Simon Blake emphasises the importance of a culture of care in the new world of work.
As lockdown measures begin to ease, many employers will be exploring how remote, hybrid and flexible working can work for their organisation. The past year has been full of change and many organisations and their people have adapted to transform both what they do and how they do it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, creating social, economic and health uncertainties and insecurities. For some people, the changes brought about by the pandemic led to positive lifestyle changes, with less time commuting and more time to spend with the family or doing leisure activities.
Yet for others, where their home is not safe or conducive to productivity, working from home has had a detrimental impact on their mental and physical wellbeing.
Employers have asked people to give a lot of themselves during a very difficult time, and most employees have responded with commitment and determination.
As COVID-19 restrictions ease and organisations consider what their working practices might look like going forward, now is the time to evaluate what is working when it comes to employee wellbeing and how to create a ‘culture of care’ and inclusivity in the workplace.
Mental health needs to be a priority for employers
Mental health been taken more seriously by employers over the last decade, and this has accelerated during the pandemic. But this is not true across the board and research from the Centre for Mental Health predicts that 8.5m more adults will need mental health support post-pandemic.
As we adjust to this new world of work, employers need to evaluate their approach to mental health and wellbeing and put it at the forefront of their planning.
At any given time, one in six working-age adults have symptoms associated with mental ill health and experts predict 72m working days are lost to mental ill health.
Recently a number of leading firms confirmed they are planning a hybrid model of working. For many employees this will become their new norm. As we adjust to this new world of work, employers need to evaluate their approach to mental health and wellbeing and put it at the forefront of their planning.
Organisations need to establish a ‘culture of care’ for all employees, wherever they are working from.
How can organisations create ‘a culture of care’?
Key to the success of a new hybrid way of working will be understanding what works best for employees and the organisation. Even employers who may have had well executed mental health and wellbeing strategies before and during the pandemic, will need to evaluate their approach for future ways of working. People’s expectations have changed so the workplace will need to change too.
As we navigate this new world of work employers should focus on bringing people back together and making human connections. Line managers should keep communication open with their team, as often and frequently as possible.
Making the time to socialise with people from across the organisation can help people see the bigger picture, stay connected, and boost morale. You could arrange coffee mornings, a Friday ‘dance hour’, or try a new activity such as a Desert Island Favourites team competition.
Senior leaders should lead by example and role model healthy hybrid working habits and behaviours. For example, video calls have become the new norm but perhaps try having a regular phone call or a ‘walk and talk’ meeting instead of being on camera all day, which can be tiring.
People will feel differently. Some may find flexible and hybrid working arrangements can help them to better plan their time, giving them the confidence to adjust their working hours if responsibilities change. While other employees may not be in a psychologically safe environment and may find different working patterns and hybrid working overwhelming.
Employers need to create an environment where people feel they can bring their whole self to work without fear of judgement. This will empower people to open up and discuss their concerns.
One way to achieve this is by engaging, consulting and reviewing with staff every step of the way, making the framework for flexible working clear, and talking to individuals about what works best for them to ease any anxieties or concerns.
Checking in with regularly with everyone, not just those who are visible, ensures you keep connected and get to know all employees whilst also allowing people to express their opinions or concerns in an environment they feel safe and comfortable with.
As the picture is mixed and employees may hold differing views, the best approach is to continuously evaluate the approach and consider what’s working when it comes to the overarching strategy on mental health and wellbeing.
HR teams should consider implementing a re-induction process for staff who are returning to the office to help them settle back in and ensure that their queries and concerns are answered. It will also be vital to clearly communicate health and safety protocols, as some employees may feel worried about the risk of infection from COVID-19 as the vaccination programme continues to roll out.
Make mental health support visible
A strong mental health and wellbeing strategy should be in place year-round and organisations need to have this front of mind as they offer different working options to different people. Everyone should feel reassured that their mental health is a priority, wherever they may be working from.
It’s important line managers reach out to colleagues regularly. Staying connected as a team can really help those who are struggling, by giving them the opportunity to speak up and ask for help.
Explore your organisation’s options for creating this support system, such as access to Mental Health First Aiders or an employee assistance programme. Sometimes an employee’s situation may be more serious, so information should be made available about where else to seek mental health support.
As we enter the new world of work employers must continue to demonstrate trust in their teams, offer flexible working arrangements where possible, and make mental health and wellbeing a priority. This will help employers to create a culture of care, retain the best talent and support wellbeing in the long-run.
About the author
Simon Blake is Chief Executive at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England