Dare we say it? We’re seeing the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Things have changed, and let’s be honest: we’ve all been through a lot. Isolation from loved ones, lives uprooted, new ways of working and new ways of showing up in the world have all contributed to a mental health pandemic in itself.
As we emerge from various periods of lockdown, social isolation and remote working, some organizations will take the big step back into the office. Some of us will continue to work from home, with some taking an agile approach with a mix of the two. However you’re approaching this new era of work, one thing we all must do is be mindful of the mental health of our colleagues, leaders and employees, no matter their situation.
Here are four ways to ensure mental health remains a priority for your business in today’s world and beyond:
#1 Be mindful of return-to-workplace anxiety
Your colleagues have been tapping away at their laptops on kitchen counters, in spare rooms and a huge variety of makeshift workplaces for well over a year. It’s only natural that any shift in routine will cause anxiety for some.
If you’re making changes to the way your employees will work, be sure to listen to their needs and communicate any non-negotiables well ahead of time. If possible, open up a two-way conversation with colleagues to get their thoughts and fears on the table, and create a strategy that is mindful of everybody’s unique needs. The workplace doesn’t have to be a rigid thing anymore – your colleagues will thank you for your patience and flexibility.
#2 Build mental wellbeing into your working calendar
Here at AB, we recently had a BrainWorkshops mental wellbeing session with Phil Dobson, a behavioural scientist who helps organisations boost productivity through increased resilience. In this session, we got to the bottom of how modern working has impacted our ability to switch off, and how the demands of flexible working can leave us with burnout.
Sessions like this are infinitely valuable for teams still looking to find their feet in the flexible working world. At AB, we are building monthly wellbeing sessions into our group calendars to take time to relax and recentre. Actively doing something to give your employees a break shows just how much you care for their mental wellbeing – and you’ll see a boost in productivity too, happy employees do great work.
Tracy Gallagher, AB’s Operations Director, has played an active role in planning quarterly wellbeing sessions for our team. “Earlier this year, and partly in response to the pandemic and the huge cultural shift in how we were working, we conducted an employee survey to check in to see how people were doing” she explains.
“It was important to us on the senior team that the feedback we received was acted on and that looking after our employees’ well-being became an intrinsic part of our culture. By improving the health and wellbeing of our team, we’re not only improving their quality of life but helping to create a more motivated, engaged and high performing workforce – resulting in greater organisational success.”
#3 Don’t leave emotions at the door
No matter your position within an organisation, mental health is something we all experience across our working lifetimes. The fact is, some days will be good and others will seem impossible. That’s the same of every employee, colleague, contractor, CEO and beyond.
Many organisations encourage employees to leave emotions at the (now virtual) door, which implies that mental health concerns are not valid. Any business hoping to nurture a community of healthy, happy employees should encourage colleagues to be open and honest when they’re struggling.
Put measures in place to safeguard colleagues from burnout, offering open support and understanding. We have just been through the most turbulent two years in living history, everybody must have the room to feel their feelings both at home and work.
“As a mental health first aider, you learn that there is no such thing as good and bad mental health,” AB Account Manager and mental health first aider Lucy Ballance said. “How you feel is completely on a spectrum, and the most important thing is that you’re able to feel comfortable enough to acknowledge this and speak up when you are struggling. Not every day, week or month is easy – and that’s OK! Having someone there and a safe space to talk when times feel tough is crucial.”
#4 Keep the conversation going
The world is changing rapidly around us, and ways of working continue to evolve. Employers must be mindful of the ways change affects colleagues – from loneliness to anxiety and beyond. Mental health is not a tick box, so don’t treat is as one.
Open up the conversation with your team and keep it going. Do you have colleagues who would be interested in taking a mental health first aid course? Empower them to train up on the skills to best support their teammates. Got employees who struggle to talk openly about their mental health? Provide avenues for them to share anonymously. Overall, give employees the autonomy to shape their mental health support system, and keep refreshing ways of doing things as new systems and processes emerge.
Keep on talking.