As lockdown starts to lift, how can you best support your employees’ mental health at work?
The Government’s roadmap out of lockdown remains unclear for UK businesses, with no firm date set for when offices can return to ‘normal’. With that uncertainty and the potential for change on the horizon, many employees may be feeling anxious or concerned.
Views about working from home have shifted dramatically over the past year. A Financial Times survey found that lots of companies are looking at a permanent move to a hybrid model of working. Offices will be used as meeting and collaboration spaces, and everyday work will take place at home. Others have been so bowled over by the advantages of their staff working from home that they don’t intend to return to office working at all.
Some employees will experience anxiety, stress or other mental health concerns about returning to an office. The uncertainty of not knowing what the future of work will look like for them only adds to that.
A Deloitte report ‘Mental health and employers: refreshing the case for investment’ found that the annual cost to UK employers of poor mental health is £45 billion. The report also makes a positive case for employers investing in mental health, with an average return of £5 for every £1 spent.
To help you navigate this uncertain time, we’ve put together some tips from Elevate’s mental health expert, Selina Clarke, to help you support your employees’ mental wellbeing as lockdown restrictions lift.
Listen to what your employees need
The most important starting point is finding out what concerns your employees have, and how you can provide support.
What do they want to retain from their lockdown working set up? Did they find anything hard during that time? What do they miss about the office? Are there any concerns they have about returning?
By offering a chance for all employees to provide their views, and making sure that managers and senior managers really listen, you can work out the best roadmap to support your employees and your business.
Elevate’s mental health expert, Selina Clarke, suggests that all companies “create a wellness action plan in conjunction with staff. Consultation should be undertaken on an individual basis, allowing the staff member to highlight areas where they need more support. The employer can then look at how to accommodate their needs. There should be regular follow ups to see how the plan’s working. It’s a great opportunity to really connect with team members and ensure they feel valued during such a pressured and unstable time.”
Elevate can help you to put this action plan together with our Wellbeing Audit – this comprises of a full employee survey, focus groups and a discovery session with key stakeholders. From this, the Elevate experts will put together a bespoke wellbeing strategy to meet the needs of your company. Get in touch to discuss how we can help.
Try to be flexible about working times and locations as more employees return to the office. “Employees may continue to benefit from having a staggered approach to their day, starting later or earlier to accommodate home life and responsibilities,” Selina points out. Could you offer staff the opportunity to work from home for a couple of days a week, or perhaps shift their working hours to miss the commuter crush?
Some element of work from home is likely to continue well into the summer, and for many companies, it may go beyond. Selina notes that “the employer needs to continue to take the lead on ensuring that there is a clear cut off time for working. It’s much easier to blur the life/work boundaries whilst working from home. This could lead to increased cases of burnout, negative impacts on the individual’s life outside of work, or an increase in work-related mental health issues.”
Ease back in gently to ‘normal’ life
Whilst the move out of lockdown is a welcome step towards normality, it still represents a huge series of changes to our current everyday lives. The majority of UK office workers have worked from home for a year, building up new patterns of behaviour and habits – all of which will be a shock to disrupt!
Making changes incrementally, or asking for volunteers to trial processes, will likely reduce the mental health burden on staff who need time to adapt to this new situation.
In response to the anxiety we’ve been hearing many employees are experiencing about the return to work after lockdown, our co-founder Lucy has designed a session to support everyone through the return to ‘normal’ post lockdown. Find out more about this session by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lead by example
As a leader, try to talk openly about your experiences of lockdown and your concerns about returning to the office. When managers talk openly about their personal mental health and other struggles, team members feel empowered to share their concerns too.
Ensure that you lead your staff in self-care too. If senior management figures are working from home to see their children more often, popping out at lunchtime for a yoga class, or leaving promptly at 5pm to continue with their couch to 5k training plan, that empowers everyone across the company to put self-care on their priority list guilt free.
Start to work wellness into your corporate day, ingraining it into your company’s culture for all employees. If you’d like support with that, get in touch about our corporate wellbeing sessions: https://www.elevateyourhealth.co.uk/contact-us/
Signpost existing wellness resources
Selina suggests that companies “make sure that any existing wellbeing initiatives are accessible and relevant, and that employees are actually aware of them.”
You could create a wellness notice board, send round weekly updates, have a wellness hour once a week, or incorporate signposting to wellness activities into team or 1:1 meetings.
If you feel you may need to offer more support during this time, Selina suggests “expanding your offerings. Or signpost resources from mental health organisations/charities for further information and support.”
If you need support to expand your mental health or wellness training, please do get in touch: https://www.elevateyourhealth.co.uk/contact-us/
We also provide mental health training for companies, to empower staff to advocate for and identify when individuals may need additional support in mental wellness. You can find out more about that and our other services here: https://www.elevateyourhealth.co.uk/what-we-do/