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    How to support employees returning to the workplace

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    The roadmap out of lockdown has been revealed. It’s a great step in the right direction but life as we knew it has changed, with nearly 50% of the population struggling with their mental health. How do we support ourselves and our colleagues through this transition back to the workplace? Leading psychotherapist and founder of mental wellness education platform www.headucate.me, Mark Newey, gives us his advice…

    There has never been a better time to introduce a more proactive, rather than reactive, approach to mental health. Currently we wait until somebody is really struggling and then, despite the stigma, expect them to put their hand up for help, whereupon we get them to medicate or manage their symptoms. We know that prevention is better than cure, so how do we engage everyone in the workplace to understand, nurture, and celebrate their mental wellness? Never has that been more important than in our return to work after a year of lockdowns.

    Introducing Mental Wellness Education (MWE)
    Mental wellness is about being more conscious and aware about the way we live and behave and is the key to the five issues outlined below. Learning how to be mentally well can transform the lives of the majority of those who are struggling with any issues from lockdown and the return to work. Mental wellness education allows people to understand how their mind works, how they create stress, anxiety and depression and therefore how to beat and avoid them.

    1. We need practical advice on how to deal with raised anxiety levels as staff return. The key is understanding that anxiety in abnormal circumstances is in fact normal! It’s your system operating correctly: we should get anxiety in these situations. We then need to accept the anxiety, manage it rather than try to avoid it.
    2. Sleeping patterns will have been disrupted for many in lockdown. It is crucial to have a routine for going to bed: we should switch screens off a good hour before getting into bed; reading a book is an excellent way to calm the mind down. A hot milk drink definitely helps, as does a hot bath.
    3. Concentration levels are going to be difficult to maintain, especially to start with. It is essential to help staff build a routine back into the working day and to encourage them to take a break from the screen every hour. There should be no ‘tutting’ about time spent chatting at the coffee machine!
    4. With little or no social contact for a year, many people’s self-esteem is likely to have taken a hit over lockdown. Companies should create an immediate culture of talking openly about stress, anxiety and depression. Managers should lead from the front and reveal how they struggled.
    5. The lack of social contact also means that many will have lost some of the art of having a conversation; they may find it more difficult to concentrate on what somebody is saying and will find it easier to misunderstand them and even take offence. We all need to be mindful of this and make an extra effort to be tolerant.

    The key to a successful return to the workplace will be consciously allowing things to be different to the way they were a year ago and maintain little or no expectation that things will just ‘go back to normal’. It means having a more tolerant and compassionate culture with an emphasis of ‘we’re all in this together’. 2021 is the time to invest in the proactive mental wellness for employees.

    For more information about mental wellness education, visit www.headucate.me/business.

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