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Supporting Employee Mental Health in the 'New Normal' Workplace

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No one would have predicted at this time last year that the ways in which we all live would be affected by a global pandemic. As workplaces adapt to the New Normal – primarily working remotely from home – this comes with increasing employer awareness of how to ensure staff mental wellbeing is a priority, not just during the pandemic, but afterwards too.

During the time out of the first UK lockdown, there have been some people working anywhere but home or an office. We recently did a poll on our LinkedIn, asking people where their preferred place of work is - it revealed 61 per cent of those who took part preferred working from home.

Whatever way employee's prefer to work, staff should feel as though their individual needs are being met with understanding and acceptance by their employers.

A mental health charity on the Isle of Man, Isle Listen, actively promotes mental health awareness through their programmes in schools, workplaces and the community. During local lockdown, they delivered a series of free, one-hour webinars to workplaces both on the Island and abroad.

Gareth Nicholson and Mandy Kinnell spoke to us about the charity's findings from the past year during lockdown and how they're still helping organisations since.


What has Isle Listen been doing to support local businesses?

Mandy: “We've been providing lots of training, even during lockdown from a couple of weeks after we started working from home. We had a series of seven one-hour webinars on a series of mental health topics that we delivered for free to local organisations and to the public and to organisations off-Island as well.”

Gareth: “We chose to record those – so we made them available on YouTube for local businesses to use and their discretion as well. We partnered with a couple of companies who had put their own websites together and added our content onto them so that people could use the information when it's needed.”

What feedback have you received through your training?

M: “We've learnt an awful lot about some of the challenges people are facing during lockdown. With things like home schooling and sitting alongside holding down a full-time job, for example, the challenge of balancing everything and delivering everything that they need to, with all the stresses and strains caused by that. And actually, people coming out of lockdown as well, it happened so swiftly in the Isle of Man and it went overnight from social distancing and all of the different restrictions to it suddenly being ‘switched off.' So, with that, you had people suddenly having to make that swift transition into work and some of the workplaces really expected quite quickly people to come back into work.

“I think what we're seeing is with other organisations, they have done a much slower transition. It's a real mixture of people being back in the workplace almost being back to normal, back to how things were prior to lockdown and others, where they have gradually come back into the workplace, or they've maintained a bit of homeworking. There's a balance between some flexibility to work from home for a certain number of days per week, along with time in the office as well.”

G: “In immediate lockdown as well, we saw quite a quick reaction from different companies on the ability to work from home. Workstations were set up very quickly, and the ability to carry on their jobs as best they can. We were really surprised – even our company – how well we were able to adapt so quickly, which reduces the impact on somebody's mental health – the worrying about the income/can they still do their job – but also it added to that flexibility and what's expected of them. A lot of companies are taking the approach that as long as the key jobs were done and key targets were met, then that's fine to work towards that and build it up as we go along throughout lockdown. Then there's the growth factor – when they come out of lockdown, the companies that we've found were successful are carrying on things like that, things that were working well throughout that tricky period, they've actively carried that on rather than falling back into the old ways.”

M: “We've certainly seen a sharp increase in the number of organisations asking us to provide training for their staff. I think they've acknowledged that we've been through a difficult period – and still going through a difficult period as we're very much connected to the world around us. As a result, they see there is a need to upskill their staff.”

What were the most common answers and results from your findings?

M: “We discovered, even though it's a bit of a strange setting for us to provide our training, we do have an element of discussion. We understood there were a lot of challenges, especially after lockdown, such as an expectation to think it didn't happen. The really successful organisations were the ones that realised that they had to adapt really quickly and that in this new world, it requires that added flexibility - it's not about the number of hours people do per day, it's about what they deliver.”

G: “The approaches that were taken and the impact on people's wellbeing is hugely different. Also trying to keep up to date on information - we found that could be very negative to people's wellbeing and it almost became addictive looking at this new information. There would be shared ideas between staff – we had a virtual canteen, for example, where people got together to support each other and their wellbeing which we thought was an excellent idea. There were recipes being shared and this has carried on since.”

M: “I think that there was a real acknowledgment that wellbeing is one of those things that's fundamental to having employees and it should be part of their business model to look after their staff. Giving them opportunities to share and to talk.”

G: “People almost became more understanding about what people were going through. People would ask questions, as simple as: “How are you doing?” Which was great because we all face difficult times.”

M: “Post-lockdown, we've had people mention that they never used to ask people if they were OK. Like a bit of a lightbulb moment - it's those fundamental, human things that make a big difference.”

How much do you think this year has affected the ways in which businesses operate and how are they ensuring that their employee's mental health isn't compromised?

G: “Working from home was one of the major things that was looked at. A lot of companies had said that it was impossible for them to do. Suddenly, they were faced with this situation where they had to try and do it, and because it's become successful, they've realised that it hasn't had as much of a negative impact. In fact, it's quite a good thing, and so they've carried that on.”

M: “That's got to be the major thing, really, and even if it's only on an ad hoc basic, or a certain number of days per week, it means people can have the flexibility to focus on the other responsibilities they may have – a bereavement in the family, for instance – they know that the company's not going to be on their back about only having a certain amount of time off and they can manage that, as long as they're delivering what they need to. I think it has opened a lot of organisation's eyes that flexibility is doable and it's a positive thing.”

G: “We've also seen that due to demand after lockdown here, the amount of companies that have been in touch with us about providing them training has shot up. It's good that they've realised that what we've been through has had an impact on everyone and they're trying to do something about it. That's the message that we want to get that out there to everyone, that there is support out there.”

What's been the most alarming findings from your research?

M: “We anticipated that during lockdown, we would see a big spike in people reaching out for support, for therapy and so on. We did offer that, we offered free calls, but we didn't see the take-up that we expected. What we are now just starting to see is that increasing again. We've had a lot of discussion about that and we find it's often the way.”

G: “What we saw after lockdown was that families reconnected and there was an upsurge in that. People can fall into the old habits and not connect as much as they did during this time. What we're expecting is a surge in that people who are going to be struggling again during the ‘new normal'.”

What advice would you give to anyone who may be struggling with their job now?

M: “It's tricky and it is a question that comes up a lot on our courses. If somebody's really struggling, they can struggle to think clearly and make decisions. All those things just become that bit trickier. And often people can get into the ‘tunnel vision' way of thinking that there's no other options. There are other choices out there, just reach out. It can feel awful if you feel stuck and it can be detrimental to somebody's mental health. Recruitment agencies can give you the perspective of other options.”

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