Enabling Employees This Mental Health Awareness Week

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, a time to encourage deeper conversations and to explore initiatives that can support employees. The stigma surrounding mental health has been lessened thanks to open discussions, however, there is still progress to be made. Furthermore, these discussions need to be taking place in the professional spheres as according to a 2022 report, a staggering 61% of employees have never sought support for their mental health - despite one in five reporting that poor mental health impacts their productivity. We spoke to nine different technology leaders about their best advice and strategies going forward on how to prioritise wellbeing among employees and employers alike.

Anne Tiedemann, SVP, People & Investor Relations at Glasswall, acknowledges the impact the workplace can have upon stress levels: “Stress is unavoidable, and the workplace is often one of the most stressful environments that we experience. Research by the CIPD found that 79% of HR leaders surveyed reported stress-related absences in their organisation in 2020-21 – this rises to a staggering 91% in organisations with 250+ employees”.

These alarming statistics prove that employers need to introduce significant measures in order to see improvement. As Tiedemann emphasises, no one is exempt as “this is a crisis that impacts all levels of a business, from those just starting out in entry-level roles, all the way up to the C-suite. And when employees in leadership positions are stressed, this has a knock-on effect on their team who may be on the receiving end of a burned-out manager”.

Working From Home

The overnight shift to working from home, thrust upon us by the pandemic, has meant that a lot of in-person face-to-face interactions have been lost altogether. Richard Guy, Country Sales Manager UK & Ireland at Ergotron, looks at the importance of making contact by other means. “Finding creative ways for informal collaboration through technology - for instance Slack and Skype - give everyone access to say ‘How’s it going?’ or ‘I’m not OK’”.

It is also important to note that as we move into this ‘post-pandemic’ era, employers should not expect a transition back to the pre-pandemic way of life. Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer at Totalmobile, expands: “As we have just passed the two-year anniversary of when the UK first went into lockdown, it’s important to recognise the impact that these few years have had on employees. However, while many employees are keen to get out into the workplace again, they’re also typically less enthusiastic about returning full time, as some employers have been aiming towards”.

She continues by advising that “pressuring your staff to return to an office full time – or simply more days than suits them anymore – can have a negative impact on their mental health, putting them under undue stress as they try to balance their new habits with a traditional working pattern. A recent Ipsos survey for the World Economic Forum found that in the UK, only 27% of employees surveyed wanted to return to the office five days per week”.

Employer Responsibility

Employers have a vital role in putting provisions and measures in place to support their employees. As Kathryn Barnes, Employment Counsel EMEA at Globalization Partners, notes, they “should also create opportunities for open dialogues that enable workers to be forthright about their concerns or challenges, without fear of retribution, adopting a more person-centric approach to managing the health and wellbeing of their workforces. In doing so, they will have to rethink how they manage people and support them to reset the boundaries between home and work”.

It should, of course, be acknowledged that from the employee perspective it might be difficult when it comes to speaking about mental health in the workplace. Rob Shaw, SVP Global Sales at Fluent Commerce, explains: “Whilst mental health issues have been spoken about more widely in recent years, employees may find it daunting to share if they are struggling with their manager. Employers should create a culture where employees are able to openly discuss their feelings without fear of repercussion. Sharing online resources, having dedicated chat platforms where concerns can be shared, or having a qualified Mental Health First Aider, all help to support employees and show you are dedicated to their wellbeing”.

Equipping people within the organisation with the correct skillsets and information that enable them to offer support to others is also really important. Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA, SumTotal recommends that “a key first step should be providing training for line managers, helping them identify the potential causes and signs of stress and effectively manage workloads to ensure that staff are not overwhelmed”.

The Power of Small Actions

A key takeaway from this Mental Health Awareness Week is to start these strategies and initiatives now, and continue them past this week and into the future. They do not need to be great transformations as Hugh Scantlebury, Founder & CEO of Aqilla, emphasises. “Small actions — such as reminding employees to take breaks throughout the workday — make a big difference. Similarly, regular and informal check-ins allow employees to address any concerns. All these things can play a part in reducing stress and avoiding burnout”.

The simplicity of the actions which could be taken cannot be understated enough as Dave Birchall, Chief People Officer at Node4, adds: “Whether it is a regular coffee morning for people to connect and catch up, encouraging employees to take regular breaks or more structured support, such as providing tips and techniques to help manage stress or access to professional support services”.

Ultimately, as Kathy Doherty, HR Director EMEA at Cubic Corporation, highlights: “Giving employees control over how and when they work not only helps reduce stress, but contributes to building a happier and more productive working culture”. She concludes, “This Stress Awareness Month, and beyond, we urge all organisations to lead with communication and compassion - the benefits are tenfold”.

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