Monday 9th May 2022 will mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, exploring the theme of loneliness. This year, it will act as a stark reminder that whilst many of us in the UK are enjoying the post pandemic life, there is an aftershock of mental health issues that have not gone away. The dramatic changes to the way we work and the way we want to work in the future are a large part of this, and the isolation and loneliness caused by remote working are at the forefront of our minds this week.
The opportunity to experience remote and hybrid working saw employees all over the world benefit from a more flexible working day, reduced travel time and better work life balance. Employers have benefitted too, with reduced office costs, increased productivity and access to a global workforce.
The flip side of this has been the increase in mental health problems, exacerbated by the stress and loneliness caused as we were thrust into isolation and a new way of working without the knowledge, data, systems or protocols in place to support it. There is no denying that the lines between work and home life are easily blurred, and the warning signs often ignored. A study by mental health organisation Talkout, revealed a staggering 85% of respondents felt like their mental well-being wasn’t made a priority by their employer during the pandemic.
The bottom line is that hybrid and remote working are here to stay and employers need to take the mental health of their staff seriously if they want to stay ahead of the game. Getting the basics right now means that they will not only attract and retain the best talent, but enjoy the fruits of an even more engaged and productive workforce.
Aside from this, there is a strong economic case for taking care of employee’s mental health. A recent report from the London school of Economics and the Mental Health Foundation reported that poor mental health in the workplace costs the UK economy at least £117.9 billion a year.
The first thing that needs to change is an overhaul of working practices at senior and management level. The Business In The Community mental health toolkit for employers is full of useful actions for employers to strategise and improve good mental health practise in the workplace.
How employers can overhaul their mental health strategy:
- Make a commitment to the mental health of staff. With senior level “buy-in’.
- Build an approach and wellbeing strategy with employees’ input and feedback.
- Create a positive culture, supporting and valuing employees.
- Provide support and training, including recognising the importance of developing line managers to be able to acknowledge and support the mental health of their team using strategies such as Mental Health First Aid.
- Manage mental health, including the use of the Health and Safety Executive Management Standards.
- Poll staff for ongoing feedback and consistently evaluate your approach.
Secondly, there are many impactful changes that can be made on ground level by line managers and employees themselves.
8 ways for line managers to support their team’s mental health and reduce loneliness:
- Set very clear and achievable goals and then build trust by focussing on employees output not input.
- Put clear boundaries in place to encourage your team to switch off and step away from their tech during the day. Actively promote a flexible schedule with guilt free use of messenger or email status ‘out to lunch’, ‘exercising’, ‘taking a screen break’ etc.
- Lead by example. Offer a contribution to working in a co-working space. Or encourage employees to work outside of their homes at least once a week.
- Maintain work connections with weekly/ bi-weekly one to ones. Follow up on goals and learn to actively listen so you can read between the lines.
- Be inquisitive. If someone is not reaching goals and is working or sending emails at night find out why.
- Break a large virtual team up into ‘buddy groups’ to support each other and have regular check ins.
- Make good use of video software for day-to-day contact but don’t over schedule and try and book regular socials or meetings face to face with the whole team.
- Encourage and support personal development. It’s proven that having goals and something to work towards increases self-awareness and self-esteem. It doesn’t have to be work related, it could be a step towards an employee’s long held aspiration or just trying out a new skill for fun.
The increase in mental health concerns is not going away overnight, especially with hybrid and remote working on the rise. These are pivotal times, yet a few strategic changes, backed up by a companywide commitment to prioritise wellbeing can mean businesses are able to make a positive impact on way we work now and in the future.
How have you been looking after your employee’s mental health since the pandemic? Does your business have guidelines and boundaries in place for remote or hybrid staff?
Find more information at Mind, the Mental Health Foundation, The Health and Safety Executive or become a mental health first aider.