA model and insights into flourishing. Many have never learned intrapersonal skills that promote flourishing from within or how interactions at work, home, and socially define their sense of purpose and meaningfulness. Getting out of bed in the morning with a purpose can provide the grit to push through life’s challenges. Learning how mental fitness practice can help one build and maintain healthy relationships with individuals aligned with their values can decrease the likelihood and risk of experiencing loneliness.
  • Confirm the value chain link: Employers and leaders can help employees understand how they fit within the organization’s value chain. Belonging and knowing the value of their roles can enhance employees’ sense of purpose and provide meaning. Knowing that their contribution is a part of something bigger and their efforts matter benefits their sense of well-being. Career development and performance management focusing on helping employees discover their passion, interests, and dreams can help them achieve and fulfill their purpose. Though work is just one part of a person’s life, it plays a big part in influencing their sense of well-being and purpose.
  • Giving and learning: One proven way to guide employees to finding purpose is to encourage them to discover what they would like to learn more about, become involved in community volunteering, or join organizations or clubs of interest. These interests create a sense of accountability and action that fuel a sense of purpose and meaning. Exploring interests and meeting with like-minded people can help people normalize their challenges, find hope and support, and feel they are living purposefully. Many employers create clubs, and social and volunteer activities that focus employees on new learning and opportunities.

Dr. Bill Howatt is the Ottawa-based president of Howatt HR Consulting.

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