We may have come through the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, but there’s never a shortage of issues, from geopolitics and climate change to family anxieties, to worry us.
Life was ever thus, of course. Harold McMillan, asked about his biggest fear as prime minister, famously hit the nail on the head when he replied: “Events, dear boy, events.” But at the same time employees today are having to adapt in far-reaching ways to new working arrangements, the daily stress of 21st-century life, and the continuing stigma attached to mental health issues which can make it so hard to ask for help when things get bad.
Employers are recognising that they need to offer effective support to their staff – not just because it’s best practice, but because a healthy, happy workforce benefits organisations so profoundly. The million-dollar question is how to deliver mental health support that effectively reaches, engages and works for everyone. It’s a complex issue, as became clear in a recent webinar run by Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB), entitled Mental Health Awareness for All. Our three panelists, all experienced HR professionals, highlighted why mental health has taken centre stage in their organisations – and took us through some of the challenges they face.
For example, the task facing Sarah Pearse from Mercer revolves around capitalising on the many benefits of the hybrid working environment in which many of us now operate. “The question now, in a hybrid working world, is how we help colleagues be healthier, not just mentally but physically and socially,” she explained.
For Natalie Richardson from JTI, a key focus for the past five years has been how to destigmatise mental health problems, and where possible address the underlying issues – from the physical impact of the menopause to financial worries. Indeed, it’s very difficult to look at mental wellbeing without the benefit of such an ‘intersectional’ lens.
Soreya Senior from Enara Bio, had the luxury of being part of the team building a corporate culture from scratch. Mental health support has been embedded in their business by introducing, among various other initiatives, a mandatory ’mental health first aid' qualification for all managers, with the opportunity for other staff to do the training too. “We’re keen to give people the tools that will make them feel empowered: that way we address wellbeing as a whole,” she said.
One major factor in the current dialogue – for both better and worse – is working from home, or the home/office hybrid model that is increasingly taking over as the pandemic recedes.
On the positive side, virtual working means people can seize new opportunities without having to relocate; they may also have much greater flexibility in integrating work into their busy family lives and be able to achieve a better work/life balance. But, it can be harder for employees to “switch off” when the office doubles up as the dining table. And there is a real danger that quieter staff simply fade from managers’ radars when they’re only visible online. “Our managers are becoming more aware about this, but it needs rigour and proactive connections with people,” said Sarah.
Moreover, it’s easy to overlook the large percentage of workers who for whatever reason are not able to work from home, even at the height of the pandemic less than 50% of UK employees were doing so. Natalie in particular has many JTI colleagues who work in the warehouses: “We’re trying to implement more flexible options and engaging with the workforce to find solutions – we haven’t found the answer yet, but we’re committed to the challenge!”
Workplace education is key in the drive to smash the stigma around mental health issues, as all our panelists agreed. Education can help both in enabling people to look after their own wellbeing, and in recognising the signals that all is not well with a colleague.
Virtual delivery has a lot of advantages in this respect, as people often feel they can be more open on a virtual call. It’s also more convenient: an audience poll taken during the webinar found that more than a third of participants favoured online training, with a 30-minute timeframe the most popular option.
As Natalie observes: “We’re looking at how we can engage more, with wellbeing ambassadors across the organisation, online training, drip-feeding content to keep refreshing awareness - we’re looking at all of it, and are very conscious that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.” Working with new recruits makes particular sense in the drive to embed better awareness, as people have time to watch those educational videos when they are just starting.
This is where MMB’s collaboration with Make A Difference comes into the picture. With the help and insight of familiar faces from many walks of life - from former heavyweight boxing champ Frank Bruno to humanitarian Terry Waite and supermodel Eunice Olumide - we’ve put together a four-part digital training program that looks at key aspects of mental wellbeing.
The modules are short and snappy, fast-paced and fun, designed to be watched whenever and wherever suits each individual. But they are underpinned by science, and the aim is a serious one - to help employees globally understand and care for their own wellbeing, and that of their colleagues.
Mental wellbeing is transformative, these are difficult times, but give your people the tools they need to nurture their mental health, and your business can only be the stronger for it. So, if you’re ready to help smash the stigma, get in touch – our experts would love to tell you more.
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