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Viewpoint: The mental health fall-out of coronavirus is our next crisis

30 July 2020 by

While many will be focusing on reopening and getting staff back to work, employers need to be prepared to support employees through this next stage, says Jane Sunley.

A recent survey by Core Recruitment and Purple Cubed found that 97% of respondents felt their overall well- being had been adversely affected by recent events, yet 64% said their employers were offering no additional support to help them cope. And, according to Mind UK, 54% of employers say they'd like to do more to help, but don't have the right tools in place.

The most proactive and sensible approach is a preventive one. Workplace bullying, for example, causes people to lose their confidence, with feelings of worthlessness and failure. It stifles creativity, encourages distrust, damages the team dynamic, lowers job satisfaction and causes disengagement. It erodes an organisation's culture and positivity. It's disastrous for wellbeing and mental health; it causes worry and sleeplessness; people become nervous, reluctant to share their opinions and ideas, they become clinically depressed, absent, ill... It still exists in our industry, though would it be so hard to eradicate ‘toxic boss syndrome' forever?

We have to accept the realities of the UK wellbeing crisis and take practical steps to tackle it. Mental healthcare must be democratised. Although therapists and healthcare professionals are a valuable part of the solution, treatment cannot rely only on these specialists. What's needed are workplaces with a collaborative approach to work-based solutions, where workplace healthcare involves smart self-diagnostics and tailored support. This will lead to more collaborative, work-based solutions and ‘self-serve' help.

10 steps for addressing the issue of workplace mental health

  1. Get the board on board – this might need some strategic, attitudinal and tactical changes, as understanding and support must come from the highest levels including preparedness to invest – even, or you might say especially, in tough times such as this.
  2. Leaders at all levels must be aware, willing and able to fully support and promote workplace wellbeing and to fully understand the implications of doing so.
  3. Make sure dialogue is open and two-way. It's good to talk; mental health is no longer a taboo subject. Tools such as Wellbee enable this dialogue and provide a safe, secure space to assess personal wellbeing, access solutions and feed back to the right people, as well as informing businesses where and how to focus their efforts.
  4. Create support networks, consider mentoring and buddying links, employee assistance helplines and/or employ an internal counsellor.
  5. Communicate responsibly to avoid information overload with clarity, consistency and transparency. This includes a healthy attitude towards email and out-of-hours messaging.
  6. Take a serious look at work-life balance. Recent events have accelerated change – learn from this and assess what you could do to help people regain control over their lives. Use tools such as scheduling software to enable shift swapping and so on.
  7. Enable a bottom-up, employee-led approach to progression and learning with flexible opportunities for all – stop moving people around like chess pieces or developing only the elite few.
  8. Encourage social interaction at work. The team dynamic is critical to happiness at work – perhaps make available a small budget for people to plan their own, thus avoiding ‘enforced fun'. And in the meantime, be creative around optional virtual get-togethers.
  9. Support absentees by keeping in touch and offering help as appropriate – led by the individual, since you can't know what level of support would be appreciated. This is the time to have one-to-ones with your people to find out how their perspectives and aspirations may have changed during lockdown.
  10. Be kind – a simple, cost-neutral yet highly effective way to improve mental wellbeing at work and help people to love what they do.

I would also suggest reading the excellent Stevenson-Farmer report, and there's sound advice available from Mind UK.

Jane Sunley is a business author and founder of employee engagement experts Purple Cubed

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