Mental Safety: Why HR needs to change their attitude towards workplace mental health

sad woman looking out of the window, grief, bereavement, lockdown

Last month, the UK government introduced a new Health Bill which changed the definition of health to include mental health.

For HR this means we need to change our attitude to mental health at work to give equal weight to supporting employee health both physically and mentally. To date it is estimated that there are approximately 200 forms of recognised mental illnesses, with approximately 35% of the UK population currently affected. That’s over a 3rd of the current population at any given time, regardless of education, background or employment status – in my predictions, it is also just the tip of the iceberg. And here is the challenge, from being expressively taught that HR should not engage in mental health and wellbeing without consulting the professionals historically, HR is now at the centre of the wellbeing storm. Needless to say, HR teams are overcoming their own post-pandemic challenges themselves and to date, are not fully trained and more importantly equipped to support mental wellness initiatives effectively. Although we, as HR professionals are all aware of the challenges and know where to find information, most of us are still recovering from the ups and downs of the last couple of years. There is an increased sense that wellbeing is a critical asset for companies out there, reducing absences, increasing engagement and increasing the nurturing of the human specificities in an organisation. It is still a significant opportunity for HR to lead and generate positivity, empathy and compassion.

Being Human Resources, it is time for HR to bring back the Human in the workplace and learn how best to lead with Wellbeing initiatives. There are several things that HR teams can facilitate:

Display a clear statement to highlight the company’s commitment towards supporting mental wellbeing

Well first and foremost, HR needs to say that this is part of their incentive, that or its leadership. In line with this, again, it is good to keep key metrics, targets that we want to review on a regular basis alongside our standard human capital metrics. Often wellbeing goes all the way down the priority list, never gets communicated about – how can then HR have any chance of supporting any initiative that remains unimportant to the company?

Monitor and review individuals, workloads and targets

The world of work has changed – some of us are returning to the workplace, others have never left and we now have hybrid ways of working – not only that, but the last couple of years have seen businesses downsize, maximise their profits, change, adapt and so on. We are now more versed in Zoom, teams and the likes. Has that changed our jobs, responsibilities, work flows? First on the list for HR professionals is to review its operating model with managers and employees – ensure that everyone has the right balance between work and life – are we working too little, too much, are we under too much pressure and if so do we have the internal culture facilitating a discussion around re-prioritising tasks in the midst of adversity?

Be approachable and have regular one to one contact

HR isn’t psychic unfortunately – This means that unless HR goes out there, in the field and gets to know their teams, it is difficult to know exactly what is going on. There are so many non-verbal cues – this is achievable somewhat for smaller organisations on single sites, but how can HR achieve this multi-site? Is it for HR or people managers to handle this? Or should we train teams to become more emotionally savvy to support one another? There are so many questions to answer before embedding wellbeing in a strategy.

Incentivise, motivate and offer frequent encouragement, offer help, guidance and be understanding of the situation

Finally, another initiative that refers to training is creating awareness programs and more of an initiative that is owned by everyone. HR can facilitate discussions, trainings, workshops and the likes on what is mental illness and wellbeing – HR can bring the vocabulary and tools in the workplace, but attitudes overall, not just HR’s, need to shift to bring this human priority back into the workplace.

Julie ProvinoAbout the author

Julie Provino is an international HR leader, founder of VeryHR and the author of How to Get What You Want in 7 Weeks. To find out more go to: www.VeryHR.co.uk

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