Mental health is more than just one day

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World Mental Health Awareness Day falls in October, and there is a growing flurry of activity online each year as individuals, brands and organizations share messages of compassion and support towards smashing the stigma around mental health.

Current research shows that employees require more structured support when it comes to their wellbeing, particularly due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, what can be done to ensure that mental health is part of a company’s overall strategic business plan, with real actionable commitment, rather than a one-off annual event?

What the research is saying

When it comes to employee wellbeing, and more specifically the state of their mental health during the current COVID-19 pandemic, things look bleak. Of the many ripple effects the pandemic has had on healthcare, the increase in mental health issues linked to the events of 2020 is perhaps one of the farthest reaching.

According to figures released in August 2020 by the UK’s Office for National Statistics, the number of adults likely experiencing some form of depression had almost doubled from 9.7% before the COVID-19 pandemic, (July 2019 – March 2020) to 19.2% in June 2020. Looking more specifically to healthcare, a recent YouGov survey reported that key workers are struggling with stress, anxiety and sleeping problems, with healthcare professionals reporting the highest levels of stress out of all roles and sectors during the pandemic. For more on the mental health impact on healthcare workers and what can be done to support them, please see Employee Wellness Tips for Health Care Workers.

This is not surprising – employees may be experiencing isolation, or suffering anxiety or depression that was either existing, or is related to the pandemic. Remote-working, uncertainty in job security, additional caring responsibilities and financial worries have all added additional strains on employees during the pandemic. While surveys consistently show that employees require more support right now, the results on how employers are delivering this are conflicting.

While some research show employers stepping up to the challenge, for example research published last month from Littler, showed that 90% of European employers have taken positive steps to look after the mental health and wellbeing of their employees during the pandemic, other studies state that over half of employees have received no help from their employer since the beginning of the pandemic (Talkout September 2020). But while studies show differing responses from employers (or differing perceptions from employees) one thing is clear – supporting positive mental health in the workplace will be a key area of competitive advantage for organizations in the months and years ahead.

Why is it important to address employees’ mental health?

Employers have increasingly focussed on the topic of employee wellbeing since the last recession, when companies looked to alternative means of talent attraction and retention away purely from compensation. However, the discussion around mental health and wellbeing is one that has grown within the past few years, thanks to successful public campaigns such as Time to Change and Rethink Mental Illness (among others) facilitating more open discussion.

However, while discussions around mental health may be more open, line managers do not always have the tools they need to be able to provide adequate support. The pandemic has expedited a lot of aspects of healthcare, and the need for organizations to focus on creating a strategic and holistic approach towards promoting positive mental health for employees also now needs more urgent attention.

What can organizations do?

Some things you may want to consider:

  • Deliver training to managers to spot/identify signs of mental ill health in employees
  • Assign ‘wellbeing champions’ – this can help to give different perspectives and also spread the load internally
  • Have clear policies and benefits that promote positive mental health. For example, mental health resources such as an Employee Assistance Program can provide support to both employees and managers.

However, the most important thing before implementing any initiatives is to listen to employees. It’s important to have a clear plan in place that meets the specific needs of your workforce, bearing in mind that not everyone’s experience is the same.

As referenced above, while some employers may already be implementing initiatives, their employees are not always recognizing this. One reason could be communication.

How can we help?

Effective internal communications are at the center of successful change management, leadership and project implementation. If you’re interested in hearing more about how we can help with developing a targeted and personalized internal communications plan for your organization, including insightful analytics and creative output, get in touch.

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We know there are numerous considerations when it comes to the impact of COVID-19 and what this means for your organization. We are here to help.