How to health check the mental wellbeing of your employees
2021 has marked a return to work that is more difficult than many other years. Despite business leaders determined to start the year in a positive way, the sentiment is undeniably more sombre than previous years. There is cautious optimism for a better year ahead, trepidation, uncertainty and - absolutely - some fear. One thing that stands out is the individual and collective need to look after the health of you and your people, especially when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.
Last year, we interviewed 1,008 non-furloughed employees as part of our 2020 report into mental wellbeing in the workplace: 40% admitted that they had taken time off work for a mental health problem. The development of the pandemic and its related uncertainty has the potential to push this figure upwards - which is where organisational change for better mental wellbeing can really help. It follows that recent research conducted by HR software experts PayFit found that 42% of employees have a new year’s resolution to lessen their stress at work!
To introduce better mental wellbeing practices in your workplace, we suggest a mental wellbeing checklist, which can be broken down into several measures for success. Our checklist features examples of things we have implemented at Benenden Health, along with suggestions that have come out of our research. These approaches can apply to your people, your managers and yourself, in improving everyone’s mental wellbeing.
A mental health and wellbeing strategy is a great basis to start from, when considering which approaches to adopt as you strive for better organisational mental health. A strategy can take some time to develop, however, if that isn’t something you have fully in place yet, you could look at supporting your employees through a health and wellbeing provider. Tailored to your organisation, yet deployed rapidly, the health and wellbeing provision from a partner will allow you to offer a reassuring and compelling wellbeing programme to your employees, without adding to your to-do list.
Below are some approaches to improving the mental health and wellbeing of your organisation, which we have tried and tested. They all work to deliver your health and wellbeing strategy - but if bringing in a health and wellbeing provider is the right approach for your business, please do contact us. For just £11.90 per employee per month, we offer wellbeing support from a mental health helpline through to private treatment and diagnostic for physical and mental concerns.
1. Make flexibility equate to better mental wellbeing
When it comes to flexibility, employers have never been in a better position to show their team that a flexible pattern to working can work very well, provided that everyone is on board with meeting key deliverables and “showing up” for core meetings. In many (but not all) scenarios, technology makes this possible: collaboration boards such as Asana and project management offerings such as Basecamp allow teams to contribute to a project, picking up a thread quite easily between colleagues without the need for them to all be together in a given moment.
For those on-site or on the road, bring the team together via video calls at mutually agreed “core hours,” when everyone is working within the business. This helps to keep morale high and, on a practical level, allows everyone to have a grasp of the bigger picture.
2. Keep an eye firmly on work-life balance.
In offering your people flexibility, you should open up conversations around work-life balance. It’s inevitable that important work must be completed: this has to align with a planning schedule that gives each team member a manageable amount of work; ensuring that your team is fulfilled and working profitably whilst avoiding burnout. For those who are reporting into a line manager, it can be reassuring to remind them that a flexible day is still just one day: in doing so, you can counter any concern that employees need to be doing more than they were to be seen and heard.
Encourage managers to keep an open forum open for teams to talk to them about workload, whether that’s a dedicated channel on your work’s messenger facility or a core hour where they ask for feedback on planned work. Remember to consider the needs of all employees, whether they are working remotely, on-site or in field-based jobs - and identify those who might need more regular check-ins than before.
3. Remember the importance of ergonomics
To ensure that workplace conditions are appropriate, it’s important to look at physical home working environments. Chronic back pain is on the rise in the wake of the pandemic, and burnout itself can be linked to less-than-ergonomic conditions that make working less comfortable, more arduous and therefore add time to tasks that were easier at a risk-assessed workstation. You can of course offer your employees risk assessments of their home working station and, if budget allows, provide deliverable aids to support posture, such as footrests, wrist rests and laptop stands.
If working from home, or on-site where your working station has changed, you should start to consider your conditions as being for a longer term than any of us have perhaps done up until now. This may shift the dial on what you consider acceptable “just for now,” and make you reassess the level of working comfort you need to thrive.
4. Introduce Wellness Action Plans for everyone
Wellness Action Plans are handy tools to implement for everyone, all the way up to board level. The plan lays out a framework for the individual to identify triggers for poor mental health or wellbeing, be that episodic or long term. Once identified, the plan can be built out to detail ways around these triggers, noting personal escalation points for tougher times and elaborating on coping strategies.
The Wellness Action Plan is much more than a piece of paper: its completion puts the individual in the driving seat of their wellbeing, empowering them to make healthier decisions when it comes to their working day, whether that is home, office or field-based. It can really open up honest conversations with managers.
5. Enlist the support of Mental Health First Aiders and advocates
Enlisting the help of advocates or champions is so powerful: people within your team who want to talk openly about their experience of mental health and act as a role model for openness. These people may be conversation starters or natural Mental Health First Aiders: friendly yet trained colleagues who others can turn to as a first port of call when things aren’t right.
6. Equip your managers for conversations around mental wellbeing
For great organisational mental wellbeing, the next step is to upskill all managers with the knowledge and confidence to detect signs of poor mental health and wellbeing. If your people feel that they can talk to their managers without fear of judgement, you will develop greater transparency around the cause of absences, the best way to help someone experiencing poor mental wellbeing and valuable feedback on what is and isn’t working.
7. Make it easy for people to talk about how they are feeling
Some employees will open up easily to somebody face-to-face (if guidance permits) or on a video call; whilst others will want to communicate their feelings via digital platforms. Creating possibilities to talk in real-time via IM (e.g. private Slack or Yammer channels) or to write down more considered messages to a dedicated email will ensure that the conversation is accessible to more and more people.
8. Tweak your on-boarding Experience for new recruits
Lockdown recruits are a fact of 2020 and 2021, and they require a robust induction to thrive. This includes signposting to the tools and support in place to look after their physical and mental wellbeing. This is a really good opportunity to set the tone with your new talent that their wellbeing is important to you.
As part of our Benenden Health for business proposition, we provide presentations that you can use to demonstrate the help that your team can tap into on a self-serve basis, again empowering them to take care of their wellbeing. Having this sort of conversation at the induction stage tells your new recruits that you care, whilst normalising dialogue around mental wellbeing.
9. Use reporting for good
Humanising the data from your employee reports is always a good thing. Encourage everyone to speak up if they are absent for mental health concerns. This is something we understand hasn’t typically been the case with the UK workforce: our report found that more than half of our respondent’s mental health days had been logged as physical sick leave, for fear of scrutiny or repercussions.
Break down barriers by explaining why transparency is key: if someone can tell you that their absence relates to their mental wellbeing, you can support them far differently to someone reporting in for physical sickness. This is where you will see the benefit from time and effort in equipping your managers to tackle conversations around mental health and wellbeing with their teams.
10. Revise your employee engagement surveys
Bolstering your employee surveys to look beyond questions about job role and performance can help to build this far richer and more transparent picture around the overall health of your organisation’s mental wellbeing. Mental wellbeing affects and is affected by the above, so it’s natural for a survey to ask your team if and when work has impacted on their wellbeing, both positively and negatively. From here, you can make the most impactful changes, based on meaningful data.
The path to achieving this imperative change can be broken down into stages, dependent on where you feel your organisation currently is. The good news is that there’s never been a better time to look after yourself and your people, and you don’t have to do it alone. Contact us today to discover how we can fasttrack your company to a healthier and happier workforce with Benenden Health for business. We are holistic in our approach, and this is reflected by a package that looks after physical and mental wellbeing, at a price you can afford: just £11.90 per employee per month.
Forbes predicts that 2021 will see the rise of compassionate leadership, as remote working becomes commonplace, the spotlight is thrust onto employee mental health and individual priorities shift to privilege wellbeing over any other perceived organisational benefit. Compassionate leaders can be as kind to themselves as they are their teams - and, just maybe, under these circumstances organisations can thrive, regardless of COVID-19.
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