For many people, the third National Lockdown is proving to be the hardest yet. Heightened feelings of uncertainty associated with new strains of the virus, ongoing isolation and continued lack of social interaction and the general monotony of life have been further compounded by the cold dark winter months. The cumulative effect of these factors is exacerbating the existing mental health crisis as people struggle to cope with issues such as depression and anxiety.
Time to Talk Day – Thursday 4 February 2021
‘Time to Talk’ Day is fast approaching. Its intention is to highlight how a small conversation about mental health can make a big difference. The more open conversations we can have about mental health, the more we can help to end the associated stigma.
Communication is Key
With the continuation of remote working, employers need to take proactive steps to stay in touch with their staff and help ease feelings of isolation and disconnection. The effects of a third lockdown are likely to be presenting challenges for even the most resilient of people. Management’s role in employee communication is even more critical now as connecting and engaging with employees is so much more challenging when they are physically disconnected. Here are some tips to assist managers in communicating effectively with employees and supporting their mental health:
Visible Leadership Commitment to Mental Health
The more communication delivered by an organisation’s leaders, the better. Sharing weekly blogs or vlogs or sending regular emails to all staff with updates about the organisation, mental health information and employee wellbeing tips, as well as acknowledging the difficulties presented by a third lockdown will go a long way to making employees feel valued and appreciated.
Use Video Conferencing Platforms
In the absence of face-to-face communication, employers should try to have an array of video conferencing applications available for use, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, to facilitate a more visible and personal connection with employees. Employers should, however, be mindful of the fact that some employees may struggle with adapting to new technology and may need additional support so they do not feel overwhelmed.
Frequency of Communication
Managers can provide some stability and help towards creating a culture of open conversation by committing to communicating frequently and at predictable times. Even if you don’t have anything new to say, a weekly video call to reach out to employees to check on their health and wellbeing will help people to start feeling more comfortable about discussing their mental health.
Prioritise Well-being Conversations
Managers don’t need to be mental health experts and there is no right way to approach the subject of mental health. The key point is for managers to do what they can to gauge an employee’s concerns by listening and asking questions that are open and non-judgemental such as ‘how does that make you feel?’ or ‘how often do you feel that way?’ in order to understand experiences better. Just giving someone the opportunity to talk can be powerful in helping to reduce the culture of silence and stigma around mental health.
Spread the Word about Mental Health
The stigma attached to poor mental health can create fear and anxiety which, in turn, prevent many employees freely discussing their experiences. Employers can help reduce this stigma by using communication tools such as online posters to use on the intranet, screensavers or email signatures to raise awareness and encourage people to open up about their mental health. Time to Change have some useful resources for employers to access.
Communicate Praise and Recognise Achievements
Keeping employees motivated, engaged and positive is more important than ever during this pandemic. Many people are likely to be feeling cabin feverish and generally demotivated which can impact on productivity or their level of self-worth. A quick telephone or video call or even an email to say ‘you’ve done a great job, well done’ can build their confidence and foster much needed positivity and improved motivation.
Sharing Support and Help
Employers should regularly share information about how the organisation supports employees and what help is available at both company-wide, team and individual level. If, for example, the organisation has an Employee Assistance Programme in place or any wider benefits such as Mental Health First Aiders, remind employees of key contact numbers and communicate the benefits of such services.
Supporting Working Parents during School Closures
The stress is mounting for those employees working from home and juggling home-schooling. A recent survey by CityParents, revealed the biggest source of anxiety for 75% of parents was the need to juggle work, childcare and home-schooling, often resulting in extremely long days, completing work outside normal working hours, lack of self-care, insomnia and an overwhelming feeling of burnout. Managers should take time to have compassionate conversations with parents and carers of young children to ensure realistic boundaries are set between work and home life over the coming weeks. Where possible, employers may wish to consider the option of furloughing employees who are unable to work or who are struggling to balance working from home with caring responsibilities as a result of the closure of schools and childcare facilities.