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Employee mental health: is it still top of your agenda?

Gateley Legal

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I recently attended a conference on mental health – This Can Happen. In one of the sessions, Headspace presented their findings of a global 5,000-employee survey. They found that the majority of management reported that they are supporting employees’ mental health, whereas the majority of employees claimed that they were not. Clearly there’s some disconnect.

Businesses have done many things to help their employees manage their mental health during the pandemic. However, support needs to evolve and continue as the survey shows that employees expect their employers to continue to help them with their mental health.

The legal bit

Legally employers owe a legal duty of care to employees under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 ‘to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all of his [or her…] employees.’

But it goes further than that; employees expect it and good business sense demands it. One CEO described how the people agenda was more important to him than anything else. He said he spent 50% of his time on employees – if your people are safe and happy, they will do a good job and customers / clients will be happy too.

Employers therefore need to have wellbeing / mental health / wellness / mental fitness as an ongoing item on the ‘to-do’ list.

My take-aways

I can’t possibly distil all the fantastic discussions and amazing things the organisations attending the conference are doing. Instead, I highlight some of the most useful insights shared by the many excellent speakers:

  1. Be a Chief Empathy Officer – Whatever your role, employees look to their managers and leaders to give them the answers. This was very hard for leaders during the pandemic as they often didn’t have the answers themselves. However, listening, empathising and doing something to help goes a long way to building trust and supporting employees. If you don’t know the answer, read up on the issue, signpost helpful materials, perhaps put them in touch with someone internally who has experience of the issue; there are so many ways to help people feel really listened to and understood.
  2. Identify your champions – Harness the discretionary effort of those in your organisation who champion wellbeing (or particular facets of it) and bring them together. Together they will feel empowered by like-minded colleagues who want, and are able, to do good in their organisation and they will help the whole business.
  3. Tell stories – Storytelling is a great way for people at all levels of the organisation to share their experiences and for others to feel comfortable doing the same. Senior leaders shouldn’t be afraid to be vulnerable; vulnerability is a superpower!
  4. Make it happen – How many times are actions held up by someone else needing to approve or action something? It may be that funding is needed for an initiative so that needs to be signed off, some tech is required or another team needs to input before it can go ahead. Having a cross-functional group with representatives from all areas of the business (HR, IT, finance, marketing, etc.) will progress initiatives much swifter.
  5. Watch your language – If you’re struggling to get buy-in or engagement on any initiative try a subtle change in language. Think mental health versus positive mind. Which title do you think garnered the most engagement? Also consider the language used in each business, part of the business, region, country, etc. Different language will be needed to engage staff in different areas of an organisation; whilst you may set the overall agenda centrally, allow people to take ownership within their own teams to make it work best for them. Language will also evolve over time.
  6. Maintain momentum – Perhaps you have a big launch event for a particular initiative or support tool – great! But don’t just leave it there. That may be the firework event but make sure you have smaller bonfire events. Supporting mental health needs to be ongoing not just a big bang that then fizzles to nothing.
  7. Be proactive not reactive – Following on from the above, listen to your employees and think about what will help them rather than react to issues. Ask employees what problems they are facing, what is impacting them now or is likely to in the future, and what they are struggling with. Then think of what you can do. For example, if they’re saying they’ve got too much work to do don’t arrange a yoga session; perhaps time management or priorities planning would be better.

Whatever you do, make sure you tend to the wellbeing bonfire and don’t let the flames go out.

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