Business leaders must support the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce

team holding hands, mental health

Emily Maitlis’s recent Newsnight assessment that the recent pandemic is not, in fact, a great leveller has been statistically proven to be correct.

We’ve seen that despite all proclamations that the disease does not discriminate, the BAME communities have somehow fared worse and, as for the economical divide, if you were already living with financial insecurity then the devastating effects of being furloughed on 80 per cent of your salary was always going to be far worse than if you had a decent disposable income.

That said, there is absolutely no doubt that any major event that results in widespread fear, grief and isolation is going to have a profound impact on the psychological wellbeing of large segments of the whole population, regardless of social or income status. All the more so when a society is collectively expected to absorb any oppressive feelings whilst managing the threat that catastrophic events may recur if it dares to stop worrying.

With or without Covid, we know that many mental health issues stem from our experiences at work: positive experiences can determine the way we see ourselves and negative experiences can lead to depression and anxiety. This was what led us at The Soke to make corporate wellbeing a major division of our operations – creating individual behavioural health solutions for individuals at all stages of their careers: whether they felt they were doing well and needed to optimise their performance, or they needed support to overcome internal issues that were obstacles to their ambitions.

The philosophy that underpins everything we do as an organisation is simple: engaging with your mental health doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you – it means that you recognise psychological fitness as an essential faction of your overall wellbeing. Just as those who exercise regularly do so to maintain and improve their physical health, the benefits of actively looking after your brain will result in augmented psychological performance in every aspect of your life.

The pandemic has made our plans more salient than ever. Interestingly, we’re now seeing a huge uptick in employers wanting to take active measures to care for the psychological wellbeing of their workforce. As well as investigating the ways in which they can make mental health care an official ‘benefit’, they’re increasingly investigating the basic steps they can take to at least make their workplaces conducive to good mental health, rather than ones that exacerbate their employees’ anxieties. They recognise that such measures are not just necessary to safeguard their own bottom line, but crucial to the success of our economy.

So, what suggestions can we offer?

To mitigate a very real threat to the stability and productivity of an organisation’s talent, to demonstrate the values that are usually built into the brand, and to be part of a collective effort to recover (in every sense of the word), it’s imperative that those at the top tier of corporations don’t assume it’s “business as usual” when they return from the recent hiatus. They should anticipate a workforce that’s continuing to reverberate from the shock of the last few months and they should have a considered plan for how they’re going to deal with it.

In the first instance: what of the psychological impact if we work in jobs that have been branded – by implication – to be wholly un-essential? It can be demotivating, lead to diminishing job satisfaction (and therefore loyalty) and, ultimately, low self-esteem. It’s reasonable to assume, therefore, that making individuals, no matter their role, feel valued is a very important starting point on the road to better mental health at work.

The second basic solution is to make it easy for those who need support to access it. This means providing clear and easy to understand information; it means training everyone – not just team leaders – to be aware of how their colleagues are faring psychologically and to know how to respond, when necessary, in a way that’s both sensitive and helpful.

The next crucial step is to walk the walk of normalising mental health issues – something that every organisation proclaims the wish to do – by incorporating it into company time off policies. Sometimes having a bad day due to depression, anxiety or life events, can be far more debilitating than a runny nose, but it’s the latter that we unquestioningly accept as a justification for a ‘sick day’. The time is long overdue for us to consider mental health as at least on par with physical health. It also leads to the added safeguard for the person in your team who might repeatedly be taking time off work for depression or anxiety. It gives you the opportunity to ensure that they’re receiving the help they need in good time, rather than waiting for them to really hit a wall from which recovery can be far more difficult.

The effect of extending a company wellness scheme to cover behavioural health is not just easing passage to an essential service in tumultuous times, it’s hugely effective in breaking down stigmas and eliminating fears that exist for many in admitting that they might be struggling. It also has the potential to fundamentally improve the relationship between employer and employee and has the added benefit of helping to build a healthier society in the long run.

An organisation that demonstrates compassion and responsibility towards its staff is an organisation that’s going to be made stronger, more productive and ultimately more resilient by a loyal workforce who will not hesitate to mirror the sentiment if they’re called upon to do so.

Maryam Meddin
Credit: Alessandro Durini di Monza

About the author

Maryam Meddin is CEO of The Soke, a private clinic integrating mental healthcare, wellbeing, support and performance coaching.

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