Following World Mental Health on 10th October, Shauna McQueen, Global Wellbeing Lead at ISS, explains why a holistic approach to employee wellness and wellbeing benefits staff as well as businesses.
“Overall, mental health has suffered tremendously in the last few years,” says Shauna McQueen, Global Wellbeing Lead at ISS. “We’re still in an uncertain situation, from an economic, climate and a security perspective — and people are dealing with a lot both personally and professionally. During your nine-to-five, those problems don’t cease to exist.”
Based in New York, Shauna looks holistically at clients’ wellbeing proposals and ensures that ISS’s services — from catering and workplace design to pop-up events — improve the work experience and mental health of employees. With a background as a nutritionist, dietician and yoga instructor, she also has a long-standing interest in meditation and mindfulness.
Now, her role with ISS combines all these skills to support whole-person health — and to ensure her clients are providing the resources their colleagues need to “show up and thrive” at work. For Shauna, World Mental Health Day, which takes place annually on 10 October, is an opportunity to encourage real conversations about the subject: “The day is so important because it really helps to open up a dialogue on wellbeing.”
Workspaces and wellbeing
“The return on investing in employees’ wellbeing is immense,” says Shauna. “It helps with talent retention and recruitment — people are more likely to stay in their role and grow within the company. And they are able to bring their whole self to a role that they feel excited and inspired by.”
In creating “balanced and holistic programming” to support clients, she considers mental health to be closely linked to physical and social strength. “Mental health is not just one isolated area of ourselves: it impacts everything, from the types of foods we eat to our motivation to move. It affects how much time we might want to spend with others and how we might show up for them. So, it’s essential for us to be open and honest and share that aspect of ourselves.”
“… a lot of us aren’t doing well and the first step to heal from that is identifying the problem and being able to talk about it”
Shauna believes speaking up about the topic is key, both at work and beyond. “We have a tendency to keep our conversations surface-level, especially with people that we work with. We’ll ask, ‘How are you doing, good?’ and then just move on. But the fact is, a lot of us aren’t doing well and the first step to heal from that is identifying the problem and being able to talk about it.”
Although not all employers are on the same page regarding mental health, Shauna feels progress is being made around openness in the workplace. Certainly, the banking clients she works with now understand the business case for prioritising employee wellbeing because “when workers feel happier and have higher energy levels, they are able to accomplish more”.
How does ISS help clients to make progress when it comes to promoting wellbeing? “For one thing, we’re able to support people’s social wellbeing by creating shared experiences that help to build teamwork, community and collaboration,” she says. “Our placemakers help to create really welcoming spaces, and our workplace programming — with events that foster whole-person health — also has an impact. Meanwhile, on-site operations deliver beautiful, vibrant food offerings that encourage people to eat nutritiously and motivate them to try new things.”
Shauna notes that another vital aspect of her work with clients is education: “How can we provide resources to help people make decisions that support their health?”
“It all starts with culture”
Effective wellbeing support is particularly important post-pandemic. After years of self-isolation, social distancing and remote working, it’s “essential to help people feel connected to a community or larger organisation”.
And with many businesses now willing to reinvent the office experience, the role of workplace design is an important area for clients to think about. “For many of us,” says Shauna, “we’re leaving comfortable homes that we’ve designed to meet our unique needs and going to an office space that has to accommodate a lot of different people. Having spaces where people can really focus and feel at ease — those are the environments where people can thrive.”
Shauna also feels it’s important to rebuild the boundaries between home and work that, she says, “became so blurred during the pandemic”, whether this means making sure people log off at the end of the workday or not expecting them to respond to emails after hours. “It’s a challenge — but those are areas where you can have a lot of impact,” she says.
Ultimately, companies must work to integrate discussions about mental health into every aspect of their business. Many of her clients — with help from ISS — have put extra effort into ensuring that employee mental health and wellbeing are integral to their culture. “We can do so much to support wellbeing through creating beautiful spaces that inspire people to feel their best,” she adds. “We can serve foods that nourish and support people physically.”
“But if the business culture overall does not support wellbeing — if it expects people to be ‘on’ 24/7, if it’s a high-stress environment where people don’t feel supported — then all of those other interventions will never have the impact they could have. It all starts with culture, and it starts at the top.”