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Providing mental health support in lockdown.

21st May 2020
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Mental Health Awareness Week is the perfect time for employers to reflect on the importance of putting their employees’ mental health needs first. And as the UK workforce struggles to cope with the fall-out of a global pandemic, this year’s Awareness Week is especially significant. Normal work life has been uprooted due to COVID-19 and feelings of anxiety and depression among employees are understandable. In fact, latest research from O.C Tanner found that between week 1 and week 3 of lockdown, the number of individuals experiencing depression jumped from 51 per cent to 60.6 per cent. Thankfully it’s not too late for employers to support those employees struggling with escalating anxiety. Here are seven ways to help.

Encourage regular breaks

Working long hours without a break can lead to depression and burnout, so leaders must encourage a good work-life balance. Perhaps leaders could introduce virtual coffee breaks and lunches, in which colleagues can enjoy non-work-based interaction over a sandwich. Fitness breaks should also become part of the new working day.

Make time for regular one-to-ones

Employees that report frequent one-to-one conversations with their supervisor are 77 per cent less likely to be depressed according to O.C. Tanner research. Leaders must therefore find the time for meaningful, informal and frequent one-to-one conversations. These conversations build stronger connections and allows leaders to quickly identify any wellbeing issues.

Don’t force FaceTime on employees

Leaders shouldn’t force FaceTime or Zoom on people if they prefer other ways of staying in touch. A simple phone call may be preferable and less intrusive for some employees, and so being sensitive to individuals’ needs is key to reducing unnecessary stress.

Make outreach easy

If employees need to speak to someone other than their line manager, do they know how to reach them when in lockdown? Contact details for mental health first aiders should be kept updated, posted on the intranet and regularly circulated.

Offer support, not diagnosis 

Leaders and MHFAs should be trained to listen and then provide support and guidance if necessary, but to avoid trying to diagnose the problem as this can do more harm than good. With many employees still working in isolation, a support network of ‘listeners’ is more important than ever.

Create a supportive culture

A toxic workplace culture increases moderate to severe burnout by 157 per cent and even the smallest lapses in workplace culture can lead to mild burnout. This is according to O.C. Tanner’s 2020 Global Culture Report. By focusing on creating a supportive ‘family’ culture in which employees feel psychologically safe, cared for and valued by their colleagues, they are far less likely to experience deteriorating mental health.

Recognise and appreciate regularly

Appreciating and recognising staff is key to improving their wellbeing. And during a time of crisis when people are dealing with isolation and the associated stresses, it's more important than ever for leaders to frequently praise and recognise effort. In fact, O.C Tanner research found that employees who had received recognition in the past seven days had experienced a 84 per cent reduced rate of depression.

Isolation shouldn’t mean isolated

Although most of the UK workforce is still in physical isolation, this doesn’t mean they should FEEL isolated. Employers must take steps towards improving the mental wellbeing of their employees, especially while in lockdown. Above all, they must show their people kindness. During a time of worry and uncertainty, reassurance and compassion are more important than ever. After all, a kind word and a thoughtful gesture could mean so much to a colleague battling anxiety.

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