Hey, this isn’t a pessimistic write-up, it’s to reflect on learnings and unpack the tumultuous times of the past 18months to see what we can use in a more positive and ‘normal’ time.
Plus we’ve almost made it! The dark cloud is finally lifting as most places across the World head towards a lockdown-free summer. And now that life starts to resemble a sense of normality, it is worth taking a moment to really recognize that the pandemic has been a truly challenging time for mental wellbeing.
Last week it’s been dedicated to Mental Health in the UK, and with lots of valuable insight gained from it, we think it’s important to focus on some of the lessons we’ve learned over the past year.
Businesses have stepped up efforts, raised awareness of issues, and provided critical support, enabling employees to feel more confident and able to speak up. So, with plans underway to emerge from lockdown action must be taken to ensure that the mental health lessons that have come out become a permanent fixture within the workplace culture.
Mental health and wellness is universal
Though we recognise the need for proactive solutions and mitigation in corporate wellness, we do still see a dearth of initiatives and solutions aimed at audiences with physically demanding working days, those that can’t work from home are those that can be most acutely at risk from interruptions to mental stability. As such they are those that leaders still need to factor into the workforce mental health ecosystem.
Leaders must ask, are our channels suitable for this audience, are we providing capture points and confidence to confide, share and be fulfilled in this role. Start high and zero in on risk mitigation to arguably the most vulnerable of all employee audiences
Small actions can have a big impact
Some simple and more immediate actions in the last year have gone a long way to safeguard mental health. Protecting lunch hours and afternoons in the working week with a ‘no meetings’ policy or setting aside time for people to focus on their health has positively impacted individuals to take time for themselves away from work.
A study from Harvard Business Review reinforces this idea, showing that too much time in meetings and video calls can create burnout and hurt productivity.
The key to implementing steps like these has been regular feedback from employees and measures to help manage resources and flag pressure points. Many organizations introduced feedback mechanisms, listening exercises, or surveys to understand how employees were coping. These steps can all continue post-pandemic and help people continue talking about well-being with their teams and managers.
Spotting the signs is critical
For many businesses, 2020 saw mental wellbeing support extended into new areas, including suicide prevention and domestic abuse, as the number of reported cases increased significantly during the lockdown.
Initiatives and toolkits were created to help those vulnerable to these issues. Resources and policies were often developed with appropriate partner organizations – these have empowered businesses and their workforce to be able to identify those around them that might be struggling and take active steps to help them get the support they need.
Being able to spot the signs in both a remote and office working environment is vital to shifting from reactive to preventative actions. Maintaining conversations with, for example, Business in the Community, on mental health and wellbeing issues will be important for ensuring materials and initiatives are relevant, up to date, and as accessible as possible.
These relationships are still hugely valuable as we emerge from lockdown, providing a forum for sharing best practices and ideas with other businesses too.
Tackling stigma can’t stall
Actions to make people more aware of mental health have been in place for several years. However, COVID-19 has exacerbated wellbeing issues for many and prompted businesses had to rethink their approach.
Internal communications and e-newsletters, screen savers, town halls, workshops, training sessions have all been crucial to communicating key mental health messages and helping employees better understand the challenges that exist.
Whether it’s signing up to the Mental Health at Work Commitment or developing packages that provide techniques and tips for building resilience and supporting others around you – businesses need to stay vocal about the steps they’ve been taking and show a greater desire to talk openly about mental health.
Flexible working arrangements can help
Having seen some of the benefits of working from home, there’s an opportunity to embed flexible working in a way that removes the stress of choosing between professional and personal commitments, gets the best out of your people, and safeguards wellbeing in the long term.
Whether that’s adapting working hours or allowing choice on where we work, there’s an opportunity to have an open conversation to find an arrangement that works both for the individual and the business. If you can enable employees to deliver high-quality work, whilst looking after their wellbeing, then that benefits everyone.
Mental health has been a longstanding issue on many business agendas, and it will remain so in a post-pandemic environment. Companies will need to look at new areas such as how they support those suffering from long COVID, especially as we learn more about the impact not just physically but psychologically too.
Ultimately, the efforts and the lessons learned throughout the pandemic, from flexible working, communicating mental health support, educating individuals on the issues, to reminding employees to look after themselves, must be ingrained into workplace culture.
Doing so will be critical to morale and performance, and should be a priority for any responsible business.