69% of UK adults are currently worried about the negative impact of Covid-19. There has also been an increase in adults who’ve never previously experienced poor mental health, now finding themselves struggling.
While the world is learning to adapt and respond to changes brought on by Covid-19, World Mental Health Day 2020 is themed 'mental health for all' and serves as a reminder that we all need to take care of our own mental health, look out for others, and make mental health help more accessible.
This article explores how businesses can support their employees' mental health, and continue on the track of positive growth and development.
1. Ensure Open Communication for Returning to the Office
CIPD found that employee anxiousness was lower when staff felt their employers adequately consulted them about workplace measures for their return. However, 62% of employees felt anxious about returning due to lack of consultation. The UK Government has put in place a series of guidance articles to help you decide which steps to take to ensure the wellbeing of employees.
CIPD suggests that employers should ask three questions before returning to the workplace:
Is it essential?
Is it safe?
Is it mutually agreed?
Fears can be reduced and alleviated when employees feel heard and employers clearly communicate why employees must return. Fears can also be reduced by putting in place effect measures. Some workplaces have made the process of returning gradual with flexible scheduling, allowing employees who use public transport to travel outside of rush hour and limiting the number of days inside the office.
Employees ultimately want to be heard. Acknowledge and empathise with their concerns and work with them to develop a plan of action that's best suited for the workplace to help improve employee mental health.
2. Create a Supportive Environment
WFH has seen the end of the casual “water-cooler chatter,” according to Insider.
As humans are social, small-talk is good for us. It inspires creativity, leads to deeper discussions, allows us to share a connection and ultimately improves our mental well-being. Supportive work environments improve employee mental health by reducing stress and allowing creativity and productivity to flourish.
Employers can support employees by filling in these communication gaps with social events like virtual lunches, coffee breaks and drinks. Employing the use of instant messaging platforms such as Slack, Discord and Microsoft Teams, and setting up channels for a casual chats between colleagues and team members.
Appointing mental health champions gives employees a space to discuss and work through any issues. Their goal is to help you educate employees and managers on mental health, challenge the stigma, and raise awareness.
Another way to raise awareness and create a supportive environment is to put together a mental health training programme. Effective mental health awareness training educates employees and managers on mental health, they’ll understand how to maintain their own mental well-being, while also looking out for signs that their colleagues may need help.
Training doesn’t need to fall by the wayside because of lack of face to face interaction. Online mentoring software offers flexibility for staff and can be an effective way to track and monitor their growth and progress.
Ensuring you have effective and supportive training and onboarding programmes can also reduce the rate of new hires quitting, due to the level of guidance offered. Prioritising employee mental health from the offset can therefore benefit retention and loyalty.
3. Virtual Training & Mentoring
In the hectic move from in-office to virtual work environments, many workplaces found it difficult to keep track and ensure employee development.
Companies such as Marks & Spencer have improved employee engagement through virtual mentoring programmes, as mentees develop more self assurance. They've also experienced a positive impact on mental health of employees, feeling a sense of community and belonging through mentoring:
Creating a mentoring programme improves employee mental health by ensuring that isolated employees have an avenue to communicate with mentors, discuss how they are adapting, and even help them discover solutions to work related stress issues. This is particularly important in the case of mentoring graduate students who may be entering the workforce for the first time.
63% of adults in the UK are worried about the impact Covid-19 will have on their future. Mentoring helps alleviate fears by helping employees set and achieve development goals, giving them a clear vision of what they can achieve, ultimately boosting their self confidence.
4. Put Together a Wellness Action Plan
A wellness action plan sets guidelines on how to best support everybody’s physical and mental health. In this plan, you set objectives for employees to follow, and clarify the support and guidance available.
It helps employees and management identify workplace or day to day triggers, and can be the push they need to finally identify and combat any personal mental health issues. These practical steps help you to create a company culture of education, support and empathy.
Action plans can include a list of definitions of relevant terms, such as 'mental health' and 'vulnerable groups', creating a universal understanding regarding discussion points. It should also contain tips on how employees can take care of their mental health, such as effective time planning and remembering to take a break.
You should talk about who they can contact if they’re experiencing any issues. Is there a mental health champion? Do they have access to an employee assistance program? Advice on how to bring up their issues with their manager and what to expect.
As mentioned in a previous section, people feel less anxious when they are heard. Discuss with employees where they think the company is lacking in terms of mental health support and education. Use this to inform an action plan for the company's leadership. Let employees know what changes will be made, why, and what issues they will solve.
Mind.org have written effective wellness action plans for employees, team leaders and those working from home that you can download or use as inspiration for your own plan.
5. Remind your Employees to Take Breaks
Finally, with virtual working in place and entire offices being relegated to a corner desk, employees may be spending more time inside and sitting down.
We’re no longer stretching our legs around the office, or taking a walk to our favourite sandwich shop for lunch. Remaining sedentary takes a toll on employee mental health as it increases the risk of depression and anxiety.
Spending too long on the computer can cause eye strain. Talking a walk and stretching increases blood flow to the brain, improves moods and boosts creativity. Walking in nature especially reduces stress, this could be especially useful for employees with children who need time outside to blow off some steam.
Experts suggest setting a phone reminder every hour to 90 minutes to ensure that employees give themselves an opportunity to stretch, encourage blood flow and clear their minds.
As the world changes, we’re all looking for new ways to adapt. Technology can help to alleviate some of these issues but it's human connection that makes it most effective.
While some people see work as a way to get through certain issues, others may find it hard to adapt. By encouraging open communication among employees, you can ensure that your employees will see a reduction in anxiousness.
This way we can create a more productive, communicative and happy workforce.