Today is World Mental Health Day. This annual event aims to focus our attention on the importance of mental health, and to treat it on a par with physical health. There are some who dismiss such awareness days. To be fair, there are a huge number competing for our attention. However, it surely cannot be denied that with all that is going on in the world, both home and away, our mental health has never been so tested, and our resilience has never more important.
“Mental health is not a destination, but a process. It's about how you drive, not where you're going.”
– Naom Shpancer. PhD
Employers and leaders cannot remove or ease all of the pressures on their colleagues’ mental health. But they can avoid adding to them, and there are some steps that can be taken to mitigate or support.
So, are we doing enough for our people?
It would seem not. Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace report found that 44% of employees “experienced stress a lot of the previous day”. And according to Mental Health UK last year, 46% of UK workers felt “more prone to extreme levels of stress” than they did the previous year, with only 23% believing their employer “had a plan in place to spot the signs of chronic stress and prevent burnout”. Similarly, Oracle’s 2020 report found that 76% of people believe their employer should be doing more to protect their mental health.
What can we do to better support our colleagues?
A great place to start is with your internal comms strategy. After all of the changes from the previous few years, it may need tweaking to facilitate and encourage more meaningful support and two-way comms with your workers, especially those that are (now) working remotely. Making your meetings, be they face-to-face or remote, truly two-way and interactive can help to give your colleagues a sense of belonging and empowerment – both of which are good for mental health.
Be human. Be real.
A fundamental place to start is to lead from the front with openness, sincerity and transparency. There is a misconception in some circles that leaders must always show an unhuman, steely strength, a projection that nothing affects them or threatens their unfaltering command of everything. Actually, a leader sharing their own vulnerabilities is not a leader showing weakness. Rather, it can build trust and respect, and nurture a healthy culture of people looking out for each other, and willing to lean on each other. It’s also a crucial part of removing the stigma of poor mental health.
Short videos from the leadership team can provide heartfelt, earnest and authentic messages that can be hugely beneficial when people are experiencing less face-to-face time than they used to. People have always loved reading or hearing about people. If colleagues are willing to share their own experiences with struggles and how they overcame them, this can be a great way to boost the confidence across the audience to talk about their mental health. It can also be an empowering and cathartic experience for them. If they can share any techniques they found useful for surviving the tougher times, all the better. We all champion the sharing of best practise within a professional quality or efficiency framework; why not the sharing of best practice for mental health resilience? As with the SLT videos, presenting this as a video can be the best way of humanising and contextualising others’ experiences, and presenting them in an influential, engaging and inspiring way.
Recognise and appreciate.
Another great way to enhance your people’s mental wellbeing is to enhance appreciation and recognition. Why not employ an online appreciation platform that does all of the hard work whilst delivering amazing results for your teams? Recognition and appreciation are massively contagious, and spreading the love can have a genuinely uplifting effect on the wellbeing of your people.
Last year, I wrote about ensuring your comms are fully inclusive. This can also have a huge effect on the mental health of your people. It goes without saying that people who feel in any way excluded are more likely to suffer with their mental health. Wouldn’t you?
"Your mental health is everything – prioritise it. Make the time like your life depends on it, because it does."
– Mel Robbins
Larger or more pro-active organisations can also consider additional measures, such as nominating carefully selected people as designated listeners. These people do not need to be fully qualified mental health first aiders. They only need to be knowledgeable about the services, resources or professionals that are available to help their colleagues in their times of need. Badging them up, be that physically or digitally, with something informal like “Let’s grab a brew” or “Here to chat” can advertise their availability and approachability.
Prioritise mental health.
Employers should aim to embed mental health into a robust, wider health and wellbeing strategy. They should also have some pro-active plans in place for championing mental health throughout the year (and not just on officially recognised days like today!)
Read more: Mental Resilience
Read more: Psychological safety in the workplace
Here are a few other simple suggestions that can help:
Ensure breaks are diarised and taken, and that a carefully defined work/life balance is maintained. Many of us have fallen into the trap of blurring these boundaries whilst working from home, so encourage your people to guard theirs. Reassure them that it is perfectly acceptable for them to be unavailable outside their usual working hours.
Encourage your people to keep active – “healthy body, healthy mind” and all that. There are loads of fun, community-enhancing activities that can be arranged, encouraging some healthy competition along the way, such as step-count contests, group workouts, team treasure hunts etc.
Consider introducing “my time” sessions where employees get a short spell of uninterrupted and relaxed time with their leader or manager to talk about how things are going for them, any concerns or issues they have, or anything else that they want to share. If in person, away from the office is ideal if a suitable coffee shop with a couple of seats (and a slice of carrot cake?) is available.
Encourage non-work contact – if you have more colleagues working remotely than before, replace those water-cooler chats with online social interactions over Teams, Zoom etc. You could even encourage book, film or TV clubs for people to discuss and dissect their latest favourites!
Our mental health can be fragile, especially when there are so many troubling events happening at home and around the world. The benefits of a robust workforce are clear for all to see. Keeping our employees' wellbeing high in our considerations is the right thing to do - for us, for them and for our businesses.