Mental Health First Aid During COVID-19 Pandemic

 

Mental health at work is getting more recognised since the World Health Organisation recognised Burnout as an important medical condition, applicable on a global scale. As such, I think that monitoring and maintaining the mental health of employees has become vital to combat burnout and other mental health conditions such as Anxiety or Depression, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Research in 2019 by City & Guild Group found that 94% of workers considered phycological wellbeing to be an important segment of a healthy work culture however only 10% of businesses considered this a priority in their strategies. A recent MEDRXIV survey on the working population of the UK found that over 50% felt they were living a lower quality of life over fears of losing their jobs.

Remote working may be responsible for blurring the lines on who is responsible to provide mental health support to colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic. While I encourage businesses to invest in a professional mental health support service, appointing Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA’s) can be a suitable alternative. These are typically employees who take on the responsibility of spotting signs of poor mental health within their teams and can provide support on a first aid basis – often being someone their colleagues can talk to in confidence about their mental wellbeing. MHFA’s will often gather as much information as they can and signpost colleagues to appropriate sources, should professional support be required.

 

I’ve often found that employers have a significant role to play in maintaining the mental wellbeing of their teams and in recognising how workplace behaviours play into this.

 

Businesses should be equally mindful over employees who have had mental health problems previously, as well as those who think mental health could never affect them. One of the largest concerns over employee mental health, especially to those living alone, is the overwhelming feeling of isolation, or anxieties about loved ones who may be shielding or vulnerable.

Isolation is one of the leading mental health problems amongst UK employees, which impacts directly on their ability to be productive. Mental Health Foundation research found that a quarter of UK adults have felt lonely over lockdown or unable to live their daily lives, which includes visiting others. In light of this, I encourage businesses to reimagine how they can help their staff engage with one another.

 

Reducing the Chances of Burnout and Stress

Scheduling regular calls or group conferences can be a simple and cost effective way of maintaining an employee’s wellbeing. A ‘virtual water cooler’ strategy is commonplace amongst many young businesses, which creates an online space for employees to drop in and out of, for the simple purpose of socialising as they would in the office while making a drink.

Non work-related activities can also reduce the chances of burnout while encouraging communication between staff. Activities that encourage wellbeing or hobby sharing can provide great optics for businesses that wish to be seen to support the communal nature of their workplace culture. Below are our suggestions for such activities:

  • Virtual Bake-off’s
  • Virtual Tea parties
  • Craft sharing lessons
  • Virtual exercise classes
  • Watch parties for films or concerts

As far as what businesses can do to support the wellbeing of their teams, I don’t think the answer is ever ‘one size fits all’ response, as individual workplace culture largely plays into this - but I do encourage employers to support and manage their teams with compassion and generosity.

 

Managers should be set up to communicate and be attuned to the needs of their workers. They should be clear on what needs to be done whilst working from home, but also what doesn’t need to be done.

 

As always, empathy and understanding goes a long way in maintaining morale, managers should make an effort to understand the circumstances that each of their employees are living under, to effectively accommodate their work to suit this.

Well-known companies such as Google and Twitter have implemented measures such as giving out extra holidays and sustaining their work from home strategy for the foreseeable future. There is also a large emphasis on not fostering an ‘us vs them’ culture – whereby workforces socially self-segregate into furlough groups, disability groups or age groups.

I advise that a healthy balance between comms, adaptability and transparency over disruptions to the workplace, paired with an investment into mental health support, can provide a proactive approach to maintaining morale over the uncertain times ahead of the pandemic. Mental Wellbeing Strategies are a well observed aspect of a company’s reputation and can be an opportunity to showcase how an organisation cares for its employees. So, have individual conversation with employees about their needs and be prepared to be flexible and empathetic. Don’t take a broad brushstroke to mental health – operate via a case by case basis and treat employees with the individualism they deserve.

If you require support around maintaining mental health, or if you want to find out how Amica HR can work in partnership with you to benefit your business, you can contact a member of the team on 01522 370190 or send an email to info@amicahr.co.uk .

 

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