The exceptional events of the pandemic have highlighted the fragility of our mental health. When faced with devastating life events, none of us are immune. Research conducted over the last year has borne this out, showing a worrying spike in levels of mental distress. And limited access to mental health services has compounded this problem further limiting availability of mental health care for all.
“Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality” is the slogan for this year’s World Mental Health Day. With governments from around the world highlighting the urgent need to scale up quality mental health services at all levels, here we discuss the role that workplaces can take in supporting the mental health of all staff.
The mental health impact of COVID-19
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health. Some groups have been particularly badly affected, including those working in health and social care and other frontline workers.
Research that followed UK adults during the first year of the pandemic also highlighted that people who were isolated, had financial worries, had pre-existing mental health problems or who were managing young children at home were amongst the worst affected. WHO also highlight the major disruption caused by COVID to services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.
Supporting staff mental health
With many workers spending most of their waking hours at work, employers are well placed to proactively support wellbeing needs arising from the current spike in mental distress.
Developing a staff wellbeing plan is a great start. This should be tailored to the specific needs of your employees and aim to support mental health across the whole staff group. A well designed and tailored wellbeing plan will ensure the workforce is protected and reduce the impact of poor mental health on the organisation.
Here are some approaches and initiatives to consider including in your staff wellbeing plan:
Talk to your people about mental health
Sharing information about mental health, typical triggers for difficulties and how staff can recognise when they are struggling, is a first step to destigmatising it.
Acknowledging the ongoing uncertainty everyone is facing and the stress this can cause opens the conversation about mental health. Explore what the organisation can do to help. Maybe regular wellbeing check-ins or strategies for managing workloads are what is needed.
Listen to staff. You don’t have to be a mental health expert to show concern and interest in staff mental wellbeing. Just asking about how staff members are feeling and listening to what they have to say can make all the difference.
And remember it can be too easy to assume when someone says “I’m fine” that this is the full story. It may not be. Personalising the support you offer to staff will ensure that nobody slips through the net.
Encourage self-care behaviours
Self-care is essential for mental wellbeing but is often overlooked at work. Try:
- Encouraging staff to take regular breaks
- Supporting people to manage time and work tasks by prioritising and setting reasonable targets
- Creating opportunities for social connection and support between staff members
- Offering workplace wellbeing initiatives aimed at increasing mental health awareness and providing strategies for managing stress.
Support healthy hybrid & homeworking practices
Homeworking has been essential to our survival during the pandemic. But if not managed well it can lead to increased stress and burnout. Encourage staff to set clear boundaries around work so that space and time for family and hobbies is protected. Remember, recovery time is important as it helps people to recharge and return to work with motivation and enthusiasm. Ensure that opportunities and support are available equally to all and not just those who are in the office.
Ensure managers are equipped to offer support
It’s not always easy to talk about mental health. Managers who are trained in emotional and social intelligence skills will be much more attuned to the wellbeing needs of their staff. By making space for conversations about mental health, these managers create a sense of trust and psychological safety among staff that facilitates honest discussion and positive relationships.
Supporting staff to navigate change
The pandemic has brought so much change into our lives. For many this has involved changes in the workplace, changes to our roles or team and adapting to new working practices. Understanding how these challenges can impact staff members is key to supporting them to navigate changes successfully. Take time to listen to their concerns, try to respond flexibly and remember that it can take time for staff to adjust.
Peer-led staff support
There are many advantages to adopting an in-house approach to staff mental health and wellbeing. Well-designed and delivered peer-led staff support initiatives can provide a cost effective way to make your people and your organisation more resilient to challenge and change. You can find out more in our article on this approach in HRZone Magazine
Remember, as the mental health fallout of Covid continues, putting a workplace wellbeing plan in place now will reap health benefits for individuals, teams and the wider organisation.