How Businesses Can Tackle Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic
7 min read
The world is no longer ignoring mental health. According to Mind, 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem each year in England. With reports suggesting that a growing number of people around the UK struggle with depression and other mental health issues, according to studies carried out by NHS Digital, the need for increased mental health awareness is greater than ever.
It’s crucial to look after our mental and physical health in a time when our usual routines have gone out of the window, which is why tackling mental health is a growing concern for most of us, including employers.
Good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand, with strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive. Employers have the responsibility to tackle mental health in the workplace by taking a proactive approach in making the workplace mentally healthy for all employees.
Businesses have started to wake up to the importance of looking after their employees’ mental health, which has become an increasing matter even more so due to the pandemic. With that being said, it is important to question whether companies are adopting programmes for the sake of ticking boxes and looking good, or if they are genuinely taking precautions in ensuring employee happiness.
The Rise of Mental Health Issues
Even pre-2020, cases of mental health were increasing with no signs of slowing down. Studies show that every week, 3 in 100 people are diagnosed with depression, 6 in 100 people are diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and 8 in 100 people are diagnosed with mixed anxiety and depression, according to research published by mental health charity, Mind.
Since then, the spotlight has very much been on tackling mental health and the issues relating to suicide, depression and anxiety. This has been evident in the shift with trending hashtags, including #BeKind, #SelfCare, #SelfCareMatters and #SpeakOut.
Whether rising cases of mental health is due to more of us now speaking out and encouraging each other to talk to medical professionals, or factors around us contributing to mental health issues, it isn’t yet clear. With that being said, we can confidently say that something must be done to support those with mental health to help bring cases of depression, anxiety and stress down.
Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting all our lives with a fear of the unknown. Many of us are struggling with how it’s affecting ourselves and our loved ones which has caused a huge influx in mental health cases rising, particularly for those already facing challenges on top of this.
For many, this may be anxiety surrounding wearing a face covering or rising positive cases of COVID-19, or for others, this may be depression triggered by isolating, staying at home, new government restrictions, not seeing loved ones outside of their household or support bubble, or even feeling hopeless about when the pandemic could end.
If you, your loved one, employee or people you work with are feeling down during self-isolation, it can be very easy to slip into the mindset that you/they are alone, but this isn’t the case. A lot of people are struggling at the moment, so recognising that these are difficult times for everyone and that it’s okay to struggle can help in how you or someone else may feel.
Fear, worry and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats. So it is completely normal and understandable that more of us have been experiencing fear over the last year.
Amid fear and anxiety for the unknown, we are also coping with the significant changes to our daily lives, with restricted movement in the slowing down and spreading of the virus, temporary unemployment and the lack of physical contact with friends, family and colleagues.
Steps Businesses Can Take Towards Tackling Mental Health
For many of us, work is a major part of our lives. It is where we spend most of our time and often where we make our friends. Having a fulfilling job can be good for your mental health and general wellbeing, although this has shifted over the last 12 months.
As our social lives may now only relate to our work-life, employers have a pivotal role in adopting a range of measures to support employees experiencing poor mental health as a result of depression, stress and anxiety linked to COVID-19 or other reasons.
When you consider that nearly half of employees say they’ve struggled with their mental health, even before the pandemic, it’s easy to see the impact that the workplace can make in general wellbeing and happiness.
Ensuring Safety in the Workplace
Of course, there are many industries unable to allow employees to work from home which can cause stress and anxiety for those who fear themselves or their loved ones falling ill. While the advice from the UK Government has been to work from home if you can to follow the workplace guidance for employers and employees, employers should aim to become more flexible with this and adopt ways of keeping employees safe, through staggered working times, PPE, separating desks and allowing employees to set up their own office space in the comfort of their own homes.
Choice of Working from Home
With that being said, we have seen a huge increase in mental health cases across the UK triggered by employees who are forced to work from home and now very rarely leave the house. Employers should be clear in giving employees the choice as to whether they work from home or work in the office, if possible. Some employees may be more comfortable and safe working from home, whereas others may suffer from working-from-home isolation and would prefer to be in the office several times a week due to lack of work-life culture at home.
We are now in a time where employees have concerns over work and money, which can have a huge impact on mental health. Businesses are also advised to make use of the UK Job Retention Scheme. If business owners are finding their business financially struggling, they should avoid making redundancies in an already unprecedented time by furloughing staff members instead.
Team Building Sessions
Now more than ever, more of us are beginning to feel lonely with a sense of unwillingness. This in itself can be a contributing factor to many of us sometimes retreating away into isolation with a fear of the outside world.
While business owners have a somewhat limited approach, there still are steps that employers can take that may help. Where possible, it can be a fantastic idea to utilise video conferencing as much as possible to recreate the office environment that your employees know and feel comfortable with.
On a typical day in the office, employees will be likely to take their lunch hour away from their desk and socialise with their colleagues. However, when working from home, employees are far more likely to work through their lunch break and will not take time away from their desk. You guessed it – more screen time can equate to an increased level of stress.
This is why we recommend having team-building sessions to keep the pace going. As an example, at Digital Ethos, we have been setting up regular team social events online to make sure that colleagues are socialising outside of work, just as we were doing before! Some ideas for sessions could be themed quizzes on a monthly basis, ice breaker challenges, collaborative training sessions and virtual lunches. This has allowed us to shine light in an otherwise difficult period of time.
Keep a Routine
If you’re like many of us, a routine most likely went out the window during the very first lockdown in the UK. Routines are something that can give us structure and a sense of control, which you or your employees may now feel that has been lost.
Bringing back a routine can improve focus, organisation and productivity, which goes beyond your day-to-day responsibilities and work-life. As employees are less likely to have a routine outside of work, it’s even more crucial to keep a structure within work that doesn’t feel out of the ordinary.
Schedule in daily calls with your team and check in on them throughout their week. If you’re running a large business, it can really be of benefit to introduce a pod structure with team leaders to streamline the teams so that each ‘pod’ can have regular calls to keep the routine going. We also recommend introducing a training hour once a week to allow employees time away from tasks to sit back, take notes and learn something new in their field.
Simplify Work Scope
It can be difficult for employees struggling with mental health to take on large projects. This is why we strongly recommend breaking up larger projects into smaller tasks and share it out amongst your team with a collaborative approach.
Having smaller, more manageable tasks can empower employees to achieve more and can have a direct impact on the way they perceive their environment, productivity and outlook to work. Using a collaborative approach also helps to continue the sense of ‘team’.
Celebrate the Highs
It can be exceptionally difficult to stay positive right now, which is why celebrating the highs can enable employee productivity and keep pushing them to reach for the stars. While keeping a structure is crucial, at Digital Ethos, we have continued to celebrate big (and small) wins through our daily catch ups which are celebrated throughout the wider team.
As well as this, we have also aimed to keep incentives in place as well as employee of the month to recognise hard efforts, productivity and commitment shown throughout the team.
Those struggling with mental health are usually highly self-critical of their own actions and work, which is why supporting and celebrating any moment of achievement can activate positive emotions and strengthens intrinsic motivation in employees.
Play to Employees’ Strengths
If your employee really struggles with an aspect of their work (e.g. public speaking or hosting client calls) then they may retreat away and follow into a sense of panic. Try to know the strengths of your employees and play to those strengths.
If you play to their strengths, your employee will be more likely to experience a sense of validation and will feel more interested in the tasks they are undertaking. Some studies show that employees who feel more in tune with their tasks are more likely to experience diminished levels of stress and depression in the long term.