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How to support the mental health of your managers during COVID-19

COVID-19 has shaken the business world both commercially and culturally. Experts predicted a sharp spike in mental health crises at the outset of the pandemic, and the charity Rethink has since revealed that 2.3 million people visited their website in the six months following the first lockdown announcement.

Newly deployed remote and flexible working strategies have seen business owners and managers face unprecedented logistic, financial and emotional challenges - with the toll leaving its mark on leaders, too. Our recent report into mental wellbeing in the workplace saw 48% of 1,003 employers admit that they had been affected by the impact of COVID-19 on their teams and businesses, 19% of whom were experiencing poor mental wellbeing for the first time.

What learnings can managers take to keep themselves and their teams well as government guidance evolves and the pandemic continues to take new twists and turns?

Support the mental health of your managers from the top down

Cultural setting comes from the top down - and this is especially true when it comes to openness around discussing mental health and wellbeing. You can have all of the “infrastructure” in place to outwardly support your team, but everything will fall short in the absence of genuine encouragement to talk about mental wellbeing and seek help when required.

Conversely, you may have a smaller budget for mental health support resources and this can work brilliantly if an honest culture is fostered. Here are some powerful ways to deploy a healthier, remote working environment for everyone involved.

Be a mental health role model

As The HR Director explains, demonstrating empathy, rather than sympathy, goes a long way to maintaining healthy conversations around mental wellbeing. Introducing Mental Health Role Models is a great way to do this.The Mental Health Role Model (or, indeed, Role Models) would be someone in a senior position, who can talk to their team on a level that resonates with them. Much of their openness will perhaps stem from a place of wishing they had a similar role model when they were more junior.

In sharing experiences and encouraging empathy, a wall comes down between a manager and their team. This should inherently feel less burdensome to managers, whose additional “hat” should see them talk more candidly about their own challenges on a day to day basis. Ultimately, this is what it means to set, live and breathe a positive culture from the top down.

Use HR to help support managers with their mental health

Your company may be large enough to warrant a dedicated HR function; you may have an outsource function; or it may fall to the office manager. In any of these scenarios, your HR representative can be an ally for your team, repositioning themselves as a go-to for those in crisis. Sharing the load that comes with looking after the emotional wellbeing of everyone in the business will provide stressed out managers and business owners with some respite as well.

Of course, every HR representative is human, too, so it’s crucial to help them with what will be an increased pressure on their workload and a new string to their bow that will be emotionally taxing. They will need tools and resources to point employees towards, along with appropriate training to handle emotionally-charged conversations. They will be happier in their duties for this preparatory work and their input will hugely benefit your entire team in turn.

Not everyone will be comfortable approaching HR when it comes to discussing their mental wellbeing; which leads us onto our next suggestion...

Introduce Mental Health First Aiders

With appropriate training, a number of your team can become Mental Health First Aiders. This will hopefully ensure that everyone has someone they feel they can turn to when it matters the most.

Using Mental Health First Aiders is a tactic we deployed around three years ago at Benenden Health. Initially, each of our Mental First Aiders was busy, yet as time has gone on, as part of instilling a culture of openness, their roles have become less pronounced: everyone feels more able to discuss mental wellbeing with their peers, managers and whoever they feel most comfortable to approach.

Encourage honesty around sick days

The question of sick days came up quite prominently in our most recent report into mental wellbeing in the workplace. More than 1 in 2 of the 1,008 employees we surveyed admitted to covering up the reason behind absenteeism when it related to mental health. With the majority of our workforce still working from home, sick days may - on the face of it - be vastly reduced, however the problem is much more entrenched than that. Large periods of down time and a lack of engagement with work and colleagues all amount to the same thing: time off due to escalating mental health crises.

Encouraging honesty around absence or down time on the job really does work for everyone involved: it continues to foster a genuinely open culture, whilst giving you much more visibility over problems. Only when your team feels comfortable in telling you the real reason behind absenteeism will you be able to meet their needs, offer appropriate support and genuinely reduced cases of poor mental wellbeing.

This works both ways, of course! An honest and open workplace culture can and should see your senior team take periodic wellbeing days off, to block out time away from emails and telephone calls as a reset to the communications “creep” that is all too common in our working lives, particularly when working from home.

​Introduce a healthcare benefit

A healthcare benefit works on so many levels for you and your team when it comes to keeping everyone feeling well. Our own Benenden Health for Business proposition is affordable and offers physical and mental health support from day one. Making this sort of investment in your team makes a significant impact on dealing with mental wellbeing concerns in several ways:

  • Your team feels valued with the introduction of a benefit designed to support their needs.

  • Your team is far more likely to access the support they need when it is offered in a professional, non-vested capacity.

  • The pressure is taken off your shoulders, with expert diagnostic and treatment support that is just a phone call away.

  • The membership is as much for you and your leadership team to use as it is for the rest of your team.

Getting set up with corporate healthcare may seem like another daunting task on the list, so we have developed an approach that involves very little admin for you: there are no medical questionnaires, nor any exemptions on pre-existing health conditions - and the cost is fixed at £11.50 per employee per month.

Sufficient signposting

Something we do a little differently at Benenden Health sees us helping our clients to make their team aware of - and comfortable in accessing - our services. We don’t just do this at the on-boarding stage, but throughout our partnership with our clients. Signposting requires a multi-faceted approach to genuinely make a difference; from more formal presentations to leave-behind leaflets, and intranet collateral to informal social media assets. The aim is to ensure that your employees fully adopt the benefits that healthcare for business has for them, from physical health diagnostics and treatment, through to mental health support. After all, the two are inextricably linked.

Working in partnership with your healthcare provider in this way will encourage all managers and leaders to be aware of the support on offer: healthcare should be for all members of the team.

It’s not all on you

Benenden Health is here to give your business the ability to offer affordable, high quality private healthcare to every single one of your employees. This includes access to round-the-clock care, including a 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, as well as mental health counselling support; so that everyone in your business can be reassured that they can ask for our help whenever they need it. Please do feel free to give us a call on 0800 252 0628 to discuss how we can help develop your mental wellbeing strategy during these challenging times.

Find out how Benenden Healthcare for Business could support your employees:

Got a question and want to know more? Call us FREE on 0800 414 8179.