This week is Mental Health Awareness Week – an annual awareness event that is surely more pertinent than ever this year.
Much has been written and discussed about the impact of the pandemic on mental health around the world, with millions working from home, unable to see friends and family, having to isolate, potentially losing a loved one to the virus, or all of the above.
It is crucial that companies continuing to operate, whether with staff on the premises or at home, have their employees’ mental health high on the agenda during this time.
Everyone is coping in different ways, of course, and an employee’s struggles may not be immediately apparent. An individual may be back at work and carrying out their normal duties, but their home life might be far from normal, whether they now have caring responsibilities, financial issues, or an ill or unemployed partner for example. Remember neurodivergent individuals too, who may have unique challenges during this time.
It is important to check in with all staff regularly, look at wellbeing initiatives, and ensure you are promoting an inclusive culture in which employees can talk openly and ask for help if they need it. This also applies to colleagues who are currently furloughed.
Those now permanently working at home can find their mental health suffers too. One study found that for those who normally work remotely, 19% report loneliness, and that is before you take into account the fact that people are not seeing other people in their free time either. Anyone living alone may feel very isolated, and those who thrive on office life and social interaction may be struggling to adapt. Another issue is burnout, with home workers often working longer hours than if they were in the office – whether consciously or not.
Managers should maintain close contact with employees at home, for their wellbeing as well as for work purposes. Some have found virtual coffee breaks to be effective, enabling colleagues to break up their day and have those ‘water-cooler’ chats. Others have started remote running clubs to encourage exercise, which is well-recognised as positive for mental health.
Mental Health Awareness Week is a good time to take stock, look at your approach to mental health in the workplace and how it may need to be adapted during this challenging time. It has never been more important to show that you genuinely care about your staff, and to be aware that the impression your workforce and the public has of your company’s values can have a long-lasting impact on your reputation.