How to support your staff and their mental health whilst home-working

A helpful guide from Tara Leadley-Machell a trained Mental Health First Aider

A 34-year-old man from Crookhorn, near Portsmouth, tragically took his own life last week after being unable to cope with the loneliness from self-isolating brought about by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. 

We’ve all heard the guidance on how to keep you and your staff in good health during pandemic, but are you looking after their mental health as well?

In these times of uncertainty and things changing at such a rapid rate such as home working and business’s needing to furlough staff etc it is understandable that it can impact peoples mental health. Whilst these steps are necessary, everyone reacts differently and understandably many people will be feeling a mixed bag of emotions such as anxiety, stress, worry and fear. Therefore, it’s important that we recognise the affects this could have on employee’s mental health and take action to ensure they are in a good head space. 

So, what can you do to help protect your staff’s mental health and well-being during this period?

1) Keep connected with your people

For most, their norm would be coming into the office every day and interacting with their colleagues. This huge change in routine might be hard for many on multiple levels, therefore, it’s important to keep in touch with people regularly. This could be something as simple as a team daily catch up email or phone call. Also encourage them to keep in contact with their peers and teams. There are a variety of platforms to help facilitate virtual check-in such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack.

Communications durning remote working

 

2) Communication, communication, communication!

Good communication is imperative for home working to be successful. It would be prudent to put a communication policy and procedure in place to map out how and when to communication with team members. 

Communication needs to be clear and concise, with no ambiguity. Also, be open and honest with people, even if it’s bad news. One of the many causes of anxiety is the anticipation of bad news, so it’s better to rip off the plaster and come out with it.

Communication is a two-way street, when employees trust their management team to communicate honestly with them, they will in turn feel more comfortable approaching them with any issues and concerns they have. Many people will take solace in approaching their manager to discuss a problem, which will often be in a quiet corner of the office or a meeting room. There’s no reason this still can’t happen remotely via phone or video.

A problem shared is often a problem halved. 

3) The Trust Fall

Working from home will be new to most people and it may take a while to get used to, so If they don’t answer the phone immediately it doesn’t mean they’re not working. They could have simply gone to the bathroom, be making a coffee or just be on the other line. These are all things which would still occur in the office. Don’t be tempted to chase them more frequently because you’re not in the office. For home working to be successful, the employee needs to be trusted to get on with their work and that they’re performing. Be clear about mutual expectations and trust your team to get on without micromanaging. Focus on results rather than activity.

Take a break to support your mental health


4) Have a break, have a Kitkat (or two!)

In the absence of colleagues coming over to talk to staff or making a tea round, it can be easy to stay at your desk for longer periods. Reiterate to your staff that they need to take regular short breaks away from their desks/kitchen tables . This is a great time to practice what you preach; leading from the front to promote this positive behaviour through reinforcement.

Not only do your eyes, neck and shoulders need a rest from staring at a monitor but you need to give your brain a rest too! Research shows that humans naturally move from full focus and energy to physiological fatigue every 90 minutes. Taking regular breaks throughout the day is important to avoid burnout, keep productivity high and maintain morale.

We all know working through lunch has a negative impact on work efficiency and wellbeing, and working from home doesn’t change that. Lunch breaks are often an overlooked source of stress relief and they are one of the easiest tools to implement. Encourage your team to stop and have a proper break, get away from their desks to disconnect from work and have a change of scenery.  

5) All work and no play makes Jack…..

Many workspaces have breakout spaces and communal dining areas to bring employees together and socialise. Social interaction with team members is often a stress relief for many. With this is mind, virtual social activities should be encouraged amongst the team, whether it be lunch over FaceTime or bringing the team together for a weekly quiz or Beer O’clock on Friday’s. Not only will this help to improve morale and build comradery within the team, it will help to minimise the feeling of loneliness. Loneliness and isolation will negatively impact performance which in turn compounds the effects on mental health.

6) Rye, shine, and getting the flock to sleep

Our physical health has a significant impact on how we feel. Whilst there is heightened anxiety in the air, it’s even more important to eat well. A healthy and well-balanced diet can help to improve mood as well as increase energy levels. Staying hydrated is equally important, a lack of fluids can lead to difficulty with concentration, headaches and thinking clearly.

At times like this, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour which can end up making you feel worse. A healthy diet will also help to keep immune systems strong.

Promote your staff to get out in the sunshine during their lunch and boost their vitamin D levels. Vitamin D increases serotonin production which can help to regulate mood and ward off depression. It’s likely that staff will be feeling more stressed than usual and Vitamin D can help to reduce stress as well as boosting mood.

Vitamin D can also help sleep quality by promoting optimal melatonin (sleep hormone) secretion at night. A lack of quality sleep can negatively impact both our physical and mental health as well as reduce our immune system’s ability to fight off infections. Conversely, when your people are well rested and recharged, you’ll notice the difference in productivity and motivation.

Researchers have found that the relationship between sleep problems and anxiety is bidirectional. This means that sleep problems can cause anxiety, and anxiety can disrupt your sleep. This is the same for stress and even depression. Calming the mind is the prerequisite for getting a good night’s sleep. There are many relaxation techniques that can help calm the mind throughout the day and improve sleep. Encourage mindfulness meditation, yoga and breathing exercises to help achieve calm. Something as simple as taking a walk when you have a short break can also help to clear the mind. If you practice techniques for calming your mind during the day, then it will be easier to trigger your relaxation response at night. 

A resource and discussion for reducing drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic

Take a break from your desk to support mental health while remote working

7) Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy

Staying active is a must for our mental health. When we exercise, we produce endorphins which are the body’s feel food chemicals, and like our friend Mr. Sunshine, exercise also increases serotonin levels. As well as helping to boost mood, exercise can also help to reduce anxiety and stress as it helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. With these feelings currently being so prevalent in the workplace, promoting exercise and movement is a great way to try to keep people in a good head space, as well as keeping their physical health in good check. 

There are many online activities and fitness classes available and some gyms are now live streaming their classes. Links for these could always go in a daily catch up email for instance.

Another idea which has grown in popularity over the last month are virtual marathons and treks from all over the words. These can also be done as a team challenge where the distance is shared between other people in the team. These challenges are a fantastic way to promote teamwork, increase collaboration and strengthen the team bond and relationships.

As previously mentioned, fresh air and sunshine works wonders for our mental health, so inspire your staff get out for a walk or run at lunch time, or even before the start of the day which can help to feel like they have mentally ‘arrived’ at work. Doing the same when they finish their shift can help them to leave their work mindset behind and switch off.

8) A good workspace isn’t just for the office

On average we spend 30% of our week at work and at our desks, so a good workspace is essential. Encourage them to set up their workspace near a window to allow natural light and fresh air. Working near a window can also help to bring nature to their workday.

If the weather is good, why not combine a change in scenery for a short period and work outside in the garden.

Bringing nature into everyday life can benefit both mental and physical wellbeing. It can improve mood and reduce feelings of stress or anger.

9) The power of praise

Recognition has been proven to be one of the best methods of improving motivation and engagement amongst employees. When hard work is noticed, employees will feel valued and appreciated. As well as boosting confidence and morale, giving recognition whilst working remotely can have an even bigger impact and is another type of emotional reinforcement that they might need in order to feel a valued member of the team.

Many staff will be working harder than ever, especially with so many companies needing to furlough staff and run on skeleton teams. There are hundreds of online retailers that do letterbox friendly care packages and hampers. Something as simple a box of chocolates and a thank you note go a long way.

Recognition and appreciation will always help to keep morale high, no matter where you’re working from and for home workers it can give a much-needed boost.

Mental Health Awareness

 

10) It’s ok not to be ok

If your staff are struggling with their mental health and are feeling worried and anxious, its important to remind them that it’s ok to feel this way and that they’re not alone. Quite often people feel better just by telling someone how they feel. Whilst it won’t be a physical door, reiterate to them that your door is always open if they need to talk and encourage them to keep in touch with friends and family.

If your company has a Mental Health First Aider ensure their contact details are available to the staff and remind them to get in touch with them if needed. They can use their skills to support anyone struggling with their mental health by signposting them to the appropriate support, both in and outside of the workplace.

Some people may not feel comfortable sharing their feelings with people they know so remind your team of the helplines available. 

Fundamentally, looking after your employees’ mental well-being and health is not just the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense.  A well looked after employee will be more productive, motivated and loyal to the company – the customer benefits, the employees’ benefit, and business owners benefit through increased profits too.

Your actions now will impact on your business post COVID-19, staff that feel undervalued or unsupported will look elsewhere, and rather than the team pulling together post COVID-19 it breaks apart, hampering your recovery.

Remember actions speak volumes, the way you support your employees during this period will live long in the memory, if you show compassion and genuine concern for your team it will only strengthen your business, meaning you will recover quicker, post COVID-19.

 

Some great helplines and support groups are:

Mind
Website: www.mind.org.uk
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
Website: https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/

Samaritans
Website: https://www.samaritans.org/
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)

Anxiety UK
Website: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 10pm;
Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 8pm)

 

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