We’re encouraged to discuss mental health openly in popular culture, but to talk about our own mental health in the workplace is actually quite scary. Stigma still remains in many businesses, with employees still being treated or feeling misunderstood and isolated.
That being said many employers have become more attuned to the mental health of their employees over these last two years in the pandemic. Homeworking, and conducting our lives via virtual means has been challenging for everyone – for those with pre-existing mental health illnesses and those who hadn’t struggled with mental health before. This has subsequently made employers realise that nearly all of us can struggle with mental illness, and as part of their duty of care, mental health must be prioritised.
As we emerge from the relaxing of restrictions, employers should be aware of the acute struggles people may feel adapting to the new working environment. In-person working may be positively welcome to some, whilst others will feel trepidation and uncertainty. SMEs with more limited resources and people may struggle to replicate the wellbeing programmes larger corporations have introduced for their employees, but there are initiatives you can take to support your employees’ mental health which can be just as effective, which I will talk through below.
Consider communications and conversations
Creating an open dialogue in the virtual or in-person workplace about mental health is important. This will demonstrate to employees there is no stigma in your workplace and won’t feel judged if they disclose they are struggling with poor mental health. Consider putting in policies and schemes that are accessible and communicate how you will support employees with their mental health, and what your responsibilities are as an employer.
There are some useful resources available that discuss how to manage conversations around mental health and the dos and don’ts on body and verbal language for managers ‘ for example active listening. Consider appointing mental health first aiders within the company, there are some excellent training schemes available.
Create a thoughtful workplace
Encourage thoughtfulness from each member of staff towards their colleagues. For example checking in with colleagues that have been quiet, not scheduling back-to-back meetings and being mindful of people’s different preferences to communicate ‘ ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real and can affect people’s energy, productivity and morale at work.
It may be worth arranging regular team meetings and fun events to strictly not talk shop but be social. You’ll be encouraging team bonding and potentially build stronger, more emphathetic professional relationships between your colleagues. Equally team meetups which highlight and celebrate the positive achievements over a week can make people feel valued, as well as recognise and appreciate others successes. And of course, develop morale.
Lead by example
If you are open about mental health as a leader, where possible, employees will feel trusting in the support you’re providing, and know their career and progression won’t be detrimentally affected if they did speak up about mental health at work.
Leaders and senior managers should also be encouraged to offer mentoring and coaching to staff who need extra support in addition to their line manager. And as a leader it is important to factor in mental health of employees when you need to make difficult decisions about the future of the company ‘ for example if you need to make redundancies or retrain staff ‘ and create provisions for appropriate support.
All these initiatives will help build a culture at your company where employees can seek support for their mental health in the workplace, without fear of judgement. For employees, knowing that their employer can be relied upon, will breed kinder, thoughtful and open-minded conversations within the working day-to-day.