Maintaining our mental health was already complex enough, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, employers and their employees now face a new set of obstacles which foster environments for increased risk of stress, anxiety or depression. However, such risks are often avoidable and there are numerous ways in which leaders can help their employees jump the mental health hurdles making work much more enjoyable and productive. Thus, ultimately benefiting themselves, their organisations and their colleagues.
The new set of obstacles that have arisen through the pandemic are different for different working environments and are very much dependent on sector. However, there is no doubt that individuals work lives have been met with an abundance of new rules, obstacles and protocols coupled with new technology, tools and working patterns; plus a very steep transition from historic ways of working to an emerging “new normal”.
Leaders must be conscious that employees who continue to go into work may face exacerbated worry and anxiety for their physical health. The stress, fear or anxiety of simply turning up to work might be as bad for some as the potential physical health risks.
Many organisations have instructed employees to work remotely from home, in some circumstances indefinitely. Although this might be a relief to some degree as it obviously reduces the risk of catching the virus from colleagues and clients at work or whilst commuting, leaders must acknowledge the potential mental strain of increased isolation, the difficulties of working in home environments, working around distractions and juggling work with childcare and other commitments. Leaders should consider potential difficulties on an individual basis and may want to try the following. Click on each individual link to access further information.
A study carried out in Hong Kong following the SARS breakout in 2003 revealed that increased social connectivity was significantly effective in offsetting the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic. Seventeen years later and with the evolution into a more digitally connected world, we have tools readily available (assuming access to a PC, laptop, tablet or smart phone) to stay in touch and check on the vulnerable. This attitude should also be transcended into our work lives and leaders should promote a culture of staying in touch and looking after colleagues.
Leaders should encourage colleagues to utilise the digital connected world to support each other, both onsite and virtually for those working remotely. Creating a positive community of colleagues who can trust and support each other will do wonders for colleague’s mental wellbeing. Positive leadership is exerted through various traits including confidence, empathy, mindfulness, hope, self-efficacy and emotional stability. Positive Psychology.com, [click here] is an interesting article on what it takes to create a positive working environment through your leadership.
“Backbiting”, or maliciously talking about someone when they are not present, is sadly common amongst some managers and colleagues in the workplace. If you are a leader, it is imperative to act with positive behaviour and speech, indeed such an attitude will also cascade down through the organisation.
Below are a few suggestions made by the Mental Health Foundation:
It could be assumed that mental health struggles are a recurrent reason for extended absenteeism from the workplace. It is also unfortunately more common than we might think for some employees to take time off for such problems but by masking this with reports of a physical illness when talking to their managers.
Leaders can proactively demonstrate their empathy, compassion and respect to all employees by encouraging talking about mental health and to encourage employees to discuss concerns with their managers in a confidential, non-judgemental and supportive environment.
Empathy in the workplace is crucial in making employees feel safe and look for help from leaders. This fosters a positive environment so, when mistakes inevitably happen, employees take those mistakes as learning opportunities and leaders can be seen to support all members of the team.
Self-help can often work well and leaders should prompt their employees to look to take steps to help themselves including webinars, advice and guidance publicly available. To get help from the NHS, there is a minimum 8 weeks wait; so alternative self-help and advice might be useful in the meantime. Below are a number of sources [click on the link] which leaders could introduce to their employees:
Leaders should also point employees to professional advice and sources of further information. The World Health Organisation recommends that when employees feel comfortable expressing their problems to their employers, absenteeism is likely to decrease and productivity to increase.
Maybe your organisation could look to partner with a charity, for example Mind Charity. Having an open and supportive working environment goes a long way to combat the increasing stresses and strains of the workplace. It is important of course to consult GP and seek professional help where needed but Mind offers various complimentary help and assistance.
Whilst this is non-exhaustive, Mind Charity created a list of ideas to inspire Employer’s to make adjustments to support those employees who may be suffering from mental health struggles. For example:
Remember that most people with ongoing mental health problems now meet the definition of ‘disability’ in the Equality Act 2010 and thus are rightly protected and entitled to reasonable adjustments to adapt to their job or work. Further reasonable adjustments may include:
In conclusion, a simple suggestion for leaders to contemplate, is to endeavour to be the leader you would like to have yourself if you were suffering. Or in other words, treat other people the way you would like to be treated yourself.
We should value investments made in the well-being of employees both in terms of leaders’ time and company resources, as money well spent and as investment for the future in core assets of the organisation. After all, arguably these are the most valuable assets – the people.
As mentioned briefly in our previous articles in our Mental Well-being campaign, we are not experts in this area but have picked up tips and hints from reading articles created by experts which can be accessed via numerous links throughout the article.
Something we are experts in is helping organisations solve their pain points and overcome problems across the commercial contract lifecycle, and this means we do get to see people working to tight deadlines, balancing work pressures with home life and working together, sometimes difficult circumstances, to achieve goals and deliver results. Afterall, they are the assignments we at Clear like to target and help resolve.
We wanted to offer up these suggestions, tips and sound bites as much as anything to keep everyone talking about how they feel, normalising the conversation to check on your colleagues in stressful times and therefore generally look out for each other and remove the stigma both organisations and individuals might otherwise experience around mental health problems.
Next in the series we will be looking at how leaders can look after themselves as well as their employees as somebody needs to look out for the bosses too!