Now more than ever, talking about mental health and creating a healthy working environment is important. Isolation, reduced human contact and lack of support networks due to coronavirus could be a recipe for disaster for those already struggling with their mental health, and may even leave those usually less prone to these sorts of issues feeling lonely and unhappy.
While every business needs to create a plan based around their individual circumstances, here are 4 key principles for creating an effective workplace wellbeing policy to help guide your business through the coronavirus crisis.
1. Start at the Top: Executive Buy-In
In times of crisis, strong and decisive leadership is necessary, both for maintaining economic performance and to help create the right conditions for workplace wellbeing. You can implement as many initiatives as you like during to help maintain morale during the coronavirus outbreak - it won’t make a bit of difference if your company’s executives are not genuinely committed to following through on these schemes. CEOs and managers need to lead by example: talking about their own personal experiences of self-isolation and working from home, as well as maintaining a work-life balance and ensuring they take adequate time to look after children and other dependents. Start by appointing a mental health ambassador among senior staff, and within each department or sector.
2. Develop a Plan
Having a plan of action during these uncertain times for any area of your professional and personal life is important. This is especially true for your workplace wellbeing policy, which will ultimately be the blueprint for how you create a positive working environment to guide your business through the crisis. Now may also be a good time to review whether your existing policy is effective, or whether it needs adapting for these exceptional circumstances.
Points to consider:
- What support is in place for employees struggling with their mental health?
- If internal support processes exist, are they being effectively promoted and communicated so that everyone is aware of them?
- Are external support services effectively promoted and communicated?
- What steps are being taken to reduce the barriers to talking about mental health? E.G awareness campaigns, management buy-in
- Is there training available for line managers? (more about this below)
- Are staff being consulted about how the company can improve?
3. Manager Training & Resources
Only 30 percent of line managers have taken part in mental health training, according to Business in the Community’s 2018 Mental Health at Work report. While an improvement on 22 percent in 2016, it shows there is still a long way to go.
Being able to successfully engage with an employee who is having mental health issues – and spotting the signs they are struggling in the first place – is something that requires proper training.
Fortunately, there is plenty of support available for businesses. A good place to start is Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), which offers training courses for HR professionals and managers, as well as an online guide to help managers deal with staff experiencing mental health issues. This online guide may be particularly useful for those self-isolating at the moment.
Other helpful resources for managers and HR include the Business in the Community and Public Health England Mental Health Toolkit for Employers, and the Mindful Employer website.
4. Positive workplace culture
Promoting wellbeing in the workplace (albeit a virtual workplace for most of us at the moment) goes hand-in-hand with a positive workplace culture. These are some of the most important elements:
- Allowing employees to switch off: encourage everyone to take a full lunch break away and limit out-of-hours work communication, for example.
- A can-do workplace: make it easier for staff to remain engaged by setting realistic deadlines and fostering a culture of inclusivity.
- Be flexible about flexible working: Consider all the options: varying start or finishing times, changing break structures and implementing flexitime.
- Emphasis on open communications: from regular employee surveys to virtual workshops, the more focus on promoting communications in general, the more likely people will feel able to speak up about mental health.
A Win-Win Strategy
Any effective policy for wellbeing in the workplace will involve a multi-pronged, collaborative and long-term approach. What works best will naturally depend on your company’s individual circumstances and workforce.
During this time of crisis, it is vital that every company prioritises the mental health and wellbeing of their workers to ensure that they not only scrape through this difficult time but come out of the other side a better person.