The Covid pandemic and mental health in the workplace
With Mental Health Week taking place in October, there has been much publicity about mental health at work. Sadly, in many workplaces, there’s still stigma around discussing the issue. Certainly, the pandemic has shone a light on workplace mental health. There are now more open and supportive conversations between HR, employees and senior leadership than in pre-pandemic days. However, there’s no room for complacency. HR has a huge role to play in maintaining and enhancing mental health strategy at work.
One of the biggest contributors to anxiety is uncertainty. Few would deny that we’ve been living through uncertain times. And that’s taking a toll on our mental health, especially at work.
As your organisation navigates its way through the still-choppy post-pandemic waters, you’re still likely to see employees struggle with anxiety, depression, burnout and trauma – even PTSD. These mental health experiences will differ according to race, economic status, job type, parenting and caregiving responsibilities, and many other variables. What can you and your HR team be doing to support people as they face new stresses, safety concerns, and economic upheaval?
Admit that we’re all vulnerable
One silver lining of the pandemic is that it has normalised mental health challenges. Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort – even business managers and leaders! But – the universality of the experience will only reduce overall stigma if those in power find a way to share their experiences. Being open about your mental health struggles as a leader allows your employees to feel comfortable talking to you about what they’re going through.
When managers describe their challenges, whether mental-health-related or not, it makes them appear human, relatable – even brave. Why not share the fact that you take a walk in the middle of the day, are having a therapy appointment, or prioritising a staycation (and actually turning off email) so that you don’t burn out?
Authentic leadership will almost always engender trust and improve employee engagement and performance.
1. Highlight healthy behaviours.
This is not time for empty gestures. Don’t just say you support mental health. You need to create and carry out a proper mental health workplace strategy. Your team members need to feel they can prioritise self-care and set boundaries. Some of the best managers are often so focused on their team’s well-being and that they forget to take care of themselves.
2. ‘Are you OK?’
Managers from the top down should establish a culture of connection through ‘check-ins’. Regularly connecting with those who report to you is more important than ever. Of course, this is nothing new, but in pre-pandemic days, it was a habit that was rarely rigorously enforced. Now – especially with so many working from home – it should be seen as a no.1 priority. It’s more important than ever to look out for signs that someone is struggling. You and your managers need to be asking their charges, ‘Are you OK?’ and meaning it.
We need to go beyond a simple ‘How are you?’. We must ask specific questions about the kind of support they need. We should listen properly and actively to the full answer. We should encourage our people to ask questions and voice concerns.
3. Offer flexibility – be inclusive
Of course, the needs of your business and those of your employees will change. Nothing stays the same. As things change – especially at transition points – that’s when we need to be particularly diligent about checking in on our teams. It’s one thing being willing to support employees, but to do so effectively, you need to know what’s going on with them.
Those conversations will also give you an opportunity to reiterate norms and practices that support mental health. Inclusive flexibility is about proactive communication and norm-setting that helps people design and preserve the boundaries they need.
4. Avoid making assumptions
Don’t make assumptions about what your employees need. They are individuals and will have different needs at different times. The answer is to take a customised approach. Be proactive. Don’t wait for them to come to you with problems. If you can, go to them and ask them what their short and long term challenges might be. An example might be to invite employees with caretaking responsibilities to set their own schedules.
Invite team members to be patient and understanding with each other as they. Don’t assume the worst. Trust them. They are relying on you and will remember how you treated them during this unprecedented time.
5. Invest in mental health training
It’s never been more important to invest in mental health training for leaders and managers. As more and more employees struggle with mental health, it’s important to debunk common myths, reduce stigma, and build the necessary skills to have productive conversations about mental health at work.
Specialist HR advice
At all levels in the workplace, we must all acknowledge that things may not go back to exactly how they were pre-pandemic. We have an obligation to adjust to this ‘new world’ and create the mentally healthy workplace cultures that perhaps should have existed all along.
For support with helping your workforce to adapt and thrive to new workplace circumstances and to proactively deal with mental health issues, talk to us.
For straight-talking HR advice – 01604 763494
Or email – info@GravitasHR.co.uk