Hybrid working is here to stay. But this new era of work is taking its toll and calls for a more modern approach to well-being that many businesses are still grappling with. To round off Mental Health Week, Jessica Hardy discusses how we can be most effective in supporting, and promoting mental wellbeing in our teams.

There’s no going back - truly flexible workplaces that support people to do their best work (in ways that work for them), are going to be the winners in the much-discussed ‘war for talent’.

Whilst loaded with benefits - from saving on travel and environmental costs to spending more time with family and friends, - remote and hybrid working also comes at a cost. Mental wellbeing has suffered; with loneliness and stress a common payoff for the freedom and flexibility we’re now accustomed to.

Buffers State of Remote Work Survey found that 52% of global employees felt less connected to their colleagues since shifting to remote work, with two-thirds of employees experiencing moderate to high-stress levels.

Huge increases in living costs, the ongoing pandemic, wars, and world instability, all add to the mental burnout. Throw in fluctuating teams, workloads and new business models, and overwhelmed might just cut it.

However, whilst proven critical to talent retention, productivity, and the bottom line, ‘employee wellbeing’ often falls to a department or workstream, rather than being woven into the fabric of the employee experience. The irony of employees taking up work meditation courses in a state of poor mental health because of their workplace culture is not lost.

So, what can be done? While there’s no fix-all solution to addressing mental wellbeing at work, there are some simple principles that can help steer a healthy workplace:

1. Role model a healthy culture

Leadership role modelling is the number one driver of healthy workplace culture. Leaving on time, keeping emails within work hours, taking time out to pick up the kids, exercising, taking holiday days etc. – and talking about it, lets your employees know that it’s okay. Set the bar for good work practices and self-care from the top. 

2. Make time for small talk

Most people don’t love online meetings, so we tend to just ‘get them done'. Often getting through the agenda, then back to work without taking a break for human connection. Some people will choose to spend less time in the office, making visual cues to mental health issues more difficult. Allow, and encourage, a 10-minute buffer in team meetings to chat and check in with your team.

3. Evaluate stress levels and company priorities

Yoga, massages, meditation workshops… these are nice perks, but temporary plasters for overworked, stressed-out teams. Listen to how people are feeling and find realistic solutions to help them cope. Need to reduce the number of initiatives or have meeting-free days? Help your teams prioritise their workloads and say no to work that doesn’t develop key business or team goals.

4. Focus on soft skills

Since managers are an employee's first point of contact, being trained on how to spot common mental health conditions such as signs of stress and anxiety, is the first step in supporting them. Learning how to approach and talk to people about their mental health is a valuable skill that requires confidence and training. Invest in developing these soft skills in your managers to address mental health problems early on.

5. Encourage movement and connection

We know physical exercise is good for our mental health, yet too often we prioritise everything else. Encourage people to get up and move together with company Strava clubs, lunchtime yoga, walking meetings and fundraisers. In addition to reducing stress in the workday, team activities are a great excuse to connect to others while being active. Sometimes a small nudge and the space to do it is all that’s needed.

Critical to your people, work and reputation, if employee wellbeing is to be considered holistically - not as a perk or extra curriculum activity – it requires action and buy-in from the top. Holding up a mirror isn’t always easy, but implementing ways of working and protocol that supports your people to do their best work, without damaging their mental health, will pay back dividends.

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