Mark Newey gives us the lowdown on how to support employees through the return to the workplace.
We are all aware that mental health was already a huge, but hidden issue, in society before the pandemic. But after a year in isolation, approximately half the population is now struggling with stress, anxiety and/or depression that’s one colleague in two!
The UK economy is starting to open-up, and anxiety will be rife: some people will have become extremely lonely with little or no interaction and there is already talk of a wave of agoraphobia (a fear of going out).
Even those of us who have been living with family, will have been deprived of the normal conversation round the coffee machine which we all take for granted. Being with others on a daily basis is essential to our mental wellness: it’s as important as food, water and sleep.
In the past, the stigma around mental health issues has prevented the vast majority of employers forming any form of cohesive strategy.
The nearest is having Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) available to signpost somebody who is already suffering towards therapy; but that will now not be enough: the scale of the problems are likely to be too big and MHFA only comes into play reactively once somebody is already ill.
So, how do we train employees to manage their mental wellbeing and be more resilient?
It would be complacent of employers to do nothing and leave things ‘as normal’ for when we all return to the office after so long. A responsible organisation must do more to ensure that all managers are equipped to support their team through tricky times.
But what do they need to do? What measures can be put in place to equip managers to help, when they too may be struggling? How do they make it OK for employees to ask for help?
There are three essential platforms to an immediate mental health strategy that organisations must put in place once workplaces start to open:
- The culture around mental health has to change immediately. It must be made clear at a board level down, that talking about one’s mental health is to be encouraged: it is essential that colleagues can own up to the fact that they are struggling. It is of paramount importance that people don’t have to hide any issues around stress, anxiety and/or depression. For many, the ability to talk through their problems with a sympathetic colleague is all they need to stop the problems spiralling. Give middle managers basic training on how to open the conversation, how to spot problems and how to support those in need.
- Training managers should not rely on past methods of coping with mental health, or pass the buck to line managers. No-one within your organisation is likely to be fully-equipped to be able to deal with the issues many employees are now facing. Be aware that a life hack and a fitness video really won’t hit the spot either. Support employees by researching quality mental wellness education providers, who can offer expert guidance on building inherent mental resilience into your teams’ mindsets. Many offer online training, which is ideal whilst we’re still social distancing.
- Finally, and most importantly, all employees need to learn how to proactively look after their mental wellness on a day-to-day basis, rather than waiting until they are really ill to ask for time off work. Mental wellness education teaches us how our mind works, how we create our reality on a moment by moment basis, who we are and what we want out of life. This self-discovery allows us to handle the hand grenades that life throws at us, to actively minimise stress, anxiety and depression and ultimately to thrive.
With the imminent return to work, never has there been a time when it is more important to have gained this basic skillset.
About the author
Mark Newey is founder of mental wellness education platform, www.headucate.me