Curating Company Culture to Support Mental Wellness & Retention: How I Brought Mindfulness to Southwest Airlines
Consider a question that’s been top of mind for the nearly 50% of people considering taking part in the Great Resignation: How supportive do you feel your employer is of your mental health?
A recent national survey conducted by McKinsey and Co shows a stark disconnect between employer actions to support mental health and employees’ perception of being supported. For example, 71% of companies with front-line workers stated that they support employee mental health well or very well, but only 27% of their actual frontline employees surveyed agreed with that sentiment!
So, what’s missing? What’s missing in most companies is a people-first company culture supported by noticeable actions to take employee well-being seriously. Offering wellness programs is a positive first step! However, leadership encouragement and participation can change the lens in which people view these offerings, making employees feel more supported to put their health first. In particular, recent intel around the Great Resignation indicates that people leave managers, not jobs, and a Gallup study confirmed that managers account for 70% of variance among employee engagement.
I know this firsthand because, prior to my leadership role at Mastermind, I was part of the people-first culture at Southwest Airlines with supportive senior leadership. I leaned into this open-minded culture to start a grassroots mindfulness program in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This big step for employee wellness happened pretty naturally. When Southwest, like many companies, transitioned much of its workforce to working from home in March 2020, internal departments scrambled to find ways to keep the company culture alive and create inclusive virtual spaces for people to connect.
Southwest had a big advantage in that most departments had already established culture committees – a dedicated group of volunteers who find creative ways to promote employee connection and company culture. When my department’s culture committee hosted a virtual wellness week in April 2020, I seized the opportunity to speak up and share my passion for mindfulness with my colleagues.
After a successful introductory mindfulness session (with a sky-high 25% department participation rate!), my direct manager and Southwest senior leadership encouraged me to continue offering a weekly mindfulness class that came to be known as Mindful Moments. I even connected with another like-minded co-worker from another department, and combined forces to reach a larger audience and continue to promote the benefits of mindfulness.
Southwest’s Mindful Moments community became a safe space for co-workers to come together and decompress as many of us were facing unprecedented levels stress and anxiety. Attendees often shared that having a Mindful Moment to de-stress was an important part of their work week, and that they were thankful not just to us as facilitators but also to a company that supported these efforts.
Mindful Moments continues a weekly basis, fueled first and foremost by an open-minded, people-first company culture at Southwest. This outlook is critical to developing any wellness program. When employees feel that their company values their well-being over their bottom line, programs that support employees are more likely to be successful and well-utilized.
So I’ll ask you again… How supportive do you feel your employer is of your mental health? No matter your answer, here are three actionable strategies for improving mental wellness support at your organization:
- Research what’s already provided by your company and what gaps there are. (Oftentimes companies offer some mental wellness support but don’t market it well, so the services don’t get used.) Then, gather like-minded colleagues to brainstorm how you could increase usage of existing resources and which additional services you could advocate for that would support you and your colleagues.
- Talk to your direct leader to propose an actionable idea that simply requires their approval, such as using a small part of your regular team meetings to discuss wellness or offer a 2-minute mindfulness activity.
- Start with yourself. Leading by example can have profound benefits. While we can’t always influence decision-makers right away, having your own wellness practices and sharing those informally with others can inspire others to want to take action. Never underestimate the impact your own behaviors can have on others!
Are you ready to take action as an advocate of mental wellness in the workplace?! Remember that it just takes one person at a company to start the conversation about mental health and improve employer support of holistic well-being.
At Mastemrind, we’re here for you with Mindfulness Facilitator Certification programs and custom corporate mental wellness offerings to support you and your company in boosting employee mental wellness. Connect with us to learn more about how we can support your organization in embedding wellness, resilience, and innovation into your company culture.
Article by Amanda Dominguez, Mastermind's Director of Marketing & Client Engagement. Amanda brings over ten years of management experience and substantial sales and communications expertise, including corporate wellness experience at Southwest Airlines where she spearheaded a Mindful Moments initiative to bring weekly mindfulness sessions and brain health education to the Southwest workforce. Learn more about Amanda by attending our monthly Communities of Color meditation or reaching out to her at [email protected].