Employee mental health questions answered

In this Q&A with clinical psychologist Kate Daley, HR magazine editor Jo Gallacher asks how can we keep mental health at the forefront of organisations post-pandemic?

We know mental health has been impacted by the pandemic, how will life after lockdown impact this even further? 

Returning to the workplace signals yet another period of adjustment, changes to routine or mingling with lots of people again. Our priorities may have shifted and some of us may have discovered new ways of working that we want to maintain.

To prevent further impact to people’s mental health, we need to give time for this adjustment, being mindful it can be exhausting and anxiety-provoking for some. We should also consider any changes we might be able to make as we move into this next phase.

Approaching people with curiosity and finding out what they value is the first step in establishing a flexible, supportive environment where employees can flourish.


How has remote working impacted employee mental health?

While working from home, the physical boundaries between life and work no longer exist – our homes became our workplaces. This has been reflected in our minds too. COVID-19 disrupted our daily routines - gone was our time to commute and our time to decompress. Without mindful intervention, it’s easy for the boundaries between work and home life to blur entirely.

Adding to that, remote working has made it harder for many employers and senior management to get a sense of overall levels of happiness at work. Previously colleagues were able to catch up over lunch, a coffee break or casually by the printer, but office closures meant our usual routes of checking in on each other were put on pause, leaving some people feeling more disconnected or isolated.

While many of us may be looking forward to returning to the workplace it’ll be important for employers to remember to continue to proactively reach out and support their employees who are not returning to the office, or on the days that they’re working remotely.


How can HR ensure its wellbeing strategy is inclusive?

All employees are different – but everyone has mental health and everyone needs to be looked after. If your wellbeing strategy isn’t inclusive or accessible to people irrespective of gender, class, age, disability or ethnicity, it’s not working.

To create an inclusive wellbeing strategy, consider incorporating a wide range of wellbeing resources, techniques, and channels of delivery into your strategy to meet the needs of everyone. Each employee will have a unique experience of their own mental health and relate to content differently. Co-create this with your employees rather than taking a top-down approach.


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What do employees want to see from their leaders when it comes to mental health support?

Employees want to see their leaders taking a proactive and preventative approach to managing the mental wellbeing of employees, for the right reasons. It should not just be a tick box exercise; it needs to be well thought out and with the right intention.

The most powerful thing leaders can do is role model, essentially to practice what they preach - whether that’s in the language they use or through their actions - encouraging open dialogue, sharing experiences or demonstrating a work life balance as just a few examples.


Mental health awareness has skyrocketed in the last few years, how can we keep it in the hearts and minds of organisations?

Mental health interventions should not be seen as only reactive or a ‘one-off’ fix. We need to focus on maintaining the right support at all times, with prevention at the heart so we can help to mitigate mental ill-health and give employees the tools they need to flourish. To keep awareness in our hearts and minds, we need to keep these conversations going and focus now not only on the one in six with a mental health problem, but the six in six. Remembering that we all have mental health all of the time.


How can technology better support employees’ mental health?

Technology’s scalability gives employers the tools to proactively support every employee in their business at a relatively low cost. Workplace mental health initiatives have typically supported the one in six employees experiencing challenges. But, by lowering the barrier to accessing mental health services, anyone in possession of a phone, computer or tablet can proactively manage, measure, and improve their mental wellbeing, anywhere at any time.

Building on that, with online mental healthcare, employees are given a platform to input how they feel anonymously and seek support for their mental health without judgement. It becomes a safe space for people to start their mental wellbeing journey – to learn about, measure and improve their mental health in a way that’s empowering and authentic. This also enables employers to track employee wellbeing over time, which can inform their wellbeing strategies.


What benefit do Mental Health Champions bring to the workforce?

Mental Health champions are often integrated into a team to champion workplace health initiatives. The group is often made up of employees from all levels, whether that be a junior member of staff or a senior executive who’s been at the company for years. What unites them is a shared passion for mental health and wellbeing.

One of the greatest benefits mental health champions offer is that, as employees themselves, they’re able to keep a pulse on the wellbeing of people on the ground level. The purpose is to support, educate and engage others in activities that holistically improve wellbeing. This helps to reduce stigma and allows people who are struggling to be signposted to and empowered to seek further support.

Gymshark is a prime example of a company recruiting internal wellbeing enthusiasts to form its ‘Healthy Minds’ team, an organic grass-roots initiative that brought together a team of people who are committed to improving company-wide mental health.

In addition to creating an open culture around mental health, their goals were to combat stress and promote mental health management, ensure the entire workforce is accessing the support available, and finally, measurably improve the mental wellbeing of the workforce.


Kate Daley is clinical psychologist at Unmind