Taking care – why mental health should be top of every employer’s agenda right now

Article by Jamie Mackenzie, Director, Sodexo Engage

women-talking-about-mental-ill-healthwomen-talking-about-mental-ill-healthAs lockdown restrictions start to ease, returning to the workplace feels that little bit closer. One thing is for sure though, snapping back to normality after such a major global event is no mean feat.

The collective trauma after living through a pandemic on this scale could be huge, and employers need to watch out for any signs of anxiety that might take hold amongst staff. All of us have felt a degree of uncertainty in the past few months, be it over job security, finances or health and wellbeing and, as this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve put together some tips for keeping the team calm and motivated.

Self-care reigns supreme

During times of stress, self-care can go out the window. Simple, yet vital, things like drinking enough water or taking time out to unwind properly get pushed to the bottom of the pile.

It’s important for employers and managers to stress to their team how vital self-care practices are for avoiding burn-out. For starters, it’s still important to encourage staff to take annual leave even with nowhere to go. A deck chair by the flowerbeds at the bottom of the garden might not seem quite as glamorous as a sun lounger by the Med, but relaxing and switching off is key right now. What’s more, warn your staff about not working excessive hours, as it’s harder to carve out boundaries and cut off times when your office is at home and there’s no commute to tackle.

Homeworking can also lead people to forget simple, typically second-nature, activities that are usually pretty much a given. In the office, the day might be more well-defined, but working from home can cause things like drinking enough water or eating lunch away from the desk to fall by the wayside quite quickly. Getting dressed and commuting into work creates rituals – you might go to a local coffee shop and get a latte or pop to the park every day with your lunchbox and sit under the same tree. These rituals might seem inconsequential, but they give the day some structure, offer some comfort (even if it’s subconscious) and ensure staff aren’t chained to the desk. Continue to check up on staff and even send round a checklist to remind the team of the simple things that shouldn’t be abandoned.

When offices open up, make sure you emphasise the importance of mental wellbeing and self-care. Whilst some staff might be eager to return to the office, be wary that, for others, getting back to work may well cause worry and concern. Employers would be wise to proceed carefully and gradually.

Gratitude never goes amiss

Employers might feel like they have bigger fish to fry right now, but employee recognition and rewards are more vital than ever. As most of us are still at home, rewards will be taking on a new form and, with many companies feeling a bit strapped for cash in the current climate, any elaborate gifts or bonusses might have to be put on the backburner. Digital gift cards can be a nice virtual option and sending bubbly or chocolates through the post will be an instant pick-me-up. No one can deny the excitement of seeing a surprise parcel with their name on, so it’s worth thinking about giving your team these simple pleasures.

Employee recognition can be totally free, but it’s particularly important when everyone’s minds are elsewhere and we’re all confronting personal challenges too. This can range from a simple ‘thank you’ to an employee recognition scheme where both managers and peers can log their colleagues’ efforts. By recognising staff, the team will be more engaged, which will be good for productivity and employee retention.

Additional support

When we eventually get back to the office the atmosphere might not return instantly. Staff returns are likely to be phased, and with social distancing measures in place, the post-pandemic office might feel a little cold and clinical. There’s no point ignoring the elephant in the room and forcing normality – everyone is fully aware the working environment has to be restrained for a significant time into the future. However, this means maintaining team morale will present new challenges.

There’s little doubt that the negative news headlines can certainly take a toll on everyone’s mental health, and the uncertainty everyone is feeling right now can’t be underestimated. Having regular check-ins with employees to ensure they’re doing okay mentally, physically and financially is key for helping staff navigate what is so often referred to as the ‘new normal’. It’s also worth looking into options like coaching for your employees to equip them with the right tools. For example, education and top tips for financial wellbeing might go a long way to helping those who are hesitant to ask for help. The ‘perks of the job’ will look different in this new world, so you’ll need to start getting creative to keep spirits up.

We are all confronting unusual circumstances and with these come personal challenges. This Mental Health Awareness Week, remember that staff are working through a global pandemic, so anxiety will be prevalent, and it’s important to consider long-term strategies that support your team.

Jamie SodexoAbout the author

Jamie joined Sodexo Engage in November 2013, bringing with him over 10 years of Business and Consumer Marketing experience in senior roles within blue chip organisations. Jamie is responsible for company strategy, product roadmap, brand management and market communications.

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