On Thursday 19th March, we left our office with our laptops and phones, and we never went back. Our company had planned a ‘resilience’ day on the Friday to test whether our remote working systems would stand up to all staff working from home. By the Sunday, the government had announced the new lockdown measures and 4 months later we are still at home.
The world has changed the way it is working in those 4 short months. We have quickly adapted to working remotely, meeting online and communicating in different ways. We have learned to juggle work, home life, and home-schooling. As lockdown measures are eased, and we have to adapt again, what have we learned and what resources can we draw on to take into the ‘new normal’ to keep ourselves mentally healthy?
Employers have a huge role to play in keeping their staff safe during these challenging times. Here are some tips on what they can do:
Thank them for getting through these tough periods, show them you are there for them and ask them what they need.
You need to know how they are feeling and what support they need to really look after them. Every member of staff will have different situations, be feeling different about life, both what has happened and how life will be going forward. Some may be stressed, bereaved or fearful of returning to work or going on public transport. Some may have developed mental ill-health during the pandemic, others with existing conditions may be feeling worse – or in some cases prefer working in the conditions created by the lockdown.
There may be some common themes which can be addressed as an organisation such a new working at home arrangements, or there may be specific things that individual staff need support for, such as working around childcare.
There are many things that an organisation can do to support their staff. At a strategic level, putting in place a culture of openness and support is vital. This will enable staff to talk about the challenges they are facing, how they are feeling and to access appropriate support.
What sort of support does the staff have access to through your organisation? Does it meet the needs that the staff have discussed?
Everyone is different and has different needs therefore it is important to have a range of support measures in place to meet them. Some of these may be formal measures and may require investment. Others can be simple, effective and free.
Many organisations offer an employee assistance programme which offers a range of support for employees including counselling, health advice, debt advice and so on.
You can provide information to signpost other organisations that provide support such as doctors, helplines or a union.
We do know that talking can be a great relief when people have problems. Employers can encourage this through informal events which allow staff to get together for a catch-up and a chat, or more formally by training mental health first aiders in the workplace.
You can train your staff, particularly managers, in understanding how to manage someone who is having mental health problems. This will help them identify who needs support, and actually provide that support, whether this is direct support or referring to a more appropriate source.
Are these policies still relevant to the post-COVID world and the way your organisation needs to work?
Many companies and staff are now working more flexibly and more remotely. Some have found that this has great benefits for them.
Your organisation may never completely return to how you worked before. Are your new ways of working productive and healthy?
Many of us have become regular users of video conferencing for the first time, but some people find them exhausting, or miss the face to face connection with people. Think about how you might limit the number of hours of screen time employees has whilst still being connected and productive. Maybe replace a video call with a phone call or you might encourage people to turn off the camera option to limit the overstimulation of the senses.
Isolation can cause anxiety – can you find ways to build in connection and team bonding. These do not have to be formal meetings but get-togethers to replace the water-cooler chats.
Whilst looking after others in your organisation is important you cannot do this effectively without looking after yourself.
There are 5 key things that you can do to look after your own mental wellbeing, and they are just as relevant in the new normal, as before, but you may just need to adapt how you apply them.
Neil Peters is the founder of Nuthatch Consultants, a suicide prevention consultancy. Neil is suicide prevention and mental health expert, with a 20-year career spanning the commercial and charity sector. Most recently Neil has led the award-winning suicide prevention on the railway programme for Samaritans in partnership with Network Rail in the UK.
Neil launched Nuthatch to support organisations with suicide prevention, mental health and wellbeing advice and consultancy. He works with organisations to help write or review their suicide prevention strategies, review their wellbeing policies and provide support across a range of topics in these areas.