Mental health in the workplace - what's next?

Richard Martin

22

June

2021

We all know the pandemic and the changes it has caused have, at times at least, challenged our mental health. As we have endured successive waves and variants of the virus, there has been a growing crisis around mental illness.

It is great that many employers have responded with training and other supports and we have been really pleased to help with this. Many clients are asking us what to do now, and so we thought we would share our thoughts.

A critical thing that all employers should be doing with their people at the moment is making time to talk to them about how they are doing and how they are feeling about the current situation and the prospect of a return to workplaces at some stage over the coming months. We have run a lot of sessions with clients around these conversations, developing empathy and listening skills, but also providing a safe place in the moment for people to reflect and share how they are doing. This is a helpful exercise in itself on so many levels for the individual and those they are talking to, but it also can give the employer important insights to take into account as it plans for the coming months.

Another key area of our work, both generally and in the context of ongoing change to our working patterns, continues to be looking at the ways in which we work day to day and trying to be more mindful of the impact we have on each other, to create the psychological safety to talk about that and to work on ways in which we address some of the unnecessary causes of stress. This at the heart of our work with the Mindful Business Charter but we have also run a number of workshops within organisations and teams looking to create real and lasting change in the ways in which they work together – challenging assumptions and cultural norms, refusing to accept that the ways things are is the way things have to be.

In even the most open and safe working environments, speaking up when there is an issue can be daunting. We have developed sessions that help give all staff the courage and tools to reach out when they need to. Alongside these sessions is the training we deliver to managers to help them be more aware of issues in their teams, to walk confidently towards those issues and to have better quality conversations with their team members around mental health and wellbeing.

Absence relating to mental illness is increasing – partly as a result of the pandemic but partly perhaps because people are more willing to talk about the fact they are struggling. We run sessions with line managers and with HR around managing mental health related absence, thinking practically as well as within the legal framework about what to do support an absent employee and facilitate their return to the workplace (virtual or otherwise).

Sadly, for some people the combination of the pandemic, lockdown, isolation and more has caused a real crisis in their mental health. Equipping people to be able to support someone in a crisis is hugely important. We continue to run crisis communication and suicide awareness sessions for HR teams. Now is also a good time to think about your mental health first aiders or champions – do you have enough trained, do they need some refresher training, do they need some support, are they well signposted and are people finding them in this virtual world?

Awareness around mental health remains a key starting point for any programme of mental health training. We know that many organisations will have run this sort of training in the past but it might be worth running some catch up sessions for new staff, for those that missed it last time and for those who could do with a reminder – we all need that from time to time! We have also developed an eLearning module which is a good way to recall and refresh previous live training.

Resilience building remains as critical as ever and remote and hybrid working create their own challenges in this regard. Our training sessions also offer an opportunity for staff to share ideas and make commitments to each other about what they are going to do to look after their own wellbeing. And, again, we can provide an eLearning version to reinforce live training.

Beyond training

Alongside training, now would be a really good time to find out from your people just how they are and to think strategically about what your wellbeing priorities should be over the coming months as a result. We have developed an approach to this research and are uniquely well placed to help formulate a strategy.  

So there are many ways to keep the spotlight on mental health as we progress through the challenges ahead – it is going to be hard and we all need to take care of ourselves but also of those around us. If you would like to talk to us about any aspect of our work in this area then please do contact me or any member of the mental health team:

rachael.forsberg@byrnedean.com

alison.best@byrnedean.com

mark.ogrady@byrnedean.com

richard.martin@byrnedean.com

And if you are thinking about the broader challenges around returning to the workplace and haven’t seen it already, check out Our thinking and a recent webinar Facing the future - hybrid work