As employees adjust to new ways of working and grapple with stress and anxiety triggered by the Coronavirus pandemic, 44’s Jonny Hooke looks at the importance of workplace wellbeing and why it’s more important than ever for businesses to keep mental health in mind.
This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week (18th-24th May), but this is a Mental Health Awareness Week with a big difference. We’ve all had to make huge changes to our daily lives because of the impact of Coronavirus, and many of us are worried and anxious about its impact and how it’ll affect those close to us.
Right now, everyone’s resilience is being tested by the pandemic and a lot of the stresses people are feeling are naturally permeating into their working lives too. According to figures from a recent YouGov survey, half of people working from home felt isolated and seven in 10 were missing social interactions at work. And a poll by market research specialists Ipsos MORI revealed that even when lockdown is eased, many workers will feel ‘uncomfortable’ going back to their normal lives.
For employees, it’s a delicate balancing act of looking after your own health and workplace wellbeing; job security; financial uncertainty; caring for others and the adjustment to home working – an alien concept for many people prior to lockdown.
Supporting colleagues’ workplace wellbeing
And for businesses it means that now, more than ever, there’s a greater emphasis on supporting colleagues during these most challenging of times. Employers need to recognise the risks that work-related stress can pose and that they still have a duty to support the health, safety and wellbeing of their workers. While employees may be out of sight at the moment, they shouldn’t be out of mind.
Here’s our advice and top tips to help you support the wellbeing of your workforce as we all navigate through this difficult period.
1) Stay connected
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that technology is a great enabler. While we’re in physical isolation, it’s vital to keep everyone connected and engaged. Digital tools are a great way to foster collaboration, keep up-to-date with projects as a team, and to maintain relationships, which together have a positive effect on employee wellbeing.
The mental health charity Mind advises line managers to find an online tool that works for them and their business, and to schedule in a daily pre-agreed time to talk with their team to avoid anyone feeling isolated. Regular morning conference calls can not only help everyone in your team feel included, but also ensures that everyone feels confident managing their own workload, and understanding what their fellow colleagues are working on too.
This level of inclusivity shouldn’t just be confined to work though. Why not organise a virtual coffee catch-up or a virtual social event after work on a Friday? Something as simple as a virtual get-together with familiar faces from the office can raise morale and alleviate feelings of isolation.
2) A work-life balance
The Coronavirus crisis has brought many unexpected challenges and forced us to adapt to new working conditions. It may be easier for some people to adapt than others, so it’s important to stay mindful when working with your colleagues.
Working from home, especially for those with children or family to care for, can be challenging. So as well as being flexible with the working hours of your employees, make sure you’re transparent and open where possible with negotiating deadlines, and measure outputs instead of desk-time to provide flexibility to the team members that need it.
3) The importance of workplace wellbeing
Keeping employees informed and engaged throughout this crisis is one of the most important challenges that businesses are facing. According to research by idea management firm Wazoku, 80% of respondents believe the Coronavirus crisis is the biggest challenge they’ve known in their working life, while 71% admit to feeling isolated from the wider workplace community.
Therefore it’s vital to keep lines of communication open with employees so that they’re updated on what’s happening within the business as the situation changes. Clear, regular communication, regardless of whether you’re sharing good or bad news, is helpful for the wellbeing and state of mind of your workforce.
They will appreciate the clear, honest messaging that cuts through the cloud of uncertainty and ambiguity that we’re all experiencing inside and outside of work at the moment.
4) Check in on your colleagues
People thrive when they have a supportive environment, so make sure you check in with your colleagues outside of formal team meetings. The mental health benefits of feeling connected are significant and people can continue to benefit from them by using technology effectively.
Taking an individualised approach is important and colleagues will appreciate knowing that, as an employer, you’re there for them while they may be struggling. It could be as straightforward as letting an employee know there’s someone they can speak to for advice or signposting them to Employee Assistance Programmes or other resources.
5) Help employees to help themselves
Employers can encourage employees to support themselves. This means investing time and energy in their own wellbeing, for instance making the time to relax, having regular breaks, creating new routines or establishing clear boundaries between work and play.
Although many people might feel under pressure for various reasons at the moment, it’s more important than ever that employees understand what’s expected of them and what ‘doing a good job’ looks like, to ensure they don’t feel overstretched and ultimately burnout. Employers should encourage two-way conversation with their employees to open up lines of communication and ask the right questions.
There’s no doubt that this crisis has raised awareness of mental health in the workplace, so now is the time for businesses to act on it.
The path back to normality isn’t likely to be a straightforward one. However keeping mental health as a key focus and putting steps in place to support employees through the lockdown and beyond will strengthen bonds within the team and see your workforce continue to be healthy and productive as we adapt to the ‘new normal’.
If you’d like to know more, or if you have your own suggestions of managing employee wellbeing, get in touch.