The importance of employee mental health has gained much needed attention since the global coronavirus pandemic changed the way we work together, isolated many individuals and gave rise to more than half of all adults feeling stressed or anxious.
Even as employees are now returning to the office, businesses need to be mindful of the importance of mental health ongoing. Those that are committed to the wellbeing of their employees need to maintain transparency around their policies and activities, provide access to support, and give employees the channels to communicate with you and each other. Through your internal communications channels, you can keep information flowing to keep your employees engaged in your company values, organisational news and developments, and the tools and apps that are available for them to collaborate and communicate with each other.
Mental health matters
The Office for National Statistics found that 17.5 million workdays were lost to mental health-related absence, including stress, anxiety and depression in 2018. In the last ten years, the percentage of absences due to mental health reasons has increased in the UK. And with the long-term impact of the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn still unknown, these issues aren’t going anywhere.
Businesses need to take specific targeted action to address mental health issues or risk losing talented employees to ill health, or a company better prepared to support them. Internal communications managers have a part to play in delivering impactful employee wellbeing campaigns that address the issues that are giving rise to as many as 46% of employees stating that they feel worried about their mental health.
Make business commitments to provide support
Business leadership must take the lead in setting the tone with your mental health support campaigns. The topic needs to be tackled sensitively and with care. You can show commitment and maintain focus by appointing a Mental Health Champion – or even champions – to sense check comms against a checklist of dos and don’ts.
Take advice from the experts. The mental health charity Mind curates the site Mental Health at Work which provides a vast array of resources and toolkits for businesses of any size looking to support their employees at an individual or group level.
Acknowledge the long-term impact of the pandemic on the way you work
As a business, continuing to provide homeworking advice and support is vital. Don’t assume that all your employees are now experts at staying connected while working remotely, and remember your new starters who may have joined without physically visiting the company offices at all. Without structured guidance people can feel lost, isolated, and fearful.
However, if managed correctly remote working can be extremely productive so, if you are maintaining a commitment to any level of flexible working practice, ensure you have sensible polices in place to ensure workers can make their work-times visible, removing the pressure to still be ‘at work’ when other remote or flexible workers are.
For anyone making the move back to the office this – more than ever – needs to be a safe, positive place. Warning signs such as ‘Do not touch this desk’ can be off-putting and regarded as aggressive. Instead consider removing furniture to naturally facilitate social distancing at work. Continue to provide clear instructions for safety but don’t bombard people with urgent, stress-inducing messaging that might set off a detrimental emotional response.
Educate your workforce about mental health
An informed workforce is much more likely to empathise with those who are facing challenges with their mental health. Business environments are not traditionally set up to accommodate complex mental health needs.
Mental illness can affect anyone of us at any time and can be incapacitating. Most people are not aware of the wide range of mental health problems that their colleagues – or even they – may be dealing with. Businesses should be willing to accommodate for neurodiversity and inform staff in a sensitive manner how to best support those who are managing their own mental health issues.
Focus on support during periods of change
If your business is going through change – such as growth or downsizing, rebranding, or diversifying – be conscious that this could impact the wellbeing of your employees. Celebrate positive change, but make sure your messaging acknowledges that this change might not be received in the same way by everyone.
Internal Communications teams can support employees by starting and supporting the conversation around stress and mental health when the business is going through change such as an office move, digital transformation, or a company reorganisation. This can be done with HR on a team or 1-1 level, employing regular check-ins, by implementing a buddy system, or using chat forums or IM threads.
Ideally, managers should be trained to notice changing behaviours, such as increased absences, lower productivity, or disengagement with workplace social activities, and with remote workers noting a change in the frequency of communications, the presentation of the individual in video call, and methods they are choosing to communicate. These can be signs of someone struggling with their mental health. There are plenty of specialist training courses available to support you with this.
Ensure breaks are proper breaks
Businesses should encourage a policy of regular breaks with reminders to stand up, stretch and get away from their screen. M365 tools such as MyAnalytics empower individuals to understand how much time they are spending interacting with their workplace tools, and Viva provides personal insights to help them prioritise wellbeing by protecting time in the day for regular breaks or even learning.
In many offices now you might find a quiet zone or calm room for employees to step away and de-stress. If you have a remote working team, you could replicate this calm space by sharing daily yoga, meditation, or breathwork sessions through your communication hub.
Maintain momentum with open, honest messaging
Keep your employees informed with regular updates on what your organisation is doing to support mental health. This is a great way to remain accountable as a business and you can set up a long-standing campaign through a tool like Ripple’s Publisher to deliver regular mental health focussed content all year round, addressing – for example – concerns that may appear on a cyclical basis, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder or the loneliness that many can feel around public holidays.
Provide ‘on-tap’ mental health resources
Your internal comms hub is an excellent place to share links to helpful resources, and access to helplines and company wellbeing policies. You can use your more formal company communications – such as a company newsletter, or email – to deliver this information giving the contents an appropriate sense of importance.
Use informal channels to keep people involved
While it is important to ensure your employees know that you take the topic of mental health seriously, you must hold it lightly in your day-to-day communications. Using informal channels such as Slack, Teams or Trillian, or even the comments section on your comms platform, you can check in on individuals and encourage them to make connections across the organisation without a heavy hand.
Use these spaces to post, host and promote social events, book clubs, show-and-tells, pet pictures, ‘daily gratitude’, and so on. Leaders set the tone here and then stand back as if you set an open, friendly tone, and engage frequently, people will follow suit.
Check you’re doing ok
Finally tap into the sentiment analysis – such as Ripple’s Campaign Dashboard – against your campaigns. Study comments and reactions to check if people are responding positively, or negatively and whether relationships remain healthy. Run polls on instant messenger, request feedback from team leaders via email, and share and listen to stories from those around you to make sure marginalised voices are heard.
Whatever your approach, and whatever your policy, continue to listen.
By understanding the challenges that people can face, employing sensitivity and respect, and listening and observing track engagement, whether your people are office or remotely based, you will be able to continue to give them the support they need, long-term.
Some helpful apps and resources