Article by Sarah McIntosh, Director of Delivery at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.
The last two years have been full of unexpected changes, and workplaces and their people have had to transform both what they do and how they do it.
As we settle into a new working world, it is the perfect time for employers to evaluate what is working when it comes to employee wellbeing and what can be improved. Mental ill health amongst employees costs the UK economy at least £117.9 billion annually according to a new report published by Mental Health Foundation and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Social and economic factors also put women at greater risk of mental ill health than men, with 1 in 5 women experiencing mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
Given the rate of change and the range of stresses and pressures that have presented themselves over the last two years, many people may find it difficult adapting to new ways of working, whether that be hybrid, online or in person, post pandemic. Depending on whether all your staff are returning to the office full time, or your workplace is offering hybrid or flexible working, there are a number of things you can do to ensure women, and all employees, feel safe and supported through this transition.
Regular wellbeing catch-ups with colleagues are key to supporting people’s mental health as we navigate the post pandemic world of work. Just as with physical health, early intervention, diagnosis, and support are vital ways to help people protect their mental health and prevent issues getting worse.
A recent survey from The Royal Society for Public Health found that over two-thirds of employees (67%) said they felt less connected to their colleagues during the pandemic. We also found that nearly half (48%) of all respondents surveyed as part of our My Whole Self campaign had no wellbeing check ins from their employer in the past year.
So, although managers and senior teams know the importance of checking in, it seems that this is not being reflected in everyday working practices, despite the fact that it is more important than ever to create opportunities for human connection and safe spaces for people to talk openly about challenges they may be facing when adapting to a new world of work. By prioritising employee wellbeing and ensuring regular wellbeing catch up’s we are more likely to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and will therefore be able to help sign post and support colleagues to help if needed.
As an organisation, we have provided expert consultancy and training to over 20,000 workplaces and I often hear from clients that many people find approaching conversations around mental wellbeing challenging. However, you do not have to be an expert to start a conversation and we have developed a number of resources to help empower employees start these conversations. Our free and simple My Whole Self MOT tool can be used in conjunction with our new Talking tips tool kit to help you approach conversations around mental health and wellbeing, whether online or in person.
As we learn to live with Covid, some people will be keen to get back into the office, and some will want to work from home, whilst others will want to have the flexibility of both. Research by Marie Claire and LinkedIn showed over half of women (52%) surveyed said they would turn down a job offer if the company did not offer the flexible working they required to maintain a work/life balance. There is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to flexible working. As everyone’s working patterns continue to change now is not the time to be making rigid policies, instead employers should remain flexible and listen to what their people want. By reviewing working practices and gathering feedback regularly, you can ensure everyone feels comfortable and supported.
Bringing together diversity and inclusion with health and wellbeing will drive a positive transformation in workplace mental health and performance. The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities for many and all employers have a responsibility to tackle this.
Black women and Women of Colour face unique obstacles and barriers, as do people from the LGBTQIA+ community and those with disabilities. For example, 46% of Black women feel their ideas are not heard or recognised, and Women of Colour are more likely to feel they need to compromise their authenticity if they want to be leaders.
The best workplaces understand and support women’s specific mental health needs, for example having an awareness of hormone related mental health conditions and co-designing policies, support and sign posting resources for women in the workplace. They also understand the diverse needs of all women, including trans women, to create a workplace culture free from discrimination, enabling people to bring their whole selves to work.
There is no one size fits all solution for mental health and wellbeing. Organisations will need to constantly adapt their strategy, so it is reflective of the nature of their workforce and business. The lessons learnt from managing and adapting to this ‘new world of work’ will need to be integrated into the fabric of a wider mental health and wellbeing strategy that is regularly reviewed to ensure it is effective. Ensuring all employees feel safe, confident and able to speak up and contribute in the workplace will better support peoples’ mental health as we all navigate a changing working world. This will be key for businesses to thrive post-pandemic.
For more advice on how to create an inclusive workplace culture and support employees with their mental health and wellbeing, visit: https://mhfaengland.org/my-whole-self/