As we work from home more, how can we support mental health in the workplace? Jenny Legg advises what to watch out for and how to help.
The public, employers and mental health campaigners are lobbying government to make mental health first aid a legal requirement. The legislation would be an important move towards the essential care that’s needed to support the mental health of employees, which is never more important than in the current circumstances.
You don’t have to wait for the law to take action. But with so many of us working from home, how can you help to ensure your employees and colleagues are supported?
Assess the current threats to emotional wellbeing
An important starting point is to assess and be aware of the current challenges to emotional wellbeing. For example, working from home can be extremely isolating for some. For others, increasing workloads, financial insecurity and having to juggle work and family commitments can build pressure. Some may feel an impending sense of doom or a build-up of anxiety from uncertainty.
What pressures are your colleagues under right now? If you don’t know the answer to that question – ask them. Use their answers to build a risk assessment that addresses their concerns and consider ways to take action to ease the pressures.
Create an open door policy
Talking about mental health is one way to build a culture of mental health support in the workplace. The more openly it’s discussed, the less stigmatised it is and the more likely those who need it will reach out for help.
Having an open-door policy to talk about mental health can help colleagues to feel supported. Without the presence of physical doors in remote working, have an open line on Zoom so that anyone can Zoom when they need you. If someone reaches out by email, call them. Avoid a back and forth by email because tone can be misunderstood. If they’re not ready to talk, ask them for a time that suits them.
Set up regular check-ins with individuals or create a buddy system for colleagues to check in every day. A typical process is checking in at least twice a day to ask how they’re doing and how they are feeling. A weekly team informal team session (such as a Friday afternoon coffee catch up) can also help to reduce feelings of isolation and reduce stress.
You can’t tackle mental health problems until you create a culture where it’s ok to not be ok. It’s important to challenge people who are being obstructive. If you notice unhelpful or negative comments in relation to mental health, don’t just ignore them – call them out.
Put mental health policies in place
Setting out your stance on mental health in writing gives a concrete standpoint from which to support your colleagues. Work policies on mental health can include allowing time off for emotional wellbeing reasons, guidance for line managers on opening up communication, guidance around what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in discussions around mental health and signposting for external organisations that can provide additional support.
Make these policies visible and accessible so that anyone who needs them knows where to find them.
Dedicate time and resource to mental health
The long-term impact of poor mental health is loss of productivity, when employees become less engaged or capable of doing their work, or have to take time out to get better. In the worst situations poor mental health can be catastrophic to the individual and those who know them. It’s essential to dedicate time and resource to support mental health.
One way you can do this is to have a designated mental health first aider in the team. Their role is to act as the first point of contact, providing support and guidance to their colleagues. It can help if this person isn’t a senior member of the team. It’s important that they’re given the time they need to support their colleagues. If someone broke a leg on site, you would expect the first aider to stay with them until help arrived…mental health first aiders should be given the same time.
What to watch out for
The signs of mental health problems are not always as obvious as you might think and working remotely can make them even harder to spot. The following signs could be a cause for action:
A change in character – Are they more grumpy than usual, more irritable or aggressive? Are they less engaged? Do they appear distant?
- A change in behaviour – Have they stopped responding to emails? Is their work pace or quality slipping?
- Camera off – Do they opt for phone calls or have their camera off for meetings, not wanting to be seen?
- Being hungover – Are they turning up hungover? This could be an indication of a reliance on alcohol.
Mental health is an emergency and it needs dealing with right away. If you spot any of these signs, open up the lines of communication and take action.
For businesses looking for more information about how to support mental health, Time to Change is a fantastic resource. If you’re looking to implement mental health first aid in your workplace, I provide recognised training and can help you establish a mental health first aid team. Working from home can feel isolating, but you’re not alone – there’s always somebody who can help you. If you feel like you could use some mental health support, Mind provides excellent support and advice. If you need immediate help, call the Samaritans on 116 123.