Employee mental wellbeing should be a priority for all organizations. Research has shown that in the US, 83% of people suffer from work-related stress, while depression creates absenteeism costs of $51 billion a year for employers.
Meanwhile in the UK, nearly 15% of employees experience mental health problems in the workplace, and almost 13% of all sickness absence days can be attributed to this issue, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
This is clearly a significant concern, but your approach to understanding and managing it doesn't necessarily need to be sombre and severe.
Employee surveys can be a good way to gauge sentiment in your workforce, and including some lighthearted or unusual questions in there can help you tap into how people are feeling without putting them under pressure.
1. If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
This is a question that's fun and interesting to answer, but can also yield some useful insights into how people in your workforce are feeling and their general outlook on life.
If you get responses from people saying they would like to be invisible so they don't have to interact with people around them, for example, it could be a sign that social anxiety is an issue in your workforce.
You might also hear from people saying they would like to be invincible, or immune to any sort of disease or injury. This might tell you that worries about physical health - either for themselves or people close to them - are playing on the minds of your employees.
This question can be just a bit of fun, but it can also help you learn a lot about your workforce.
2. What's your weirdest interest or hobby?
To really understand the mental wellbeing of your staff, you need to get to know them as people, not just as employees. This question can help you achieve that by learning more about what people like to do in their free time and the things that make them happy.
For people who are struggling with their mental health, this question might prove helpful because it’ll get them thinking about positive aspects of their life that could provide opportunities for fulfillment and social connection.
If you get lots of responses from people saying they have no interests or hobbies, it could be a sign that you need to help your employees improve their work/life balance.
3. If you were the ruler of your own country, what laws would you make?
This question is a good way for you to learn more about what people see as the biggest injustices or sources of unhappiness in their life.
If you have respondents saying they would focus on creating laws to tackle inequality, for instance, it's a clear sign that this is an important issue for your employees and you could boost mental wellbeing by placing a big emphasis on it in the workplace.
Lots of responses focusing on issues like abuse or harassment could also be seen as a red flag that people are experiencing these problems in their jobs and you need to do something about it.
4. What's the coolest thing about your job?
This might seem like a leading question designed to encourage people to give positive feedback about work, but it can give you some useful insights into how your employees feel about their jobs in the context of their wider happiness and mental health.
A range of enthusiastic responses from people going into detail about what they love about their jobs might reassure you that you're successfully managing staff wellbeing. It can also be interesting to find out how much enjoyment and support employees get from their colleagues.
On the other hand, you might have respondents saying there isn't much they like about their work, and they only turn up to get paid. This could be a useful starting point to explore which elements of their jobs people struggle with the most, and how you can address these issues.
5. What advice would you give to your childhood self?
Encouraging workers to speak about their youth can be a good route into conversations about mental health as a whole, since issues like depression and anxiety in adult life are often rooted in childhood experiences.
A survey participant saying they would advise their younger self to be more confident or to confide more in those around them, for example, might indicate they still have the same concerns today but struggle to express them.
An employee's advice to their childhood self could also shed light on interests and ambitions you could help them fulfill through their work. Ultimately, including this question in surveys will help you understand your staff better, which is essential if you want to do your bit to support their mental wellbeing.