The Rising Issue Of Workplace Mental Health
Now, more than ever, many employees are fighting mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression.
Before COVID-19 became an issue, 1 in 6 workers experienced problems such as low mood, anxiety and stress.
In 2020 and 2021, 1.46 million people experiencing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety were referred for psychological therapy, according to an NHS England report.
The pandemic and its restrictions affecting people to the extent that 60% of adults feel their mental health worsened as a result of Coronavirus, employers are in a position to help the people who work for them with their mental wellbeing as we adjust to a new normal.
How We Can Help
Communicate more than you think you need to. A study by Qualtrics and SAP showed that employees who felt their managers were not good at communicating have been 23% more likely than others to experience mental health declines since the outbreak. Make sure you keep your team informed about any organizational changes or updates. Clarify any modified work hours and norms. Remove stress where possible by setting expectations about workloads, prioritising what must get done, and acknowledging what can slide if necessary.
Invest in training
Now more than ever, you should prioritise proactive and preventive workplace mental health training for leaders, managers, and individual contributors. Before the pandemic, companies including Morrison & Foerster and Verizon Media were convening senior leaders to discuss their role in creating a mentally healthy culture. That positioned them well to navigate the uncertainty that has unfolded. As more and more employees struggle with mental health, it’s important to debunk common myths, reduce stigma, and build the necessary skills to have productive conversations about mental health at work. If you don’t have the budget to invest in training, mental health employee resource groups are a low-cost way to increase awareness, build community, and offer peer support.
Modify policies and practices
To reduce stress on everyone, be as generous and flexible as possible in updating policies and practices in reaction to the pandemic and civil unrest. For example, you may need to take a closer look at your rules and norms around flexible hours, paid time off, email and other communications, and paid and unpaid leave. Try to reframe performance reviews as opportunities for compassionate feedback and learning instead of evaluations against strict targets. In mid-March, Katherine Maher, the CEO of Wikimedia Foundation, sent an email to her organization outlining changes to mitigate stress, including: “If you need to dial back [work hours], that’s okay.” She also committed to paying contractors and hourly staff on the basis of their typical hours, regardless of their ability to work. When you make changes, be explicit that you are doing so to support the mental health of your employees, if that is the goal.
Ensuring accountability doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be handled in a simple pulse survey done regularly to understand how people are doing now and over time. BlackRock, the global investment management firm, is one of many organizations that have conducted pulse surveys during the pandemic to understand the primary stressors and needs of staff. This direct employee input has helped shape new programs, including remote management skill-building for managers, enhanced health and well-being support for employees, and increased work flexibility and time off.