How to maintain good employee mental health

As flexible working becomes the norm, maintaining good mental health for employees is as important as ever whilst people adjust to a ‘new normal’. We provide a round-up of the top tips for looking after your staff:

1. Open conversations
It’s been a hard year for everyone. One of the best things to do for your employees is to acknowledge this and have open conversations about how its affected everyone. Some people might have taken the opportunity to start running, or take up a new hobby, whereas others may have struggled with furlough or isolation. Discuss struggles, and how they can be overcome.

2. Be patient
Even as restrictions are eased and employees begin to venture out and into offices more, some might still be anxious about returning into the world. Thankfully, flexible working has become more normal, so reiterate the options to everyone and work with them as things move forward. If more office working is something your charity wants, discuss this with cautious employees and try to find ways to keep them at ease back in the office. Don’t forget, emails, phone calls and video are still effective ways of communication.

3. Keep up the support
For many, the events of the last 18 months have necessitated a bigger workplace support system than ever before, and this shouldn’t cease because ‘normal’ is returning. Try and remain approachable, available and encourage team members to talk to someone if they’re having problems. Support for anyone struggling should be easily signposted on employee portals, through emails and in offices. Make it clear that despite restrictions lifting, the support systems put in place won’t also be taken away.

4. Eyes wide open
As much as people have been encouraged to talk and seek support from peers, others are reluctant and end up suffering in silence. Not everyone will show obvious signs of a mental health problem and it’s important not to make assumptions. Some possible signs include appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn; increase in sickness absence or being late to work; changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks; being less interested in tasks they previously enjoyed, or changes in usual behaviour around work peers.
It’s harder to spot these signs if employees are working from home. It’s important to regularly ask your staff how they’re doing and create an environment where they feel able to be open and honest about how they’re feeling.

If you believe a team member may be experiencing poor mental health, you should, if appropriate, arrange a conversation as soon as possible; make sure you talk to them in private; be flexible about when and where; approach the conversation in a positive and supportive way.

5. Stay flexible
Flexible working has become the saving grace for many charities over the past 18 months, and it shouldn’t be forgotten. Although some might be itching to get back to the office, others might prefer to work from home part of the time. Luckily, many charities have acknowledged this and have set up arrangements, but keep in mind that things might have to remain flexible. It could be the case that an employee wants to come in two or three days a week, but a childcare provider comes down with Covid, or has been told to isolate. There’s a multitude of reasons to keep flexible working, so don’t let those reasons become forgotten in the rush for normality.

6. Wellbeing ambassadors
It’s not unheard of for charities, and other businesses, to have dedicated members of staff to look after employee wellbeing. These are often staff who are trained in mental health first aid, can look for the signs in someone struggling or even just be a listening ear. Often called ‘wellbeing ambassadors’, they should be signposted across the charity, are able to deal with situations confidentially and with safeguarding in mind. With wellbeing and employee mental health becoming a bigger priority than ever, having dedicated members of staff is something a charity can do to show it cares.

7. Step back
The reality is, the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t over and it’s likely it won’t be until 2022 at the minimum, which is both scary and nerve- wracking for everyone. But fear can narrow our field of vision, making it harder to see the bigger picture of available options, including any positive possibilities in front of us. To deal with this, acknowledge the anxieties colleagues may be feeling and take time to explore options and find a positive outcome in the current situation.

8. Not all work and no play
When working from home, the lines between work and rest can easily be blurred. It’s not as easy to switch off when you can answer an email here, or finish typing up a project there. Encourage employees to take frequent screen breaks, go for a walk and switch off emails at the end of the day. Try and encourage them to establish boundaries between working and home life as burnout, which became more common during the pandemic, will help no one in the long run. Encourage screen breaks and time away from social media.

9. Teamwork makes the dream work
It’s easy to remember when working alone at home that you are part of a team, so employees must be feeling the same. If restrictions and personal feelings allow, try and encourage team-building activities – even if it is just a lunch, a trip to the pub, or a virtual equivalent such as a group Zoom chat; a quiz or equivalent. Remind people they are not alone when dealing with workplace challenges and encourage them to talk through these with others (virtually) surrounding them.

10. Don’t forget self-care
With everything happening, you may find that you need advice and support for your own mental health so don’t let it be put on the back- burner. Following the advice to other employees, it may be helpful to talk things through with someone who can support you and take advantage of some of the advice signposted in your own organization. Become an example others can follow. ■

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