Mental health awareness week – How can businesses support the well-being of their workforce?Print publication
With Mental Health Awareness week starting today, what better time to turn up the volume and get talking about mental health at work. Kindness is this year’s theme and Walker Morris will be sharing resources and ideas daily in our lockdown communication to staff with a focus on mental well-being. What will you be doing for your employees?
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed the spotlight on mental health. In the home-working environment there may be a lack of distinction between work and home-life, while some may be struggling to feel motivated. For those who are unable to work remotely, particularly in roles where social distancing is not possible, anxiety and stress may well be high. In addition, it’s important to include staff who are temporarily not working, having been placed on furlough leave, and consider the negative impact this might have on their perception of their value.
With this in mind, we have outlined some top-tips and recommendations for businesses, across six key themes:
- Time management – With the new “WFH” lifestyle, many of us will be blurring the lines between work and home life – there’s a temptation to work non-stop. Managers need to engage with staff and ensure they are taking regular rest breaks and holidays. The focus needs to change – managers should be setting an example between balancing home and work life and this can be achieved by encouraging colleagues to be more open, more personal – sharing hobbies, weekend plans – encouraging life beyond the screen/the workplace. There’s no social escape in the same way as before – we can’t switch off by heading out for a drink with colleagues and friends after work and we no longer have our commute to allow us to mentally rev up or put on the breaks at the start and the end of the day. Managers therefore face a new challenge, to help motivate and encourage staff in their new working environments – this could be done by setting up team challenges, encouraging effective use of internal platforms (see social engagement below) and holding regular catch-ups.
- Communication – Communication with colleagues has changed – not only for those in home-working environments, but also in workplaces, where social distancing and new rules such as one-way systems and staggered shift-patterns are set to become the norm. This brings further challenges: it is far easier to pick up on employees’ moods from their body language than it is by email or even on a call, and new processes in the workplace may feel awkward and un-natural. Every employee is different and needs/wants different levels of interaction – it’s up to management to gauge that – and deal with people as individuals. Mental health first aiders can be trained to spot the first signs of mental health issues, and know how to reduce and manage the stress levels of the workers in their team – why not allocate this role to one (or a few) colleague(s) per team? Such individuals should check-in with all employees across the business, including those who are on furlough leave.
- Social engagement – Another way employers can turn to nurturing employees’ mental health whilst many employees remain working at their kitchen tables, is to create a virtual “safe space” for staff to enjoy a shared break and catch up. TED, an American media organisation, has set up a virtual space where staff can work alongside each other — separately, but not alone — in an effort to replicate working in a coffee shop or a shared office space (the usual chats by the coffee machine). Employers should encourage employees to talk and share positive experiences as well as their hardships. Similarly, many businesses are encouraging employees to tap into their inner-creativity: Lucozade Ribena Suntory has launched a Creative Juice page, which inspires individuals to use art, nature, cooking and creative film to get their creative juices flowing. 
- Recognition and praise – Let’s not forget about the vital work of those still making their daily commute – key workers (such as medical and social care professionals, teachers, delivery workers, transport and utilities workers, and workers involved in the manufacture and distribution of food and other essential goods), and others performing roles that cannot be carried out remotely. The public support for these workers has been enormous over the lockdown period, and long may the general attitude towards their hard work and dedication continue. However, the pressure and long hours can lead to mental and physical exhaustion. Checking in with employees is essential to their mental health and it is important to encourage employees to identify how they are feeling mentally and physically in order to take steps to alleviate the pressure from work and switch off. Many organisations have been sharing positive stories, including: The Food and Drink Federation’s recognition of the #hiddenheros in the food manufacturing industry, working across the supply chain to keep the nation fed; and businesses such as Burberry, who have re-purposed manufacturing lines to make PPE for the NHS. It’s great to share positive stories to recognise the value and achievements of employees – both across social media and also internally in your business.
- Effective monitoring, using technology – Servelec, a leading provider of digital care software, together with its mobile workforce solution provider Totalmobile, has launched an Employee Wellbeing App to help NHS trusts and local authorities support their dedicated staff during (and post) the current crisis . This App captures employee’s feelings with a simple mood recording and wellbeing form. By allowing staff to record their mental and physical health, the App offers suggestions to help alleviate low mood and tracks when these have been used, providing access to guidance documents. Managers can then use the information captured to see the live working status of their team and report on wellbeing data. This is an excellent idea that could be adopted across the board, for both workers at home and in the workplace. It’s likely that we will continue to see the increased use of technology to assist employers to effectively monitor employees in the new world of work.
- Training and resilience sessions – There’s also the potential long-term impact on mental health to consider as lockdown eases and workers adjust to the ‘new normal’. Businesses should be putting in place vital support such as a comprehensive employee assistance programmes (or “wellness action plans” ), maybe an App (similar to that mentioned above) and training courses. Resilience training courses are an ideal way of encouraging employees to focus on their “inner game” – their decision making, self-awareness, emotional intelligence and their beliefs and assumptions. By identifying limiting beliefs and behaviours and learning how to gain a new perspective, individuals are able to achieve a more positive mind set (both in the workplace and in their personal lives) which leads to greater motivation, more fulfilment and an increase in job satisfaction. Leeds Law Society recently ran a 3-hour taster webinar session on resilience, with one-to-one follow-up sessions available upon request. If businesses were to invest in such courses, the impact on the workforce could be huge – greater productivity and an increase in profits – a win-win. It should be recognised that people are coping with work in different ways during the Coronavirus pandemic – according to Forbes Magazine , the pandemic has exposed the missing pieces in employee engagement and productivity: resilience and mind set. Employees who are thriving during the coronavirus crisis are the ones with the highest levels of resilience, optimism and perseverance. Focus therefore needs to turn to these three areas, now and in the long-term.
With the theme of kindness at the forefront this week, businesses should be taking those vital steps both in the immediate future and when implementing longer-term business strategy planning: encourage conversation; share positive stories; get to know your workforce; appreciate their individuality; and offer support to the most important asset to your business – your people.