Prioritising, monitoring and supporting people’s wellbeing at work is paramount. That doesn’t change in the midst of a pandemic. If anything, it becomes all the more important. The workplace is a huge part of our everyday life, so when critical aspects of that change it can be really overwhelming.
Even pre-Covid-19, the facts and stats around stress, anxiety and depression at work were a concern, accounting for 44% of work-related ill health issues and 54% of working days lost. Amidst a global pandemic, the evidence suggests it is nothing other than a bigger problem than it was before. Whilst lockdown sparked new creativity, awareness and home workouts for many, it equally brought with it stress, loss, disconnection, financial pressures, bereavement and more. Just two weeks into lockdown, employees around the country were already reporting negative impacts on mental health and overall wellbeing.
Why is wellbeing at work important?
The mental health conversation is typically not the easiest thing to approach in the workplace. Although the spotlight on wellbeing has been getting stronger, many workplaces still have a way to go in addressing it. Poor workplace wellbeing can cause real problems such as absenteeism, presenteeism, low productivity and possible conflict, so it is certainly a conversation deserving of attention.
Employers and team leaders should be aware that work can have a great impact on our mental health and overall wellbeing. We spend a lot of time working – maybe even more so when working from home. When we’re confined to our homes, it can be easy to throw the all-important work-life balance off by sneaking in an extra hour’s work here and there and failing to take a good break at lunchtime. Members of the team may become burnt out by working too many hours, they may be suffering from loneliness due to self-isolation and social distancing, or perhaps the fear of catching the virus is strongly affecting their day-to-day lives. As much as we may be looking out for our own mental health and wellbeing right now, as a manager, leader, colleague and team member, it’s important to look out for other people’s too.
So, what signs can we try and pick up on (even whilst remote working) that a colleague may not be feeling quite right?
- Reduced motivation
- Feeling withdrawn and not communicating
- Working long hours or not taking breaks
- Putting off making decisions
- Emotional volatility
- Increased absence or lateness
- Uncharacteristic performance issues
Of course, any one of these signs may not mean that a colleague or member of your team is suffering from poor mental health or a wellbeing issue. It’s important not to jump to conclusions. Instead, be on the lookout for these symptoms and treat them as a prompt to start a conversation to check in and see how someone is doing.
Checking in on your team is one of the most important ways to support wellbeing. Communicating is a huge part of our everyday lives and during the Covid-19 pandemic when many people are working remotely or even furloughed, it’s easy for this communication to be left by the wayside.
Try and rebuild that human connection that comes naturally in a work environment; chatting about your weekend over morning coffee, discussing what you’re having for lunch and general chit chat. Whether that be via email or an instant messaging platform, try and keep ‘normal’ and non-work-related conversations going. It may have a bigger impact than you could imagine.
Similarly, try and bring employees together virtually when possible. Whether that is for regular work-related meetings, informal catchups or games and quizzes. Keep furloughed staff involved and in the loop as much as possible to avoid feelings of being cut off and left behind. It’s also important to address Covid-19 and its impact on us directly. Don’t be afraid to normalise the conversation around this and let your team know that you are here to support them during this strange time.
Set an example
If you can’t look after yourself, how can you support others? Not only is it vital to support yourself mentally, but it’s also vital to set an example of doing so to your team. Leaders, managers and people in a position of power within the workplace can encourage their workforce to address and handle their own wellbeing by being a good role model.
Be open and share how you are looking after yourself during this time; whether that is going for a walk at lunchtime, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and prioritising your physical health, taking regular breaks away from your screen or by organising virtual wellbeing activities for your team to take part in. The more people do this, the more ‘normal’ and an accepted part of the workplace culture it becomes.
The chances are that many people on your team will want to be open and honest about their feelings, but perhaps don’t feel like work is an appropriate place to do this. Create permission for your team to speak out and encourage people to seek help if they need it.
So, apart from communicating and setting a good example, how exactly do you support a workforce’s wellbeing? One way is by making yourself available. Make sure that people know during this pandemic (and beyond) that they can come to you with any fears, questions and personal issues if they need to. Be there to reassure them and if you can offer a solution, do what you can.
However, it’s not always about fixing the problem. More often than not, a person simply wants to be heard, listened to and understood. Sometimes, just listening is enough. It’s not always easy for someone to open up, however, which is why routinely checking in to see how people are doing is vital. Ask direct questions such as, ‘how are you managing?’ or ‘what would you most like support with at the moment?’. Invite a conversation and create a safe and relaxed environment for someone to open up if they want to.
You might feel that simply talking it through with you or another member of the team won’t be enough for someone. Perhaps they do not feel comfortable discussing personal issues with someone at work. If you think that someone is struggling with stress, anxiety or depression and you feel out of your depth in trying to help, then it is helpful to know how to signpost further support.
Firstly, ensure that all members of the team know how to get in touch with your HR department if applicable. Secondly, try putting together a small database of organisations, websites and materials for people to access if they feel they need to. We have included some useful websites at the bottom of this article that you might find useful.
68% of people are unaware of what support services are available to them, and 81% of people admit that the negative stigma around mental health problems delays or stops them from seeking support. The workplace can be an effective place to spot the signs of someone struggling and signposting them to the right intervention.
Wellbeing activities in the workplace
Aside from reactively picking up on signals and having conversations with employees either at work or remotely, there are things that every workplace can be doing proactively to encourage wellbeing and to keep a workforce happy and healthy. Here are a few suggestions:
- Introduce a buddy system where an inexperienced worker is partnered with someone more experienced. A buddy system helps to provide support and monitor stress.
- Initiate work breaks and encourage people to take time out together to connect.
- Adopt truly flexible working so that team members can take control of their work-life balance. This is particularly useful for anyone who is going through a stressful time, as they can prioritise accordingly. Remember, you can assess someone’s performance in ‘outcome’ terms rather than by presenteeism.
- Introduce regular social support sessions. This could be a communal virtual team lunch to discuss any concerns in and out of work, particularly relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Share information on self-care strategies such as mindfulness and stretches.
- Sign up to a great little App called T-cup. Download for free online or check out their website at www.tcup.co.uk. This brilliant system allows you and your team to track and monitor your health, happiness and success by getting you to answer 9 simple questions, focused on things like eating habits, stress, sleep, relationships, hydration, exercise and work and life goals. Each day you can e-journal your thoughts and feelings within the App, assessing whether things are improving, static or dipping. With handy hints and tips accompanying every entry, it’s a perfect way to allow individuals to reflect on how they are doing – as well as encouraging team conversations if you sign-up on subscription for the full package with anonymised analytics.
The Covid-19 pandemic is the largest professional disruption in living memory, so is likely to have changed the way we look at wellness in the workplace forever. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by to create a wholly authentic and inclusive workplace culture that your team will want to be a part of. This psychological safety brings people together, as we navigate the ‘new normal’ of the working world.
Citizens Advice – provides free, independent information and advice for people on money, legal, consumer, housing and other problems.
Gov.uk – the first point of contact for information on all government services, including money, tax, benefits, disability, employment and carers’ rights.
Men’s Health Forum – provides free, independent health information focusing on male health issues, including men’s mental health.
Action for Happiness – a not-for-profit creating a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society. This website provides many resources and evidence-based ideas for actions we can take to feel happier and help to reduce and prevent mental ill health in our workplaces and communities.
Mind – provides a wide range of services relating to mental health, including information, support and research.
Food for the Brain – a charitable foundation raising awareness of the importance of optimum nutrition in mental health. They inform organisations to empower individuals to change their diet and lifestyle and take greater control of their own mental health.
STEM4 – aims to improve teenage mental health by stemming commonly occurring mental health issues at an early stage.
Headspace – an app based around teaching mindfulness meditation principles to improve wellbeing.
Moodpanda – an app allowing people to track their moods.