Posted By Westfield Health

Posted on18th November 2020

Last week we held our first Winter Wellbeing webinar on LinkedIn, where we discussed the nuances of helping employees with their mental health through this particularly difficult winter.

While awareness of mental health is increasing and workplace support continues to improve, COVID-19 has introduced a new challenge. With social distancing guidance necessitating remote working for many, has the switch to working from home been a setback for workplace mental health?

Our Divided Together report, released in May, found that 32% of remote working employees wanted more mental health support from their employer – the highest of any group. So how can we ensure employees are fully supported, even from a distance?

The visibility paradox

Remote working introduces a paradox where we lose the ability to interact in-person, while simultaneously gaining a sense of constant connection through online platforms. Employees may feel less visible yet still worry about being monitored remotely.

Without a physical presence in the office, people may be tempted to exaggerate their online visibility, being afraid to leave their desk in case they miss calls or messages, or their status reads ‘away’. This feeling of being under scrutiny, however unfounded, can have a huge impact on employee mental health.

Anxiety can be reduced by truly flexible working policies which prioritise employee output rather than time spent on a task. Managers can reiterate their understanding of the difficulties of working from home and lead by example. If leaders take advantage of flexitime themselves, their team will feel empowered to do the same.

Formal catch ups and webcam dilemmas

Homeworking also makes the checking-in process more structured. Pre-COVID, we might have glanced across the office, hoping to catch the eye of a colleague who could use a coffee break. Now we have to check their calendar availability to schedule even a casual chat. Rather than catching up in the corridors or on lunch breaks, we must actively start a conversation.

This new way of working removes many of our usual social cues, and the implication that our workplace interactions must have a specific purpose makes conversations about mental health all the more challenging. Since we can’t send a meeting request without a subject, we must try to build casual meetups into our working day.

Despite these formalities, managers can create opportunities to pick up on social cues. Body language is a fundamental indicator of our mental health, and line managers are best placed to notice any changes within their team. While it’s not advised to require webcams be turned on for all meetings, organisations should equip their employees with technology that allows them to interact as normally as possible, encouraging face-to-face virtual contact. With Zoom meetings now the norm, you might be surprised how much you can pick up about mental health on-screen.

Getting the most from your Mental Health First Aiders

Mental Health First Aid (MFHA) training is a popular way to encourage conversations about mental health in the workplace. These in-house volunteers are trained to check in on their colleagues and provide peer-led support, but how this process works in practice will depend largely on your organisational culture. Here are some ideas to tailor your approach and make your Mental Health First Aiders more effective:

  • Consider an open door or drop-in policy for your Mental Health First Aid team. If MHFAs are easily accessible via chat or video call, it will be less intimidating for employees to start an informal conversation.
  • Some people may prefer a more structured mental health chat, such as scheduled catch ups to check-in and share any worries. This takes the pressure off the employee, as they don’t have to initiate the conversation themselves.
  • A successful network of mental health support must reach each corner of the business. Many organisations choose to assign MHFAs within each team, where colleagues already have stronger relationships. This allows for a more casual approach to mental health check-ins and ensures your MHFAs are visible throughout the organisation.

However you implement Mental Health First Aid in the workplace, it’s important to encourage first aiders to be proactive in their support. This could be in the form of reminders in your company updates or regular refresher courses to help them brush up on their skills.

Resources for HR teams

Try these downloadable guides and resources help you tailor your employee mental health support:

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