Supporting employee mental health has always been important, however the Covid-19 pandemic has brought it into sharp focus with changes in the way we work and live. The result has been much more blurred lines between our personal and professional lives often increasing stress, anxiety and burnout. With 10 years of experience in Organisational Development, our expert Zoe Nicholl explores how businesses can support their employee’s mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
Anxiety is the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness week which runs from 15– 21 May 2023. Anxiety is an emotion everyone may experience at one time or another. However acute anxiety can result from prolonged periods of stress, with little time to switch off, so the body’s natural ‘fight or flight defences’ go into overdrive – leading to emotional or behavioural changes, such as high heart rate, sweating, dry mouth, loss of appetite, nausea, or being unable to sleep which can result in burnout, having a negative mental effect on employee mental health and restricting them from doing their job effectively.
How has the pandemic impacted employees mental health?
A global survey done by the McKinsey Health Institute in June 2022 found that since the pandemic on average, 1 in 4 employees are experiencing symptoms of burnout, highlighting how it is now paramount for employers to be aware of increased mental health challenges impacting their teams.
So why is this? There is no doubt that the pandemic increased awareness of mental health, however it also created the opportunity for more flexible working with people to working from home, or hybrid working, with less time spent at the office. Whilst in most cases this can lead to higher levels of productivity, and employee satisfaction, it can also cause a disconnect between managers, employees and teams. The psychological safety that is felt when there is a good manager and employee relationship, should not be underestimated.
When combined with the constant pressures on mental health such as the cost-of-living crisis, investing in your employees and providing the resources and support they need is so important. Managers are often the ones who influence how people feel in the workplace, so when there is a proven effort to develop wellbeing strategies to support and encourage employees, it instils trust and shows that their mental health is taken seriously.
What can businesses do to create an environment for good mental health in the workplace?
So how can businesses promote mental health and wellbeing practices to support their employees? There are many approaches you can take, here are 6 things to consider:
- Be clear on your organisational values as this will drive your company culture. What practices do you have in place when it comes to mental wellbeing, equality, diversity and inclusion? These are not just box ticking tasks, and each can make all the difference to an employee who is struggling, feeling misunderstood or like their contributions are not valued. The Cultural Iceberg Model by Edward Hall is a great example of the ‘visible’ and ‘hidden’ aspects of organisational culture and the impact it can have. It is a useful model to dive deeper into your own culture and explore if you can make improvements so that all employees feel valued and heard.
- Do you have real connections with your people? Psychological safety is all about trust in relationships and learning more about your team. There is a responsibility for employers and managers to be aware of their people and invest time, energy and resources in creating a strong bond with them and within teams, (especially when there is more home or hybrid working). If you notice that one of your employees isn’t their usual self, start from a place of being genuinely curious to ask them how they are, to understand what might be going on, rather than relying on assumptions. Be an approachable leader who shows compassion and a genuine desire to build good relationships.
- Be honest! The best way to connect with people is to share your own experiences. Stories are really powerful, and showing that you are a person who needs to look after their wellbeing too can be a really empowering thing for people to hear. What do you do to care for your mental wellbeing? Checking in with your employees at the end of each week and having open conversations about the small things shows that you care, whilst humanising the working relationship.
- Do you have space for people to decompress and take a break? Create a culture where employees know they are encouraged to make time in their workday to step away from their laptops. Making a meeting free space in the diary at lunch time, allows employees to get outside, stretch and recharge. If you can, encourage hybrid working so that people can choose to work from places, where they are not alone for example e.g. a shared work space, or a café. Changing up your workspace and stepping away from the desk for a break can reduce stress and ignite creativity.
- Avoid back to back meetings! Is there flexibility for meetings to be shortened from one hour to 45 minutes to allow for breathing space? Are you building in time between meetings? Whilst being ‘busy’ is often seen as a good thing, studies have shown that busy culture is terrible for productivity and creates toxicity in the workplace so it is crucial to allow for some calm throughout the workday and avoid the negative impact on mental health.
- Encourage a support network! Having a good support network at work is one of the indicators of how happy people are. Do they have friends, confidants, supporters? Not only do these networks provide extra support and trust, but also ensure that employees will hold each other accountable.
How can McMillan help?
We can help you understand your organisational culture and work with you to create a plan tailored to what your business needs to support your staff and their wellbeing. We can work with you to take a deep dive into your culture and get to the fundamental issues that are impacting your employees in order to create a thriving, healthy and positive workplace.
If you would like to learn more, please get in touch to book a free 20 minute consultation by emailing alex@firstname.lastname@example.org.