World Mental Health (Every) Day
Debbie Bullock, Aviva’s wellbeing lead, looks at how we would all benefit from thinking of every day as a mental health day.
Every year, on 10 October, we focus on mental health because it's World Mental Health day. That's one day.
Yet, for many of us, this focus could be part of our daily lives. For employers, as for so many employees, mental health issues need to be at the top of the agenda all year.
Events like World Mental Health Day are great for raising awareness and launching an initiative is often a positive first step. However, as often happens, time lapses and the focus becomes a bit fuzzy. If the lens shifts, it's important to make sure mental health concern isn't too far from the minds of people at all levels of the business.
Since mental health concerns may lead to poor performance and absence, businesses can help protect the mental health of their employees by following my top ten tips. These approaches work well at Aviva and they're designed to be effective regardless of the challenges an employee is facing.
10 ways to support employees' mental health all year
1. Make sure everyone feels free to talk openly
It's important to recognise that focusing on mental health is a daily, weekly and monthly practice. And not simply one day a year.
This means, making sure the noise level doesn't drop. Whether through email, intranet or posters around the workplace, regular communication is key.
But before this communication can take place, reviewing business culture to make sure these messages have a safe landing place is fundamental. Developing a workplace culture that allows employees to feel safe discussing mental health concerns and encourages psychological safety, or working in a place without fear of retribution or ridicule, is key.
2. Empower your line managers
Helping managers to understand the importance of mental health and their role in confidently and sensitively approaching chats with their team is an empowering step in any business.
Managers should be aware of signs that someone is finding it difficult to cope with growing levels of stress. To help them spot team members who may be struggling, and recognising challenges faced at different life stages, training on mental health issues could be explored. This training doesn't need to be time consuming and can often fit conveniently around core duties if delivered remotely.
3. Make full use of natural enthusiasm
Recruiting wellbeing champions from around the business may be a positive step in keeping mental health awareness a priority for employees. These volunteers can help support their colleagues, organise activities and shape the dynamic of wellbeing culture in the business. Also, people listen to their peers.
4. Schedule catch-ups to maintain momentum
In addition to having regular catch ups with team members and listening carefully to any concerns, leaders should act on what they've heard.
Regular catch ups allow those at the top of the business to understand what's happening at ground level and change initiatives appropriately, so employees trust that their wellbeing and mental health matters.
5. Stay close to remote workers
Increasingly, employees work from multiple locations. This could be from multi-site facilities, field work or working from home.
Recognising the diverse perspectives and unique challenges to each type of working situation may help employees feel more connected to the business or their work.
Staying connected and in close touch with remote workers may help them feel more connected to colleagues and, as a result, decrease the likelihood of low morale and, ultimately, poor mental health.
6. Take care to avoid an ‘always on’ culture
As the pace, place and pressure of work continually shifts, the lines between home life and work life may increasingly blur. For some, this may mean challenges in 'switching off', both (literally) the computer and (metaphorically) their mind, which can be a source of anxiety or stress.
Making sure employees' work-life and personal life boundaries are respected may be a matter of clear communication. For instance, if colleagues are sending emails out of reasonably expected office hours, they could include a message acknowledging this point and noting that they don't expect a response right away.
Encourage colleagues to 'book end' their day with a clear transition between work time and personal time. It's also important to lead this example from the top, with leaders keeping their own work-life balance in harmony.
7. Provide an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
Consider having an Employee Assistance Programme that could put employees in contact with third parties (counselling and referral services) to help them with personal challenges that may affect their performance at work.
As it's important that employees know how to access professional help quickly and effectively, creating regular internal communications may help raise awareness.
8. Have a company strategy on wellbeing
Creating an environment of trust and confidentiality is the responsibility of all employers, managers and colleagues. To help achieve this, consider setting out the wellbeing approach in the form of a company strategy.
This could include work-life balance information, access to mental health support and resources on how mental, physical and financial health may be linked. If you're unsure about which areas to focus on, your workplace benefits provider should be able to help.
9. Lean on your workplace benefits provider
Speak with your provider for guidance and resources to promote wellbeing. From supportive apps and online tools to easing access to counselling and nutrition services, providers could help you develop a holistic approach to mental health that goes far beyond awareness.
10. Set up year-round shared interest groups
Building a sense of purpose and community can be a powerful way to grow and maintain good mental health. This may look like encouraging activities that range from lunchtime yoga and exercise classes to book clubs and discussion groups. Whether online or face to face, having a chance to connect over something that isn't work related may have a positive impact on employees' mental health.
There's a strong connection between physical and mental wellbeing, so more active pursuits could benefit mental health as well.
Adopting these ten points can help take mental health focus from one day a year to a focus that is embedded in a positive, wellbeing centred business culture.