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5 mantras of caring and mentally healthy tribes

To outperform and outlast, we all should strive to create for caring, supportive and mentally healthy tribes. As we spend longer hours at work, the importance of having a caring and supportive group has become greater, writes Graeme Cowan.

The Lucky Country has become The Lonely Country. In research released recently by PPR, 53 per cent of Australians were found to be lonely – with NSW (59 per cent) the most and Queensland (49 per cent) the least lonely states.

The social and health costs of this are substantial with the UK government estimating that being lonely has the same health risk as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. They have even appointed a Minister of Loneliness!

Loneliness also has a significant impact on workplace productivity. As we spend longer hours at work, the importance of having a caring and supportive group has become greater. We have never been more connected in many ways, but we seem to lack meaningful human interactions.

Work is essential to our wellbeing, and yet the challenges are growing as we strive to do more with less. In a worrying development, the CSIRO has nominated "rising mental health issues" as a megatrend for the next 20 years.

What can leaders do about this, and is it worth their time?

In a recent survey of 420 employees we conducted, the most common estimate of increased productivity was "50 per cent or more" if their tribe could be more caring and mentally healthy. Even if we halved that estimate, it is hard to ignore the potential of such a change.

So, how do we do this? These were the top five mantras suggested by the group: we don't tolerate bullying, we value performance AND wellbeing, we ask "R U OK?" if someone is struggling, we can be authentic and we enjoy ourselves.

Let's look at each of these in a bit more depth.

1. We don't tolerate bullying

We all know intuitively that nobody enjoys being belittled and made fun of. In most large organisations, we now have someone responsible for promoting diversity and preventing discrimination. Despite this, I doubt there is full recognition of how detrimental bullying is to wellbeing and productivity. All forms of bullying should be eliminated.

2. We value performance AND wellbeing

In Daniel Pink's enlightening book Drive, he proves that today's employees are intrinsically motivated by purpose, mastery and autonomy. Intrinsic motivation promotes wellbeing, and employees who are focused on pursuing purpose and mastery – and given autonomy – will produce great results.

Autonomy also allows us to fit wellbeing strategies into our day at a suitable time. Leaders and managers ignore this mindset at their peril.

3. We ask R U OK? if someone is struggling

Asking R U OK? with compassion shows that you care. Gallup research confirms that the more employees who strongly agree with "My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person", the higher the profit, productivity, customer service levels and employee service. The statement has been asked over 13 million times in 130+ countries. In today's rapidly changing and uncertain world, we all yearn to be part of a caring and supportive tribe.

4. We can be authentic

"Success is liking myself, liking what I do, and liking how I do it." Maya Angelou

I think this is the ultimate description of sustainable success. When we are true to our values, we are more resilient, energetic and resourceful. Gallup research also tells us that when we use our top five (out of 34) strengths each day, we are 600 per cent more likely to be engaged at work and 300 per cent more likely to report high life satisfaction.

When we use our strengths and respect our differences, great things happen. Team psychological safety is the number one predictor of the best teams at innovation powerhouses like Google and IDEO. This is where there is strong interpersonal trust and mutual respect and where people are comfortable being themselves.

5. We enjoy ourselves

In my workplace seminars, I often ask people to reflect on the best tribe they have ever been in. A tribe that achieved great things despite many challenges. I then ask them to discuss what was it about this best tribe that made it different. Inevitably one of the things mentioned is "we had fun". As humans, we love to laugh with others. A laugh can relieve stress and energise us. Happiness is best shared.

Graeme Cowan is a non-executive director of R U OK? Day and wellness advocate. This blog post was originally published on his website. 

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain