5 Ways To Support Employee Mental Health
In the modern workplace, the mental health and wellbeing of employees is an issue that necessarily takes the fore. Prior to the pandemic, the data surrounding workplace mental health was clear, and troubling.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, almost 15% of people experience mental health problems in the workplace, with 13% of all sickness or absence days attributed to mental health conditions. However, during the pandemic, workplace mental health issues have become an even more pressing concern, as our Managing Director Lindsay Dowden explored in his blog. Extended working-from-home periods and general uncertainty have left people feeling increasingly isolated, unmotivated and anxious. Employee mental health and wellbeing has never been more important than in the present moment.
Benefits of mental health support
The benefits of a good mental health support system for employees are myriad and powerful. The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health has found that better mental health support in the workplace could save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year, and in Knapp and Parsonage’s economic case for mental health promotion in the workplace, they found that companies that offer treatment and care management for employees at risk of or suffering from depression could generate massive profits – four times bigger than the investment.
The implication is clear: not only do employers have an ethical obligation to offer mental health support to their employees during this fraught period as we once again seem to emerge from the COVID crisis, but they would also be wise to do so; the monetary benefits to the company could be massive.
Here are 5 ways that you, as a manager, can transform your business into a haven for mental health support and wellbeing, whether in the office or working remotely.
- Understand the impact of mental health on your employees.
It is massively important for business leaders to be able to recognise emotional distress in their employees, so that, according to clinical neuropsychologist James Schultz, PhD, “(managers) can react in a supportive rather than punitive way”. Understanding employee mental health is key to providing a good level of support and reaping the rewards of doing so.
Some steps that a manager could take include: mandatory mental health training for company leaders, training managers on the signs of emotional distress, or incorporating regular surveying such as the Work Limitations Questionnaire.
- Practice what you preach.
As our Managing Director Lindsay Dowden explored in his blog, the current working culture and climate, still incorporating significant amounts of working-from-home, can generate feelings of guilt and unhealthy competitiveness as employees compare who worked from home the latest, or who had the longest Zoom meeting. This culture of overworking exacerbates mental health issues, leaving employees feeling numb, burnt-out and unproductive.
Managers have a huge role to play in setting the tone for the company to follow. Managers should model healthy behaviours, creating an environment where team members feel that they can prioritise self-care and can set reasonable boundaries. Managers should share wellbeing activities that they themselves are undertaking: a walk, a therapy session, even a staycation. Normalise a healthy workplace environment, and the positive effects on employee mental health will be tangible.
- Foster a culture of interpersonal support through check-ins.
The ‘new normal’ of hybrid working means that we will undoubtedly see a large portion of the workforce still opting to sometimes work from home – certainly in markedly higher levels than pre-pandemic. Clearly, working from home poses significant mental health challenges. While employees can work in comfortable and familiar surroundings, the blurring of work and leisure time has led to feelings of rootlessness and overwork, and the Mental Health Foundation has found that during lockdowns, nearly a quarter of adults in the UK expressed that they felt lonely.
Creating a culture of interpersonal support, characterized by frequent check-ins with employees – whether in the office or working remotely – is an important managerial step you could take to creating a workplace that supports employee mental health. Going beyond a simple ‘how are you?’ and offering tailored support systems to individual employees could be an incredibly powerful tool in shaping your workplace culture for the better.
- Be flexible.
Flexibility is key in the modern workplace. Modern office design that supports different modes of working and offers flexibility is quickly becoming the norm, and changes resulting from the pandemic have only stressed the need for workplaces to remain flexible.
Managers must expect and accept situations to constantly change. Encouraging and maintaining a level of open communication will allow for this outlook to be sustainable. Managers mustn’t assume the needs of their team; rather, they must take a customised approach to fill different needs at different times. In the hybrid workplace, flexibility is paramount.
- Open lines of communication.
Managers can drastically reduce stress on their teams by keeping them well-informed at all times on business changes or organisational updates. Setting honest expectations about workloads and priorities can also be highly important. We are still in a period of significant uncertainty, and often, clarity and transparency goes a long way toward putting people at ease.
A supportive workplace culture
In these difficult and uncertain times, we have all experienced, to varying degrees, significant strain on our mental health. This in turn has deleterious effects on our productivity in the workplace. A business that can offer good levels of mental health support, that can establish wellbeing norms from the managerial level down, that can offer interpersonal support, and that can offer clarity and transparency in an obfuscated moment, will not only fulfil its ethical duty to its employees, but also reap the rewards that a positive, motivated workforce has to offer.