6 minute read
It would be hard to find someone whose life has not been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Because of it, mental health in the UK has waned significantly, according to a UK general health study (Pierce et al., 2020). From being called onto the front-line as an essential worker, being short-staffed, to struggling with the impact of the pandemic, it’s no wonder the UK is seeing this change. Mental health can also have specific implications at work, leading to decreased performance, increased sick leave, and overall lower job satisfaction (ONS, 2014). The latest figures show that 17.9 million working days were lost because of work-related stress, depression and anxiety (HSE, 2020).
Clearly, this is a serious and prevalent issue that needs addressing, and research shows that it’s worth doing; according to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (2009), for example, supportive mental health strategies at work can save UK businesses up to £8 billion a year while fostering a 12% increase in productivity (Mental Health Foundation, 2020).
Here are 10 proven ways to support your staff’s mental health and well-being.
1. Start with active listening
Listening is fundamental, particularly when it comes to mental health, which can feel very exposing for people to discuss. Active listening – a process of verbally articulating what you’ve heard the other person say – can help you to understand specific problems and find the most appropriate solutions. Listen with your whole being to the other person; it’s harder on video conferencing but still possible, particularly using nodding and ‘showing’ through gestures that you’re fully present.
2. Notice the signs
It's vital to be aware of signs of deteriorating mental health. According to the CIPD (2020), these may include: not taking breaks, withdrawal, over-reaction, or changes in mood. Educating your workforce to also notice these signs can help bond work relationships, support, and educate your staff and address mental health more effectively.
3. Set up a wobble room
Giving your employees a safe space and advocate for healthy emotional expression can also improve well-being at work. One way is a ‘wobble room’, which is a quiet place for nursing staff to take a moment out of the day if they feel overwhelmed, possibly due to the loss of a patient. Ford (2020) report that these are proving to be very effective with NHS staff.
Ensure that there is a clear way for your team to express, be heard, or pose any issues safely. One way to ensure direct communication is to do regular 1:1 check ins (Trost, 2020). These can be done over the phone, or in person. Showing your people that their well-being is a priority will bolster the importance of mental health in your culture.
5. Be open-minded and show empathy
We all go through our own experiences with mental health, with 1 in 4 people affected by it at some point in our lifetimes (WHO, 2001). Some people are more affected by a situation than others, which is why the lockdown, for example, can impact us in different ways. Keep in mind that not everyone is like you; an obvious statement we know, but it’s easy to overlook the ways in which we are all different. Watch the temptation to jump to a conclusion about others’ behaviour and practice being deliberately open-minded instead.
6. Encourage regular breaks
Breaks are vital, not optional – for the well-being and productivity of both you and your team. Countless studies back this up, but it can feel hard to implement. We suggest breaking it down: you can take a five-minute walk at lunch, or even a tea break away from your screens. Whatever it is, ensure that people are actively encouraged to take breaks, not just given the option. Most of all, lead by example. People will pay more attention to what you model rather than what you pay lip service to.
7. Support the return
The CIPD (2020) reports that the longer an employee is on sick leave, the less likely they will return. A phased return to work could help mitigate this, according to the mental health charity Mind (2016). This form of return to work is characterised by initially starting with a few hours a week, slowly phasing into longer part-time and finally full-time.
Being flexible and agile in times like these are especially useful for effective mental health work strategies. For example, the CIPD (2020) explain that those employees working in front line care need leaders to act immediately in responding to their needs. Be responsive in prioritising your people’s needs to prevent bigger issues emerging further down the road.
9. Facilitate a mental health friendly culture
An essential aspect to a healthy workplace is developing a culture that encourages and promotes mental health awareness. Everything you do should be in line with your workplace culture. For example, if conducting a mental health group, make sure your staff know you are proactively encouraging well-being at work, through open-minded talking, encouraging support seeking and accepting help.
10. Review workloads
As mentioned above, mental health issues can take a toll on productivity. Be understanding and recognise that staff may need some alleviation on their workloads. This could be deadlines pushed back or a reduction in work objectives. Not only will this support them, but it will also force you as a leader to focus on the most important objectives for your organisation, giving you the opportunity for a win-win.
In conclusion, there’s no guaranteed way to ensure your team’s mental health is always robust. Just as the risk of our physical health to take a knock, so too does our mental health. It’s part of being human. What you do get to influence as a leader, however, is the culture that you build around this issue. You can either make it taboo and shameful for people to admit that they’re struggling, or you can encourage an open, supportive atmosphere which acknowledges people’s humanity and makes their well-being a priority. Ultimately, what’s good for your people is good for the bottom line too, and in turn, yourself. When people are allowed room to be human, they feel supported and motivated to do what’s right for the company.
By Victoria Xian from The Work Psychologists, a ‘people-first’ business psychology consultancy whose primary purpose is to help people in organisations thrive. For more articles on how to support your people, head to www.theworkpsychologists.com or on LinkedIn