A recent survey by Mind, the mental health charity, found that 35% of employed people described their mental health as poor or very poor, and that they were anxious about returning to work.
As a result, 30 businesses, including Barclays and National Grid, have signed a commitment pledging to put “employee mental health at the heart of returning to work”.
At Ballou, we have been very aware of the effect of COVID-19 on our team, and as a result have put as many safeguards as possible in place, including access to mental health counselling for employees and their partners.
These measures are what we have found most helpful to employees.
If your team is still working remotely then a morning Zoom check-in gets everyone on the right track. Although some managers feel it may be intrusive, we’ve found that our staff appreciate it as it’s relaxed and casual, and the kind of “hey, how are you doing” that would happen if you walked past someone’s desk clutching your morning coffee. Anxiety can build up overnight, so a morning check-in allows people to get things back in perspective and feel less alone.
We also provide an optional end of the day round-up, if anyone feels they want to get closure on their day. The danger with working from home is that the delineation between working hours and downtime can become very blurred, so an end of the day round down and goodbye allows people to close the working day down formally and get on with their home lives.
Provide mental health counselling
However supportive you are to your employees, a neutral professional counselling service can offer solid, effective help in time of need.
Staff on furlough
If you have yet to bring back furloughed staff, make sure they are kept updated with any developments (not task or project news, just company news) and invite them to any social events that may happen. They are still part of the team and there should be no embarrassment in involving them in out of office team activities.
The situation globally and domestically seems to change on an hourly basis at the moment. Presumptions and suppositions are rife on social media, government policy is changing constantly and we’re all trying desperately to pin down the facts. Make sure as an employer that you are not adding to the chatter. Try and combine reassurance with realism – no empty promises but no doom or gloom either.
If you have international offices (Ballou has offices across Europe) make sure that global cross-communication is still part of everyday life. The situation can feel claustrophobic and isolation can contribute to anxiety, as can the feeling that your network is shrinking. Zoom socials across countries can reassure people that their network still exists (and so does the rest of the world).
If you notice a change in behaviour of a member of staff, don’t waste any time in making a gentle enquiry. If they’re fine, they will appreciate the care, and if they are struggling it is an opportunity to talk and address the issue. There is no one set of behaviours that immediately indicate someone is finding the situation challenging, but the biggest indicator is a change in behaviour. Someone normally ebullient who is subdued, someone who suddenly appears very forgetful or is struggling to make work decisions; it’s rather like the Underground announcements. ‘If you see something, say something’.
Create a gentle culture
If you, as a manager, present as superhuman and impervious to stress or worry then you create a culture that means anything less than that is unwanted and inconvenient. Some managers can feel that they have to put up a strong front to help their staff feel protected and safe but if that is overdone it can make it hard for those feeling vulnerable to express themselves. There is a happy medium in which senior managers can be open about what they are finding challenging without making their team feel anxious.
The way forward
Although it’s happened under terrible circumstances, this is an opportunity for businesses to step up in their awareness of mental health. It is profoundly positive to see that British business is now taking psychological safety as seriously as it does physical safety.