In recent years, mental health has moved up the agenda. From being a topic that was invariably brushed under the carpet and deemed ‘personal’, it has gained increasing attention in all walks of life. Within the health service, across the media, highlighted by celebrities, talked about in schools and gradually discussed more openly in society – how poor mental health negatively impacts people is now securing traction. Not least, within the workplace.
Covid-19 has accelerated this. As people worried about their physical health because of the virus, finding themselves having to accommodate dramatically changed working and personal lives, as well as dealing with job insecurity, bereavement, remote learning and working, isolation and much more – many people’s mental health was under greater pressure in the past couple of years than ever before.
This inevitably impacts workplace wellbeing as cases of anxiety and depression increase and firms need to respond. This is where mental health first aid really comes to the fore and training staff is crucial.
The latest CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work report found that only 38% of HR professionals think managers are confident enough to have sensitive discussions on employee wellbeing and signpost to the right experts. Whether managers or not, when staff are trained as mental health first aiders, they are taught to spot the signs of mental health issues, offer initial help and guide a person towards support. It’s intuitive training – you learn that it’s not about giving advice, you never pass judgement or offer opinion. But you do nudge them in the right direction so they can access the right support.
The Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) organised the training that our employees went on. As a healthcare communications agency, operating in the service sector, we know how important our people are. That means that to get the best out of them, we must support them in reaching their goals and helping them develop – or, indeed, making it equally fine for them to remain in the roles they are in, if that suits them better.
We know that dialogue is as much about listening as it is about speaking – and that sits at the core of this training. Listening is essential to achieving productivity and building relationships at all levels.
Active consideration is central to our approach to ensuring mental wellbeing in our team. This involves careful and considered thought in everything that we do. It means not just listening but acting on what you’re hearing and seeing. It’s the small signs that can be the most telling.
Workplace wellbeing doesn’t mean that everyone must always agree and that it can only be achieved by working in perfect harmony. Healthy conflict is acceptable and to be encouraged – no two people are the same, everyone has different working styles. Indeed, as businesses and organisations look to diversify, the way people work, interact and communicate may vary more.
Nurturing an empathetic stance – seeing the world through other people’s eyes – is one of the central requirements and becomes more important as companies become more inclusive and grow their businesses. There is a balance to setting achievable, healthy challenges – that can keep people stimulated and learning – without piling on undue, or unnecessary, stress. You don’t want a workforce in a constant state of tension and always feeling ‘hyper’.
Give people space to learn; no one is perfect and mistakes will happen, but they are also the best opportunities to learn and it is for colleagues and managers to have resolve and fix any mistakes so that the individual can learn and grow from the experience in a supported manner.
There are steps to take to ensure mental wellbeing. Encouraging open dialogue and operating open-door policies are a start. Invest in HR support – and this may mean bringing in external resource if the business is too small to support a dedicated HR department of its own. Don’t just send one or two people on mental health first aid training – work towards sending all your employees.
Go back to the basics such as encouraging staff to take their lunchbreaks – just as important when home working as when in the office – and to use all their annual leave. Beyond that there are additional measures such as days off for volunteering and having an extra day for your birthday that be considered. At our company, we give everyone the opportunity to have four charity days a year.
With hybrid working entrenched, building in regular one-to-ones, away days and socials has become more important. These can instil a sense of belonging, especially as aspects of post-lockdown life can be isolating. Deep dives into the company purpose reinforce for employees why they work for the business and what it stands for; sharing that sense of why they do what they do and why it matters. This can be particularly effective when combined with an immersive away day experience, free from outside influences and working day pressures.
In industries like ours, which are highly competitive and fast paced, the mental load on employees is high. In the service sector we expect a lot of staff and if their mental health isn’t prioritised, there’s a risk of burnout. Using the elastic band analogy – we all like to be stretched a bit, indeed we’re happiest when we’re comfortably stretched, but not so far as to snap.
It is imperative for us all to monitor each other – we have a duty to support and nurture our staff and colleagues. Mental health first aid can work as a vital steppingstone to instilling good mental health practices into wider company culture and ensure everyone knows what to be looking out for in others, as well as themselves. Everyone is different, there’s no right and wrong, and we can all adapt where we need to.
Written by Molly Coxon, Page & Page and Partners