Right at the end of last year, I wrote about not returning to the old ways when the pandemic is over and, more specifically, the things we should strive to keep from this hellish time.
One thing I didn’t mention then was the additional focus on mental health and employee wellbeing that was borne out of the pandemic. It’s absolutely right and completely understandable that our attention was turned to these things over this time. The uncertainty about… well… everything, the dramatic shift in working practices, and the obvious stresses that come with living through a global pandemic all prompted us to be more mindful of the wellbeing of our friends and loved ones, our colleagues and employees. If enhanced empathy, greater understanding and more consideration were the results of this, then we should all, surely, strive to maintain this moving forward.
Oracle’s 2020 report states that 76% of employees believe their employer should be doing more to protect their mental health. For employers, there are many ways of making this happen. Some are more substantial tasks than others, but all are worthwhile if you want to keep the mental health of your people buoyed.
It may be that your comms strategy needs tweaking to facilitate, encourage (or insist on) more meaningful support and two-way comms with your workers, especially those that are (now) working remotely. Making your meetings (regardless of whether they’re face-to-face or remote) truly two-way and interactive gives your people a sense of belonging and empowerment, all of which is good for your people’s mental health.
It’s important to lead from the front with openness & transparency. A leader sharing their own vulnerabilities is NOT a leader showing weakness. It actually helps to build employee respect and trust in leadership, and nurtures that valuable culture of people looking out for each other and feeling able to lean on each other. It’s all part of removing the stigma from mental ill-health.
This is where short videos from the leadership team can come into their own – heartfelt and sincere messages can be hugely beneficial when people are missing face-to-face time. People also love to read or hear about people, and if their colleagues are willing to share their own stories of their struggles and how they overcame them, or techniques they find useful for getting through the tougher times, this can be both empowering and cathartic for them as well as being a great way to boost the confidence across the audience to talk about mental health.
One of the best ways to boost the mental wellbeing of your people is to boost appreciation and recognition. You could create and share ‘Thank You’ and ‘Well Done’ cards or e-cards for your people to send. (And make sure you lead from the front by sending a few from the senior team!) Even better, why not employ an online appreciation platform that takes away all of the work for you but delivers amazing results for your teams? Fact: recognition and appreciation are massively contagious, and spreading the love can have a truly uplifting effect on the wellbeing of your people.
Larger or more forward-thinking employers can also consider additional measures, such as nominating people as designated listeners. These people don’t need to be fully qualified mental health first-aiders, but they need to be knowledgeable about available services, resources or experts that can help their colleagues in their times of need. Branding them up (digitally or physically) with “Let’s grab a brew”, “Happy to chat” (or similar) can promote their presence and availability in a friendly way.
And for those of you who like me to end with a list, here are three more “quick wins”…
- Encourage your people to stay active – “healthy body, healthy mind” and all that. There’s so much you can do even under social contact restrictions, such as step-count contests, online workouts etc.
- Facilitate and promote non-work-related contact – replace those at-the-kettle chats with Zoom or Teams calls, online social interactions, etc. You could even suggest book, TV or film clubs for people to discuss their faves! The key is keeping work out of it!
- It’s vital to ensure breaks are diarised and taken, and that a defined work/life balance is maintained. Most of us have fallen into the trap of blurring these boundaries whilst working from home, so encourage your people to safeguard theirs, and reassure them that it is OK (or even expected) for them not to be available outside of their usual working hours.