Many countries around the world are still in lockdown. And the consequences of staying at home are becoming more apparent in our children’s education, our personal relationships, our economies, and our mental health. Organisations are realising the urgent need to support their employees’ wellbeing, with recent Unmind research finding that 90% of businesses have increased their emphasis on the importance of employee mental health as a result of the pandemic.
With vaccines on their way and spring right around the corner, brighter days are ahead. But until then we need to focus on increasing workplace support and flexibility to maintain good mental health, and morale, among employees. We’ve put together some tips on how to nurture employees’ mental wellbeing while at work, and support them in navigating the ambiguity of what comes next.
Connect with employees to combat loneliness
For most employees, their usual ways of seeing family friends and colleagues have been put on pause until further notice. For those living alone ‘ or with others that they’re not particularly close to ‘ lockdown can be incredibly isolating. This feeling can be overwhelming and have knock-on effects. Extended periods of loneliness put our bodies into a state of stress and can impact our immune system’s ability to cope.
It’s a misconception that loneliness arises when no one else is around ‘ it’s more likely a lack of meaningful connection. So now is the time to reach out and support your employees. Our communication should be regular, meaningful and empathetic. Scheduling in company socials, reminders to check-in on colleagues and sharing your own experiences can help make, and build upon, those connections.
Make space for employees to manage stress and worry in their own ways
With high infection rates, new variants, and ever-changing restrictions, COVID-19 brings untold stress. But dealing with this in isolation, all while managing our daily duties at work, can lead to new levels of worry and anxiety. Employees might be worried about a range of things, from getting ill themselves and the health and wellbeing of elderly relatives, to financial concerns or managing family relationships. Any of these can make it difficult to switch off or to focus on the task at hand.
Feelings of stress are entirely normal in these unusual circumstances ‘ and they bear no reflection on someone’s ability to do their job. Let your employees know that you understand this. Make space for them to cope in their own way, whether that’s by tuning out of the continuous stream of news for a while, going for a run, reading a book or doing the ironing. What works for one person might be completely different for the next.
Proactively encourage time away from the screen
Drastic changes in structure can tip the balance in people’s mood. Many began to return to work and resume some sense of normality at points throughout the year as restrictions lifted. Having those long-awaited freedoms curtailed again can be extremely dispiriting. When we’re forced to spend time away from our usual lives, the building blocks of positive mental health that we often take for granted are compromised. Even if we’re naturally introverted and enjoy time alone, prolonged periods of isolation can take a toll on our mood.
Businesses need to take proactive steps to avoid employees developing sustained low mood or depression. Introduce ‘walk and talk’ meetings, where calls are taken outside so employees can enjoy the fresh air, daylight, and take in some exercise. For those stuck indoors, it’s equally important to facilitate time away from their screens. Planning company-wide breaks or no-meeting windows can enable employees to find mindful moments during their day.
Help employees set boundaries between life and work
While working from home, the physical boundaries between life and work are literally blurred ‘ our homes have become our workplaces. This is reflected in our minds too. COVID-19 disrupted our daily routines of getting up, commuting, doing work, and then returning home. Meanwhile, we may simultaneously be balancing family life with the fluctuating demands of work. Without mindful intervention, it can be easy to lose the boundaries between work and home life.
Structure is essential. It’s never too late to establish better ways of working. Two-way dialogue with you and your employees and setting clear expectations is really important. Agreeing on what work needs to be delivered, rather than just the expectation of being present, will make employees less inclined to remain glued to their screens. Communicate that no one should feel the need to be online constantly. No one spends the entire eight hours at their desks in the office.
Encourage regular breaks to maintain productivity
As the months have rolled on, many have had to adjust to a life without the things that give them meaning. To replace those things, they may fall into the always-on trap of over-producing to keep up professional appearances, or they can lose rhythm and give way to distractions. Both can pose their own challenges to mental health. Over-productivity can make people struggle to cope, while a lack of it could increase apathy as others lose track of the meaning and fulfilment a regular working routine provides.
Encourage regular breaks and catch-ups between colleagues that are unrelated to work. Agree daily structures and goals that allow for wiggle room with your employees. It’s better to give employees time to do a project properly than to rush it and pay the consequences with their mental health.
As we continue living and working with lockdown restrictions still in place and remote working continuing to play a key role in our lives, it’s more important than ever to support the promotion of mental wellbeing in the workplace. Employees should be at the top of each businesses priority list during such times and workplace support should be continuously reviewed to ensure it’s hitting the mark.