In recent years, the conversation around mental health has grown and collectively we’ve become better at talking about it more openly. However, coronavirus has catapulted mental health right to the front of everyone’s psyche.
Living through lockdown, we are all facing our own set of extreme circumstances, that are both unique and personal, and which none of us are prepared for. Under government instruction to not leave the house, to follow enforced new rules for fear of catching a potentially deadly virus is damaging to our mental health and may even result in trauma in some people.
When we entered 2020, most of us didn’t even know what furlough meant but now 8.9 million workers are covered by the government’s furlough scheme. There are also 2.6 million self-employed workers who’ve applied for income support. Add to that some 2 million people who are thought to be ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ who have had to deal with stricter social isolation, plus many more defined as ‘clinically vulnerable’.
There is uncertainty everywhere. Many of us don’t know if we’re facing redundancy or if we will keep hold of our businesses as the government seeks to step back and stimulate an economic recovery. Many shielded people feel nervous about returning to work or even venturing back to the shops.
There are some 16 million people with a recognised mental health condition and according to Mind Research, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. It’s increasingly clear that mental health is something that relates to all of us – everyone with a brain should be interested in mental health.
How can we manage mental health at work during lockdown and beyond?
So how can we manage stress, pressure, anxiety, fear and mental health in the workplace, especially if that workplace is your home or a socially distanced workspace with increasing restrictions on movement?
I recently attended an interesting Business West webinar ‘Managing Mental Health during and beyond Lockdown’ where a panel of experts operating in business in the field of mental health and wellbeing (Nick Elston, Jo Hooper at JBP and Lisa Wood at Wesport, provided insight into the art of conversation around mental health; the importance of physical activity in and around the working day; and how to unlock true engagement with your staff through wellbeing and mental health initiatives.
Nick Elston, an inspirational speaker who shares his own lived experience of mental health, talked around the practical steps we can take to support our own mental health and that of our colleagues and staff. He believes listening to staff’s needs is vital. People are not looking for you to solve their mental health issues, rather to be listened to. Ideally, managers would signpost staff to relevant support options too. More on that later.
Chamber and Initiative member Lisa Wood from Wesport promotes the benefits of physical activity for good mental health and backs this up with research. During lockdown people have lost the active travel element in commuting to work so adapting your routine to include a short morning walk or a break in the garden is so valuable. When we return to the workplace, breaks, such as a 10-15 minute walk allow people to work more effectively through stimulating brain function. Employers should be encouraging active breaks to promote wellbeing as well as benefitting productivity.
Keeping the conversation open about how staff are coping during these strange, isolating times is really important too. At Business West we carried out an internal Pulse Survey to see how our staff were feeling and how they felt we were supporting them. The survey was an opportunity to check-in with all our staff working from home, to gauge what’s working well, what could be improved to enable them to work more effectively, and how we could help them stay safe and maintain a positive mental health. Following up with 1:1 conversations has been an essential part of this. However, like every business we are learning, evolving and hopefully getting better at supporting our staff in the best way possible.
Many people will have real worries about returning to work and how they will be supported by their line manager. Teams and others might be looking forward to getting back to a regular routine. Jo Hooper from JWP advised on how best to help staff settle into this new normal. When back in the office, managers can plan in meetings with staff to talk, to listen and respond to these concerns. Preparation is key – choosing a room where you will not be overheard or overseen or maybe opting for a change of scene and going for a walk together. Choosing a time before lunch gives you a chance to take a break before returning to your desk. Be sure to give people 100% attention (phone off, good eye contact) and at the end of the session to summarise your conversation to reflect mutual understanding and to agree any appropriate actions.
Supporting your staff’s mental health has never been more important – people are at the centre of every business and have been under immense strain. Taking time to consider how your business will help staff, from training mental health first aiders to coaching managers on best practice, both during lockdown and beyond, will help to smooth the transition back to the workplace. We’ve all got a lot to learn…and like everything during this pandemic, we have to learn fast.
Other blogs that you may find interesting on the subject of mental health:
Wesport are also running an interesting Webinar: Physical Activity for good mental health – 8 July