By: Simon Blake- Chief Executive at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England
As the 19 July approaches, the date for the easing of lockdown restrictions, many employers will be exploring how hybrid and flexible working can work for their organisation in the ‘new world’. The past year has been full of change and organisations have asked a lot from their employees as they transform both what they do and how they do it.
One of the most significant shifts has been the number of people working from home. This has created a multitude of different experiences caused by varying environments and conditions. Whether your organisation is choosing to go back into the office full time or adopting a hybrid approach, mental health and wellbeing must be top of the priority list to ensure your working practices deliver for the business and its people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, creating social, economic and health uncertainties and insecurities. For some people, the changes brought about by the pandemic have led to positive lifestyle changes, with less time commuting and more free time to spend with family or doing leisure activities. Yet for others, where their home is not safe or conducive to productivity, working from home has had a detrimental impact on their mental and physical wellbeing.
Now, as organisations consider what their working practices will look like going forward, employers must listen to the experiences of their people and evaluate what is working when it comes to employee wellbeing. There are a number of steps organisations can take to ensure everyone feels supported during their transition into the new working world.
Why does mental health matter?
Research from the Centre for Mental Health predicts that 8.5 million more adults will need mental health support post-pandemic. Employers can help by driving a positive transformation in workplace mental health and performance through bringing together diversity and inclusion with health and wellbeing.
Lead by example
Senior leaders should role model healthy working habits and behaviours whether they are at home or in the office. Many of us perhaps thought that working from home would be a short-term experience, so have not really considered how our habits may be affecting our long-term physical and mental health.
A year on, as hybrid working looks set to continue for many, employers should encourage team members to evaluate their working day. For example, video calls have become the new norm but perhaps try having a regular phone call or a ‘walk and talk’ meeting instead of being on camera all day, which can be tiring. At MHFA England we have created guidance on supporting your mental health while working from home to provide tips for everyone.
Maintaining human connections
Although many more of us are planning to return to the office in the coming months, others may not wish to do this for some time if at all. Wherever we are working from it is vital to make all employees feel connected, even when they might be physically apart.
Employers should encourage teams to communicate openly and frequently. Making the time to socialise with people from across the organisation can help people see the bigger picture, stay connected, and boost morale. You could arrange coffee mornings, a Friday ‘happy hour’, or try a new virtual team activity such as a Desert Island Favourites team session.
Our MHFA England research found that 44% of employees found team building activities – such as groups quizzes and virtual social gatherings – helped to improve their wellbeing. Separate research also found that employees are 13% more productive when they are happy, so boosting team morale benefits businesses too.
Regular wellbeing catch-ups with employees are key to supporting people’s mental health as we navigate this transitionary stage. Just as with physical health, prevention is better than cure when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. The My Whole Self MOT is a simple, free tool to help people check in on their own and others’ mental health and wellbeing.
Flexible and hybrid working
While offering flexible and hybrid working will not be possible for everyone, employees will be looking for employers that can offer the best freedoms and flexibilities built on trust. This may mean allowing staff to work flexible hours in the working day or to splitting their time between home and the office to suit their needs.
Flexible working arrangements can help employees to better plan their working weeks and feel confident they can adjust their working hours if responsibilities change. Employers need to engage, consult and review with staff every step of the way, making the framework for flexible working clear, and talking to employees about what works best for them as well as balancing the organisation’s needs.
Many businesses will be adopting hybrid working for the first time and it will take time to get things right. What works for people may change as we adjust to life post-pandemic. All organisations need to continue to review, evaluate and improve their working practices so we can make long-term changes that benefit both employees and the business. We have the chance to change the world of work for the better, it’s important not to let this opportunity pass us by.
As we enter this next phase employers should continue to focus on human connections, demonstrate trust in their teams, offer flexible working arrangements where possible, and make mental health and wellbeing a priority. This will help businesses to create a culture of care, retain the best talent and support wellbeing in the long-run. For further support and advice, visit MHFA England’s website: https://mhfaengland.org/.