Just like physical health, our mental health needs care and attention to maintain balance. Particularly with lockdown, extended periods of isolation and a never-ending cycle of desk, sofa, desk, many of us have experienced mental health issues that we’re perhaps not used to dealing with.
Although mental health has become more widely spoken about in recent years, with high profile people and campaigns encouraging everyone to speak out, mental health in the workplace is still largely under-addressed. Fears brought on by long-standing taboos still remain; ‘Will I be considered ‘weaker’ than my colleagues?’, ‘Will I be passed over for promotion?’, ‘Will my colleagues judge me?’.
For businesses, it’s important to recognise that employees are only human and it’s impossible for everyone to only have good days. Employees should feel comfortable and supported to discuss their mental health, should they want to, without fear of judgement, or career consequences. As well as supporting employee wellbeing addressing mental health in the workplace can also have practical benefits, including reduced turnover, reduced presenteeism, and increased employee engagement. In order to fully support workplace wellbeing, it’s key for business leaders and managers to understand mental health; the signs, how to talk about it, and how to help. That’s why we offered every Silicon Reef employee the chance to complete a Mental Health First Aid training course.
We’ve rounded-up some key learnings, tips and practical solutions for you to bring into the workplace to help your teams work happy.
Duvet days, or mental health days, are becoming an increasingly popular part of company strategies for looking after their teams. Duvet days are a type of formal leave which an employee can take with no notice, designed for those days when getting up to face a full day of work just feels like a bit too much. Dips in our mental health can happen with no notice, whether that’s for reasons outside of work or a particularly stressful project, and it’s important to acknowledge that those days exist. Some employers might worry that duvet days could be taken advantage of, with employees using it as an excuse for additional time off. The truth is, duvet days are happening anyway under the disguise of traditional sick leave. More than a fifth of us have called in sick when workplace stress becomes too much. Introducing official duvet days lets employees know that it’s okay to have these days, without the need to invent a pretend physical illness to justify the time away.
The events of 2020 meant that many organisations introduced work from home measures. Whether through choice or necessity, this has been a catalyst for introducing more flexible working practices. As your business becomes comfortable and confident with remote working, try extending these measures in a way that can really help your employees’ wellbeing. A shift from work from home to work from anywhere can give your team a sense of freedom. Whether it’s a bedroom in Bournemouth, a café in Croydon or a villa in Valencia, trusting your employees to work from wherever they are reasonably able to do so is a great way to relieve stress and help keep your team working happy. Especially as lockdown measures begin to ease, employees will need to venture beyond their home-office walls after extended periods of indoor isolation.
Beyond this, extending location flexibility into time flexibility is another great way to ease pressures on teams. Allowing employees to choose their own hours and produce their best work at a time that suits them is another great stress reliever. Working from home is new to many, often creating a need to be ‘always available’. “Just popping for lunch, I’ll be back online in an hour.” “I need to help the kids with home-schooling, is it okay if I pop offline for 20 minutes?” The need to document our whereabouts between the hours of 9 to 5 can often be overwhelming, and incompatible with the unavoidable pulls of our other responsibilities. Measuring employees on output and targets rather than hours worked can help employees find a work/life balance that suits them, reducing stress and promoting wellbeing.
Being open with your comms around mental health can help employees to feel comfortable and at ease. Encouraging a culture where employees can speak out and feel listened to is key – especially now that limited face-to-face time can leave people feeling isolated and lonely. Adopting a company-wide culture of two-way communications can help employees to feel valued and that their voice matters. When times get tough, employees who feel assured that their opinion is important are more likely to share their concerns.
Having open communication isn’t just about allowing employees to come to you, but also being able to approach them when you are worried. Despite the growing spotlight on mental health, the subject is still taboo for some and certain individuals may find it hard to speak out regardless of how welcoming your company culture is. If you are worried about someone you work with, it’s okay to ask the difficult questions. Find an appropriate time, and initiate a conversation about how they’re feeling. You don’t need to worry about dressing up the question – being direct can often be the best approach.
Whether someone comes to you, or you approach them, the most important part is to listen. Opening up to a colleague can be tough, and being a listening ear can be a big help in itself. Listen to what they have to say, don’t make any judgements, and point them in the direction of some extra support.
Lastly, training. It may sound obvious, but training is a great step to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to mental health. Providing formal training to every employee might not be a viable option for every business, but there are plenty of free online resources which you can make accessible to every member of your team. Whichever option is right for you, training will offer insights into common causes of mental health issues, how this may manifest in the workplace, the signs to look for and how to help if you’re concerned about a colleague. As well as providing practical skills and knowledge, ensuring training resources are widely available helps to show your employees that you care. For those experiencing mental health issues, just knowing that mental health is recognised within the business may help them feel supported and comfortable.