Can supporting mental health improve inclusion?
By Jo Faragher on 12 June 2020
There’s no doubt that the past few months have been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone. The sudden transition to working from home or – for thousands of key workers – having to risk infection using public transport or dealing with customers – can only have had a detrimental impact on our mental health. Even some of the upsides of lockdown – the chance to spend more time outdoors or reduce time spent at work or commuting – are weighed against an underlying fear that job losses could be on the horizon or further lockdowns might be imposed.
Looking after employees’ mental health is a key element of an inclusive culture. We may not be able to ‘bring our whole selves to work’ literally at the moment, but mental health support must remain at the top of the agenda. It’s not just those employees that are still working that leaders need to consider – those on furlough will be feeling anxious, too. A survey by security software company KnowBe4 recently found that seven out of 10 workers on furlough still check work emails or feel worried about their inbox, despite being unable to work.
Resilience = retention?
Fiona McGill, occupational health manager at BHSF, a health insurance provider, explains why mentally resilient employees feel stronger ties to their employer. “A growing body of research conducted over the past 20 years indicates that investing in inclusivity increases the success of an organisation by improving the quality of decision-making at the operational and governance levels, helping to attract and retain skilled employees and managers, and by raising staff morale, which contributes to the feelings of inclusion and psychological safety in the workplace.”
There are a number of ways organisations can do this, she believes:
- Increase awareness – give employees access to educational resources. Businesses can help create a supportive work environment by sharing resources or hosting training sessions on aspects of mental health
- Include mental wellness in wellness benefits. “This is not just discounted gym memberships,” she says. Simple, affordable things such as providing regular positive feedback or setting up support groups can make a difference
- Encouraging a healthy work-life blend – now is a good time to try out flexible working hours so employees can work around other commitments. Looking forward, can the organisation also offer more flexible environments, if there is a more hybrid approach to working from home versus the office?
- Leadership support in behaviour change – leadership should strive to practice fairness toward everyone and recognise that different people have different needs
Nationwide Building Society launched a buddy service in late May to support employee wellbeing during the pandemic. Called ‘Kinda’, the online tool was based on an idea from the company’s disability employee network, Enable. It connects anyone who is self-isolating or in need of support with a trusted network of volunteers to listen or lend a hand. In addition, all employees have free access to mental health wellbeing platform Unmind, which helps them to understand, track and improve their mental wellbeing.
A number of organisations have also extended their mental health support to workers’ families, recognising that – in this time of enforced togetherness especially – the people that surround their employees also impact those individuals’ mental wellness. Brett Hill, distribution director at Towergate Health and Protection, argues there is a “holistic link between contented employees and contented dependants”. He adds: “Some providers are now offering free access to mental wellbeing apps. It helps users to manage stress, build resilience and cope with anxiety, whilst teaching coping mechanisms, and signposting to additional services if needed.”
All about environment
Jessie Pavelka, co-founder of Pavelka Wellness, a wellbeing company supporting clients such as Cisco Systems, says the relationship between mental health and inclusion is not always obvious or simple.
“In lockdown, remote working, everything is amplified and it’s easy to feel separate, different and alone – if you already feel isolated, you’re really going to feel it now,” he says. Employers need to take steps that ensure employees don’t feel like they have to deal with it on their own, and largely that circles back to the environment.”
“Conversations and stories create an environment that people can show up to, shaping experiences that allow people to recognise it’s OK to be different. It’s realisation that leads to people supporting one another, acceptance naturally honouring the idea of inclusion.”
Pavelka says simple actions – such as meetings where people can chat remotely rather than discussing business – mean people can “show up, get involved and listen”. Doing this consistently, even as we return to some normality, will help harness positive mental health and inclusion, he concludes.
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