The past few years have seen many traditional taboos broken and developments in the workplace have reflected this, from the introduction of shared paternity leave and the increasing conversation around the impact of the menopause at work.
This year, however, these conversations have slowed down somewhat as the global pandemic took precedent. Focus moved to keeping employees well, supporting home workers who are also home schooling, and supporting employees with their mental health.
Since lockdown, we’ve seen a noticeable rise in stress and anxiety. As we start to return to a more normal work routine these mental health issues, which may have been exacerbated by the pandemic, must be addressed within organisations. More must be done to support those with conditions such as depression or anxiety, as well as those feeling pressure from this difficult time.
Whilst significant progress has been made over time in the understanding and support for mental illness within the workplace, it may come as a surprise that, according to research carried out by wellbeing charity CABA, when it comes to asking for help 70% of the chartered accountants who responded admitted being reluctant to do so. The same number also believe that they should be more self-reliant when dealing with issues. So, whilst the internal infrastructure to support employees is often in place, it’s surprising to see there is a reluctance to use these services. Certainly, within the workplace, asking for help can mean the difference between success and failure, and therefore needs to be encouraged and demonstrated as an open line of communication.
In addition, further research carried out by CABA last year found that 4 in 10 employees were close to breaking point at work, and this was before the pandemic. The big question is therefore: how do businesses create healthy workplace cultures where employees feel safe enough to ask for help?
Here are a few steps designed to help adapt a more positive company culture.
Talk about mental health openly
Lengthy or more frequent exposure to stressful experiences may increase the likelihood of an employee developing a common mental health difficulty such as depression or heightened anxiety. Early opportunities to discuss mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, especially if you’re already concerned about an employee or team will help you to create a culture that talks openly about health issues.
Following the disruption that has faced most organisations this year, and as we settle into a new post-lockdown existence with increased home working and flexibility these regular touch points will become more necessary.
It’s not just battling stress that can be enhanced by asking for help at work, but team performance can also benefit. Having an open and clear dialogue will create a culture of trust among not just employees and their seniors, but also within teams. Companies that endorse and cultivate networks that support mental health may also see positive changes in the number of sick days, and a higher level of productivity as their employees are less likely to suffer from built-up pressures and stresses, thanks to the ability to discuss their issues and receive suitable support from the outset.
Solution-focused and collaborative approach
Employers and employees need a framework that promotes a solution-focused approach. This should provide opportunities to identify difficulties stemming from workplace factors and discuss ways of managing and implementing reasonable, time-limited adjustments. These could be things such as: demands, control, support, relationship, role, and change.
This framework enables individuals and teams to feel included and gives them a voice when considering effective adjustments at work. More importantly, it’s not designed to be a punitive process but provides a space where all parties can move potentially difficult circumstances forward. It also allows employers to monitor whether adjustments and interventions are having the desired effect and reducing the experience of stress at work.
Promotion of support strategies
We know that early intervention is key when supporting employees who may be experiencing difficulties and that it helps them to recover more quickly and stay at work. An open conversation is an ideal opportunity to talk through the various support mechanisms your workplace promotes. This could include counselling and occupational health services to flexible working opportunities and information on any training courses you offer to increase personal confidence and skills-based competency. It will also help you to reassure employees that it’s okay to use these services and how effective they can be.
If you notice an employee whose performance is dropping and whom you might be concerned about, it’s best to try to identify any workplace issues that may be driving difficulties or exacerbating them. Even if an individual’s difficulties are coming from other areas of their life, it’s appropriate to make effective, reasonable adjustments to reduce any unnecessary pressure on them at work. One thing is certain, situations often don’t resolve themselves in isolation and a proactive, supportive approach may just avoid lengthier periods of absence.
Reverting to whatever normal looks like following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will take time, however employees need support now and it’s down to the business to work out how to adapt their working culture for this new environment.
For more tips, tools and resources to help you take care of your mental wellbeing and empower others to do the same, visit https://www.caba.org.uk/help-and-guides and for dedicated Coronavirus support visit https://www.caba.org.uk/coronavirus