A study conducted by Forbes showed that more than two thirds of employees have experienced burnout symptoms, traditionally associated with low mood, depression and demotivation (Forbes, 2020). Despite levels of anxiety, depression and burnout rising, 80% of employees surveyed in that study felt they could not be be honest about how they were feeling due to fear of stigma and discrimination. Clearly, we are seeing a decline in mental health and gaps in organisational support. Whether those gaps in support are real or perceived, they ultimately have impact on the bottom line with poor mental health costing businesses around £45bn annually (Deloitte, 2020). As many companies begin to transition either back to fully office-based, hybrid or totally remote working, investing time into creating a safe and inclusive space for all in which people can thrive has never been more important - or more of a minefield!
Through supporting people and from my recent workshop polls, it is clear many people are feeling stressed and anxious about a variety of reasons around returning to work. Social anxiety, fear of catching covid, covid safety, not feeling listened to or trusted and desk relocation have all been common concerns across many workshops I have delivered around workplace change. Our quality of life and the quality of our work is determined by the quality of our minds and so based on the work that I do and the industry conversations I have been having. Below are some tips I hope will help you to support the mental health of your teams.
In a world where so much is out of our control, being trusted to have more autonomy in how we balance home and work, particularly now those boundaries have become more blurred, has been shown to promote positive wellbeing. Researchers at the University of Birmingham examined results from the Understanding Society survey of 20,000 employees over a two-year period and concluded that, 'employees with higher levels of autonomy in their work reported positive effects on their overall well-being and higher levels of job satisfaction.'
"What's going to motivate you to work harder: a ping-pong table at the office or the chance to avoid 2 hours in rush hour traffic? A pizza party or getting to see your pet/loved ones during the day? Small talk in the office kitchen or the chance to chill and recharge on your couch?" Dan Price - CEO, Gravity Payments
Being able to take the kids to school, or having flexibility to take a couple of hours off in the morning that is made up in the evening goes a long, long way in alleviating unnecessary stress that would otherwise be carried into the workplace. Encouraging your teams to exercise their right to disconnect, will empower them to take an individual approach to managing stress to avoid burnout. This autonomous approach seems so logical now for a less stressful and more productive way of working, but I hear there is a still a lot of mistrust in the workplace in allowing this approach to happen. Encourage your managers to 'let go' of needing to micro-manage their teams which is often interpreted by teams as a lack of trust in them. A study conducted by Google showed their highest performing teams had the highest levels of trust, which brings me onto my next point...
Build Connection & Trust
People returning to the workplace may find it looks very different from how they left it, which can be confusing and unsettling. From my recent workshops, it is clear many people are concerned about re-socialising with their colleagues, not just from a covid safety perspective, but in terms of having to re-bond with perhaps rusty social skills. Social phobia that may have been quelled during lockdown may also become a problem once again as people return to face-to-face working.
No doubt there will be new team members who joined in lockdown, some may be returning from furlough and everyone will have had their own unique experiences of living and working through the pandemic. As human beings we have an innate need for social connection. It is important that we have a sense of belonging, be a part of a tribe, even for the introverts among us. Below are some ways in which my clients have been re-connecting and building trust with their teams on a more human level with some great results:
Start meetings with a 'human' conversation first rather than just jumping straight into work.
Kick-off a Monday morning by checking in with how everyone is doing, encouraging everyone to be honest. Being able to say you're tired from not sleeping well lately or you're feeling stressed out because of xyz etc will lighten the load and colleagues will be more understanding.
End the week by asking what went well and want didn't go so well. Allowing time to celebrate the wins and decompress from a tough week will help to alleviate any stress.
Encourage regular wellbeing conversations between your line-managers and their teams on an individual and group level. It can take time to build up trust for people to truly open up, but these check-ins will at least help your employees to feel supported and they might just help prevent a mental health condition from worsening.
Hold cross-department activities to cultivate a more friendly and cohesive working environment.
Mental Health First Aid England has many resources available to help bring your teams together in an inclusive way. In particular, the 'My Whole Self' campaign pack has proved to be very well received resource which you can access HERE.
In 2021, we shouldn't have to leave parts of our identity behind - be that our cultural or ethnic background, gender identity, sexuality, disability or health - when we work. mhfaengland.org
Ongoing Wellness Activities
Thankfully, long gone are the days of a fruit bowl in reception to symbolise an organisation's commitment to wellness. Whilst healthy eating does support mental health, supporting all pillars of wellbeing is a more meaningful, holistic approach that fully supports individuals.
The 10 Keys to Happier Living, I believe, are a great framework for everyone to maintain positive mental wellbeing.
Offering activities that support these keys could be a great way of encouraging people to reflect on what areas they are currently investing their time into and what ones they could do more of for positive, happier living.
Get in touch for a PDF copy of the poster.
Covid Safety & Communication
Whilst many people are feeling ambivalent about the risk of Covid, there are also many who feel quite anxious about how safe they will be returning to the workplace. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that social distancing, cleanliness and fear of catching Covid-19 are common worries and this seems to be backed-up by recent studies.
In the report, Supporting Your Remote Workforce in 2021 and Beyond:
65% of employees would advocate having at least two metres between their desk and a colleague’s desk.
52% would welcome mandatory mask wearing in office spaces.
Data from the CPD Online College shed light on the top concerns among staff when it comes to returning including:
56% of employees citing workplace safety as a concern and 55% worried about workplace cleanliness.
Anxiety comes from a place of fear and that fear can often be driven by a lack of information. Help alleviate people's fear around Covid by:
Being very clear on what you are doing as an organisation to keep everyone safe.
Regularly communicating the company Covid strategy and have it clearly displayed.
Hold open forums for people to voice their concerns.
Ask your people what adjustments they need to help them to return safely.
Phase in returns to allow people to adjust to their new environment.
Have cleaners visible in the day rather than outside of working hours.
Come up with ways for people to express their boundaries. I love the idea of 'traffic light' lanyards that express the level of contact people are comfortable with. You can read more about that in the blog, 'Traffic Light Lanyards: An ideal social distancing system'
Mental Health First Aid
Something I am really passionate about is mental health first aid (MHFA). I know first hand how supportive MHFA has been for my own mental health and how it has helped the people that I have supported in the past, which is why leading mental health first aid courses is such a huge part of the work that I do.
In Deloitte's report, 'Mental health and employers: refreshing the case for investment' they state having Mental Health Aiders on site as part of a wider wellbeing strategy can see a R.O.I of 5:1. Not only does MHFA meet the human needs of your organisation but it supports the bottom line too.
Get in touch for a copy of this useful guide on how to roll-out mental health first aid in your organisation.
We run the full suite of adult mental health courses developed by Mental Health First Aid England.
If you only have a small number of individuals to train they are welcome to join our public courses or we can run in-house courses for larger groups.
Click the image to find out more.
Feel free to get in touch to see how The Mind Hub can support your wellbeing strategy for 2021 and beyond.