2020 has been – oh, go on, let’s say it – an unprecedented year: COVID-19 has brought unforeseen challenges and upheaval on a huge scale, fundamentally changing the way we socialise, travel, shop and work. Successful organisations have remained sensitive to these developments and conscious of their inevitable toll on the mental health of their employees.
Nevertheless, providing effective mental health support can be challenging for many companies, and particularly global firms. Although mental ill-health no longer carries the stigma it once did, certain countries and cultures still find it difficult to discuss mental health in an open and honest way. Added to that, modern communications technology has created dispersed workforces which demand a stronger line of communication between employer and employee.
A healthy workplace starts with dialogue. Ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow, here are five ways you can promote mental health in your workplace.
1. Listen and encourage active participation
Open dialogue and effective communication involve more than just talking – they involve active listening, being genuine and having empathy. Employee feedback surveys are a useful way to get a sense of how your workforce feels about a variety of issues, particularly if you’re asking about mental health in a general way and not particularly about personal experiences of mental illness. Similarly, you may want to ensure managers are trained to listen first and advise second.
2. Educate managers on emotional intelligence
Your management team is undoubtedly experienced and educated, but do the members on the team view their direct manager as trustworthy, empathetic or self-aware? Managers are on the front lines and their ability to understand the importance of emotions at work, rather than avoid them, are crucial. Emotional intelligence is quickly becoming one of the most desirable traits in a manager because it strengthens business and employee performance.
3. Implement an employee assistance programme (EAP)
Many organisations offer some form of employee assistance. It’s more unusual though for companies to provide a global EAP programme through a third-party administrator. Offering a programme in this way affords a level of anonymity for employees. Third-party EAPs are an effective way to promote mental health at work and ensure that those living and working with mental illness can be directed to helpful sources.
4. Promote work-life balance
Work-life balance is defined as the feeling of being able to manage multiple responsibilities at home or work. The best way to promote work-life balance is to make every attempt to allow employees to avoid conflict between work and non-work roles. Things such as flexible hours and working from home afford this ability, but it’s important to provide boundaries in our always-on culture to avoid increased stress.
5. Provide peer support
Talking about a challenging personal experience is difficult, especially in public. Navigating the personal and public divide in the workplace is tricky for both the employee and employer, but it can be done in a way that respects privacy and promotes wellbeing. Having someone willing to share their experience in a way that doesn’t negatively impact their own wellbeing can be powerful. It puts a face on something abstract. Alternatively, investing in peer support can be the most effective way to drive change from the ground up.
Put mental health first in your workplace
Conversations about mental health at work have become more visible in the last few years. Employers have realised that they need to provide their employees with the best possible support. Allowing your staff to be their true selves, without the fear of stigma and anxiety, is beneficial for them, their managers and the whole company. To capitalise on this growing awareness, we should start by understanding that many of our attitudes towards mental illness are wrong. In challenging times such as these, we can all benefit from pausing to reflect and giving ourselves some time for introspection. Mental health really is that important.
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