Lay the foundations today to prevent staff wellbeing becoming a crisis
We’re four weeks into lockdown, and 25 eminent psychiatrists are calling for the government to set up real time monitoring of people’s mental health.
Increased social isolation, loneliness, health anxiety, stress, and an economic downturn are creating what Professor Rory O’Connor describes as, “a perfect storm to harm people’s mental health and wellbeing.”
As a nation we need to act fast to support each other’s mental health and prevent it escalating into bigger secondary problems, which are more complicated and harder to address. At the moment, employers and line managers are best placed to monitor employee mental health, encourage employees to ask for help, spot early warning signs and offer emotional as well as practical support. Here’s five quick actions you should be taking.
Lessons from the Big Brother house
Remember the cult viewing show, Big Brother? Contestants enter the house full of enthusiasm to keep up their fitness routines, try new things and make new friends. What happens by week four? Mental and physical lethargy sets in. In short, no one can be bothered to get out of their pyjamas, exercise, or remain curious about other housemates.
What makes the difference is the daily intervention of big brother task masters, setting goals, and activities that not only give contestants a purpose for their day but an opportunity to lift spirits, bond and feel connected with each other and the outside world.
Translate that to staff faced with another three weeks of lockdown, and no sign of schools opening anytime. For many it must feel like Groundhog Day. In short, it’s more than likely that you will need to redouble your efforts to check staff wellbeing and give your people a much needed boost.
Make it personal and take a whole person approach
We know that mental, physical and financial wellbeing are inextricably linked. Unless staff feel satisfied across these three areas, they won’t be in the right place to engage with efforts to boost engagement and productivity.
Communication remains the watchword during this period. Check in regularly with staff to ask how they are feeling and what they most need help with. A staff survey will give you a broad-brush view of mental health across the organisation, but an individual’s personal circumstances are likely to have a greater impact on their wellbeing at the moment. Encourage line managers to set up a 1:1 call with each team member to ask how they are feeling across all three areas, and whether they need any support.
Right now, the greatest help a line manager can give is to pick up wellbeing concerns in the early stages before they escalate into bigger problems. Is a member of staff worried about personal finances? Research debt consolidator and salary deducted loan partners who can help ease financial pressure with a fair and transparent pay back plan.
If you have an online financial wellbeing programme, share it with staff to check they have the knowledge and skills to keep their personal finances heathy. If you have a savings platform set up in your organisation, remind staff they can save on grocery bills and everyday needs, along with tools to help support remote working.
If staff have lost their Jo Wickes mojo, why not set up an accountability buddy scheme? Staff set fitness goals with their partner and must report progress on a daily basis and celebrate achievements at the end of the week.
If you have a serious concern about the state of an employee’s mental health, log it immediately with HR and discuss available support. Many organisations have their own mental health first aiders who can provide rapid, virtual support.
Back to work
Once you have assessed and attended to employee’s basic wellbeing needs, you can turn your attention to engagement and productivity. Are your people still as engaged and productive as they need to be?
A word of caution, particularly in relation to working parents. Several national studies, conducted after home schooling began, show that parents are really struggling to keep work, home, and school happy, to the detriment of their mental health. A situation not helped by a lack of clarity around expectations. Parents are hearing mixed messages, “do your best”, “it’s business as usual”, without agreement on what they have to deliver on a practical level. The single most helpful thing a line manager can do to keep working parents engaged and productive is to give absolute clarity on what they are expected to deliver and what they can leave for now.
Lessons from #clapforthenhs
We’ve all been emotionally moved by the outpouring of public support for front line workers at 8pm each Thursday. In turn, it’s fascinating to hear front liners talk about the boost this recognition and appreciation gives them. Whatever the setting frontline staff work in - healthcare, distribution centre or factory - line managers must remember to offer regular and sincere thanks through this difficult period.
Equally, remote workers benefit from recognition and thanks for the largely invisible work they are doing from home. This is much easier to do if you have a recognition and reward platform, but staff will need reminding to log on and nominate peers. Lean on line managers to lead from the front and drive a culture of recognition within your organisation.
Keep the home fires burning
More than ever staff need to feel connected - a virtual warmth that they are not alone. Check out social media and you’ll discover a host of ingenious and hilarious ways that organisations are keeping spirits up. From virtual dress up Friday and daily coffee breaks, to playlists that each team member adds a song to. Little things that help team members feel part of a wider support group.
We don’t yet know what the long-term impact of this period on staff mental health will be. One thing is certain, mangers that use this period to build trust with employees to support their mental health are laying a strong foundation to deal with any issues that arise later on.