Dan Richards Joins Green Park's Private Sector and Board Practices
Blogs 18th May 2020 5 minutes read
How has the COVID-19 pandemic made you feel? Scared, anxious, lonely? We’ve been there too. These feelings are part of who you are and may well dominate your thoughts for weeks or months to come. But when you go back to work, will you be expected to pack them up, be professional and pretend they don’t exist? For many people, that’s the reality – and it’s bad news for mental health. We all need understanding and openness in the workplace to recover from this ordeal. Inclusivity – enabling people to express themselves and their thoughts, whoever they are – has to be at the core of organisations and not just a ‘nice-to-have’. With people frightened and struggling with uncertainty, now’s the time to make each other feel safe, respected and accepted. There’s no rulebook for dealing with the fall-out from Covid-19. However, there are steps we can take to create a kinder, more inclusive workplace that’s supportive of mental health.
The cost of mental ill health
In many ways, the coronavirus crisis has been a wake-up call. Before the pandemic, organisations were slowly embracing inclusivity and acknowledging its benefits. Now, it’s clear that inclusivity is critical for workers’ wellbeing. Without it, they risk worsening mental health, with devastating implications for all aspects of their lives. Of course, there’s not just the human cost to consider. As the economy prepares to reboot, organisations need workers to perform at their best and drive them back into profitable territory. Research shows that those without resources in place to support employees’ mental wellbeing are likely to suffer financially. A recent study found that “poor mental health is costing UK employers £29bn in reduced productivity due to presenteeism every year.”1
Ways to improve mental health inclusivity
With a return to the workplace imminent, what measures can employers take? Here are some that could create greater empathy, inclusion and belonging.
Covid-19 has already blurred the boundaries between personal and professional life. With millions of people working from home, we all have a new and more complete picture of the colleagues we work with every day. Video calls reveal not just homes, but often children, partners and pets. And these days, when someone asks how you are, it’s a serious question and not just social etiquette. What if we maintained this more open and caring culture when we returned to work? Not just for the sake of mental health, but to improve inclusion generally: when employees can bring their ‘whole selves’ to work, they feel welcomed, understood and a valued part of the team. And this may be critical, as people grapple with new responsibilities, for example as a parent or carer. It’s important that people feel free to discuss shifting pressures to avoid unnecessary stress. Managers need support to individuals on a case by case basis.
Technology has been a blessing during lockdown, connecting people with friends and family. With homeworking likely to become a permanent feature of work life for the foreseeable, it’s important to stay in touch with isolated colleagues via video calls. Don’t let them feel forgotten or ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Make sure they know they matter and are still part of the team.
There’s also a range of apps on the market to help employees support their mental health. Without colleagues around to talk to, such tech could be a lifeline, providing tips for mental wellbeing and highlighting potential problems. Green Park’s wellness app, GP Well-being +, launched this week and provides content to help our employee’s and candidates manage, support and track their mental health With so many options available, it’s important to look closely at your team’s specific needs and find one that fits.
While some workers welcome the end of lockdown, others are eyeing it with concern. Many fear that a return to crowded cities and public transport will bring greater exposure to COVID-19. To ease their anxiety, once the Government lifts lockdown measures for your workers, why not change or stagger working hours, allowing employees to start earlier or later than usual, when transport is less busy? You could also continue flexible working policies that may be in use already.
The COVID19 pandemic has affected us all in different ways, refracting the different facets of our lives to create unique sets of concerns. Money, relationships, grief, bereavement – everyone will need support for their own individual situation. Make sure this wide-ranging support is available to everyone in your organisation. Look at existing support kits, including Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and update them as necessary. Provide information and contact details for all kinds of support, from advice on coping with debt to mental health resources.
While you’re looking at your support kits, take a look at your wider health and wellbeing policies too. Ensure they’re future-proof if possible and fit for purpose in the era of COVID-19. This extends to flexible working policies. Consider workers’ needs and offer alternatives to the 9 to 5 if possible.
Make sure any designated mental health support staff are given extra support and training where necessary. The pandemic could create an explosion in mental health issues, which could overwhelm mental health first-aiders. Remember that these carers may need help with mental health themselves and its important they have the tools to support themselves as well as others.
Your culture will become more open if you are open too. Be honest and transparent. Admit that you are dealing with a situation that’s entirely new to you. Encourage suggestions to help the workforce and listen to ideas. In the new normal, trust will be essential between employers and employees, as workers depend on leaders to keep them safe and well.
No leader had the training to cope with the impact of coronavirus. But, by taking concrete measures to improve Diversity & Inclusion, you can future-proof your organisation so the workforce is as resilient as possible. Our dedicated D&I practice is adapting its expertise to a new and developing situation to ensure that we can support our customers as best as possible. Covid-19 is teaching us all new lessons, including the Green Park team, and we have our ear to the ground to ensure we can keep learning from leaders across all sectors. Share your experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read about the Green Park D&I Culture & Ethics Practice here.