This World Mental Health Day, we spoke to seven business leaders on the importance of mental health awareness and what all employers can do to support staff
Mental health is a difficult subject to talk about – many people going through a challenging time don’t want to talk about it, while others often don’t know how to bring it up when they’re concerned about someone. But in recent months and years, discussing mental health has become much more commonplace, with more people feeling comfortable to open up about how the strain of the past 18 months has impacted them.
Laurie Sorensen, Leadership and Talent Development Manager at ConnectWise outlines the challenges that everyone struggling with mental health faces:
“When we see someone coming down the sidewalk wearing a cast on an arm or on a leg, we immediately understand that something has happened to their body and that they have a healing journey ahead of them. We might even have a small picture of what their pain has been like. But if someone is struggling with mental health, they don’t wear that on the outside.
“As we approach World Mental Health Day, I’m encouraging myself, and everyone I know, to be a supportive peer. Be a good listener. Realise that there’s a lot more going on inside the people around us than we may know about. Give each other permission to not be okay. We’ve all lived through a lot in these past couple of years. Being a friend to someone in need, being someone who is there to listen, even when it’s painful, is so important. It can mean the world to someone struggling inside.”
Facing the post-pandemic world
Work is the number one cause of stress in the UK, and Kathryn Barnes, Employment Counsel EMEA at Globalization Partners emphasises how it’s not unusual for employees to sacrifice their personal wellbeing to succeed at work.
“British workers put in some of the longest hours in Europe, and their ‘always-on call’ mentality often means working overtime without pay. According to the ONS, those working from home during 2020 did on average six hours unpaid overtime per week, with 74% of UK adults feeling so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
“As many companies return to the physical workspace, employers must also consider how to offer extra support to any employees feeling nervous about returning to work. Helping to quell ‘post-lockdown anxiety’ starts with cultivating an open culture where employees feel comfortable speaking openly and confidentially about any concerns they may have. Only by recognising and understanding the problem, can employers effectively review ways to support employees and help alleviate stress.”
“Employees at every level of business experience stress,” agrees Danny Lopez, CEO at Glasswall Solutions, “from entry-level graduates to the CEO. Nearly 9 in 10 employees report that their workplace stress affects their mental health. Creating a positive and calming work environment, therefore, is so important, especially as we start to return to offices following the COVID-19 pandemic. The prospect of returning to the office after so long in the comfort of our own homes can be a daunting prospect for some – each business needs to find ways to support its employees through this transition.
“Here at Glasswall, we actively remind our employees of the importance of pausing throughout their workday and practising mindfulness. Mindfulness encourages us to obtain a balanced emotional and mental state by taking time to pay attention to the present moment.”
Hugh Scantlebury, Founder and CEO at Aqilla also acknowledges how the pandemic has caused the lines between work and home life to become blurred:
“Small actions, such as ensuring employees take breaks throughout the workday, make a big difference. Similarly, regular and informal check-ins give employees an opportunity to address any concerns. Here at Aqilla, we encourage everyone — employees, partners and customers — to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Indeed we founded the company to deliver a software solution that automates and speeds up core accounting and financial tasks. People are at their best when they are well-rested and aren’t permanently stressed, which is something we should remember every day — not just on World Mental Health Day.”
Practical tips for employers to implement
While mental health struggles cannot be solved overnight, there are many steps that organisations can take to support employees, as Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer at Totalmobile explains:
“During the course of the pandemic, many of us have suffered from complications with our mental health, or seen a loved one go through it and experienced first-hand the disparity between the UK’s mental health crisis and the help available.
“With so much misinformation and guilt surrounding mental health, one of the most valuable things we can do is to open up the conversation and improve communication with each other. For example, one of the hardest places to create an open dialogue around mental health is the workplace. However, there can be huge benefits found in utilising new digital communication platforms, such as interactive apps which can accurately track employees’ mental and physical health over time and then offer approved guidance on potential actions to improve wellbeing.”
“The last 18 months have been tumultuous,” adds Richard Guy, Country Sales Manager UK & Ireland, Ergotron, “and the necessity of looking after our mental health has never been more true. While the most obvious route to help combat this is for individuals to take ownership, this responsibility also lies with employers, who have an obligation to workers – many of whom are still remote – to care for not only their physical health but their mental wellbeing, too.
“Employers should encourage their staff to consider the following when working at home: 1) keep moving, 2) balance the types and portions of meals consumed, and 3) ensure the set-up and functionality of your home workstation is practical. While we tackle the challenges of the new world in which we find ourselves, organisations must take responsibility to provide workers with a safe and comfortable working environment to boost employee morale and mental health.”
To conclude, Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK shares that according to a study by St. John Ambulance, during the pandemic “one in four people had left a job due to mental health and wellbeing issues, up from one in five in 2018. What’s more, almost half (44%) had considered leaving their job for this reason.
“At Leaseweb we are always looking for new methods to improve our employee’s lives and cultivate a positive workplace culture. Some of the ways that we ensure this is by implementing regular check-ins with our staff, introducing workshops specifically designed to challenge negative behaviours and mindsets, and ensuring regular conversations are taking place with anyone who indicates they are struggling. During challenging times, one of the most important things you can do is simply to let someone know that you are there for them no matter what. After all, as Robin Williams once said, ‘Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.’”