Ten ways to protect employee mental health during a global crisis

employee mental health
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The last two years created psychological strain, with the pandemic sparking feelings of uncertainty about both professional and personal futures – creating issues for employee mental health

In fact, research highlights that 55% of adults suffered from depression, 65% with anxiety and 51% are at risk of PTSD post-pandemic. This, without a doubt, highlights the importance of supporting mental health now more than ever, particularly amongst the workforce.

Given that an estimated three billion are employed worldwide, work is an integral part of our daily lives. This makes it all the more crucial to explore how mental health can be supported in the workplace, especially as the public health crisis continues to devastate lives.

To find out more about how good mental health can be protected in the workplace, Virtual College spoke to ten employees about things that are working for them.

What ten things can companies do to enhance employee mental health?

1. Creating a rule that outlaws ‘unnecessary’ meetings

Whilst you may be used to a work schedule each day full of Zoom calls, some companies have introduced a culture of ‘no unnecessary meetings’. This means only scheduling these when absolutely necessary, thus reducing the stress of preparing for these and the impact that they have on general productivity.

Karin from Earkick explained to Virtual College: “We know that having as few meetings as possible helps everyone in the company maintain good mental health. We honour people’s time and their need to focus for long periods of time without being interrupted” .

With remote working making it so easy to have multiple meetings in one day, it is definitely worth employers considering cutting down on avoidable company meetings to improve the mental wellbeing and productivity of their staff.

2. Implementing mental health ambassadors at work

When an employee needs support, having a designated individual (or individuals) that they can turn to is another mental health initiative that employers should consider integrating into the workplace.

Charlotte at Access2Funding explained to Virtual College: “A peer-to-peer mental health ambassador draws on their own personal experiences to help others in the organisation, is committed to advocacy and is open to sharing mental health issues in their own life.”

She expanded to Virtual College about how her company is recruiting mental health ambassadors as a recent effort to support employees: “The mental health ambassadors are being recruited internally and I applied to be one myself. It’s about raising awareness and providing employees with the opportunity to be open and honest in a safe place with likeminded people”.

3. Embedding mental health into company values

Embedding mental health into the core values of a company can really highlight to employees just how much of a priority their mental health is to their employer.

Haider from Hakim Group stated to Virtual College that his employer’s efforts to support mental health were particularly notable during COVID-19, when mental health plummeted: “Hakim Group published a document entitled “How to FISH during COVID-19”. FISH stands for Finding Inner Self Happiness, with the document recommending a number of tips for physical and mental wellbeing while working at home”.

The tailor-made resources from Hakim Group offer advice to employees relating to physical, mental and financial wellbeing, as well as to pleasure and achievement.

Putting employee mental health at the core of a business underlines the importance of a team’s wellbeing to a company and, better still, having this translated into useful resources that employees can refer back to is even more powerful.

4. Recruiting with mental health in mind

Another stand-out show of support for employee wellbeing is by openly acknowledging that mental health is important – not just amongst current employees, but also during the recruitment process.

Insight PR and Media are supporting those with mental health difficulties by recruiting through IPS. The NHS employment support service actively supports those who struggle with mental health to get into competitive, paid employment and is an aspect of the company that employee Ilona truly admires.

Ilona explained to Virtual College: “Our director, Kat Morley, created [Insight PR and Media] to give people with mental health issues creative work to do at home in their safe space. Initially, she started the company to offer services herself as an effort to support her own mental health in a safe working environment. Soon after she realised there would be others like her who want to work and have creative skills but are unable to commit to the 9-5.”

By recognising mental health during the recruitment process, employers can broaden their scope and attract talent that may have otherwise been put off applying.

5. Asking employees directly how they are doing

Sometimes, it’s simply what you say, and Lucy at FocalPoint told Virtual College that there are some questions that truly make all the difference:

“The power of this question: so how are you doing? Or how’s your week going?”

She mentioned to Virtual College that her company’s ‘PeopleTeam’ always make an effort to check-in with her, and show a genuine interest in her life, which supports her hugely: “The People Team will always check-in with me. And they know I’m a keen runner, and running helps with my mental health, so it’s really thoughtful when they ask and check-in with genuine care”.

Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.

© Yelizaveta Tomashevska

6. Creating mental health support apps for your team

Investing in platforms to directly support the mental health of employees can be an incredibly valuable resource that employers should consider.

One mental health company in London offers its employees a sound therapy app, which aims to alleviate anxiety and stress.

According to employee Stephen, who told Virtual College this was a “super useful” method, especially given that “working in a mental health service is stressful” and “you find you can never really shut off from work because people’s lives are on the line”.

Specifically, he felt that the app Ed can Help was instrumental in helping him to alleviate any stress that he was experiencing from work: “I found that my anxieties surrounding work had dipped after a few sessions of this sound therapy and it helped me to compartmentalise work and my social life, which before I couldn’t”.

Therapeutic techniques can be effective in improving mental wellbeing. So, rather than only considering mainstream support services such as counselling or therapy, employers should definitely explore alternative approaches like this app.

7. Giving access to mental health hotlines, aka free therapy

Accessibility is important to us all and the convenience of being able to chat to someone over the phone when you’re struggling mentally can be really helpful.

Steph, an employee of Priory Group, said that her company offers access to an independent telephone counselling service: “You can ring up and have counselling over the phone for free and as many sessions as you want – I’ve only used it once but it was really helpful, you can talk about literally anything”.

Knowing that your mental health is constantly supported, even outside of working hours, is an aspect that can greatly improve employees’ mental wellbeing.

8. Sending monthly wellbeing newsletters to employees

Regular and up-to-date information about how employees can improve their mental health has proven useful for existing employees in organisations.

An employee working for an engineering company mentioned to Virtual College how his employer sends him monthly mental and physical health information and tips in the form of email newsletters.

Luke explained during his chat with Virtual College: “It [the newsletter] highlights topical health issues as well as mental and physical wellbeing. For example, in January, it was about returning to work and how you may feel depressed after the holiday so it gave tips on how to deal with seasonal affective disorder, which I found to be really helpful”.

By vocalising mental health topics when they’re most relevant, employers can support their team with useful information at a time when they may most need it.

9. Creating conditions for flexible, remote working

Flexibility is an aspect of employment that we particularly value when trying to organise our already hectic schedules. The pandemic has shown us that flexible working is possible but some employers have now taken this one step further, which has proven to be useful in supporting employee mental health.

For Seb, an employee of SEO Travel, this is a topic that hits close to home for him.

He said: “My employer, being a digital marketing agency for travel companies, appreciates that a lot of the team are really interested in travel so we have the opportunity to work remotely abroad for 1 month of the year, wherever we want, providing we can maintain our regular working hours.”

“I moved to the UK from Hungary recently, so having the opportunity to work abroad for one month would allow me to travel home and to catch up on much-needed time with my family and friends, which is really important for my mental health”.

For those where an increased level of employee flexibility is possible, this initiative could be one that companies could really see the mental wellbeing benefits of in the long run.

10. Running crowdsourced team meetings

Knowing that your thoughts and opinions matter to an employer is a really important aspect of mental wellbeing in the workplace. And what’s even better is when your input is being translated into actionable progress that will benefit the entire company.

Amelia at Growth Recruits said that crowdsourced meetings are a recent, but revolutionary, initiative that her company has been using to bring up topics and issues: “We’ve recently started doing Crowdsourced meetings where any member of the team can bring absolutely any topic to the table and the entire company will discuss it. The reason that it works so well is that decisions get made based on the thoughts of everyone and seniority is completely disregarded.”

Amelia also mentioned that the new initiative has allowed her to speak up about anything that she feels necessary without being disregarded by her employer, which has greatly contributed to her mental health: “These meetings have given rise to Growth Recruits implementing a range of initiatives that have greatly supported my and other team member’s mental health including the opportunity to work a four day week, flexible working hours and overhauling the contract by updating clauses that employees felt were no longer reflective.”

employee mental health
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These tips highlight some of the best ways that employers can support employee mental health and, most importantly, those that will be truly useful.

Fiona Robinson, HR Manager at Virtual College said: “The pandemic has had devastating long-term impacts on the mental health of workers across all sectors around the globe”.

“Therefore it is all the more crucial that employers are offering the best support possible for their employees when it comes to their mental health. At Virtual College, our range of mental health resources have been designed to educate employers on the support that they provide, so that employees’ mental health is treated with the utmost priority”.


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