With offices opening up again, and employees returning to the workplace, there is no shortage of anticipation as the Covid-19 pandemic subsides. While businesses look forward to returning to productivity, for HR Departments, there is also a new priority – employee mental health support. So what can HR do to ensure a happy return for everyone?
Recent research has revealed the degree to which employee mental health has become. According to a report from healthcare provider Koa Health, HR managers in the UK are now spending as much as 30% more time addressing mental health in the workplace than prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
The indications are that this problem is not likely to be temporary. As awareness increases, so too is a willingness to share that there are mental health problems and an expectation that employers should respond to them constructively.
The Rise of Pleasanteeism
Added to the usual suspects in employee mental health is the emergence of ‘Pleasanteeism’, described as the need employees have to hide what they are really feeling from their colleagues. This can negatively impact on individuals.
One recent report, from insurance firm Lime Global, revealed that 25% of those returning to the workplace are worried about presenting the best version of themselves of when they go back. And 19% say they are genuinely concerned about their stress or insecurities been visible to colleagues.
Other results are equally concerning:
- 16% feel their mental health was well supported at work
- 81% want their employers to support their mental wellbeing
- 42% expect their employer to do more post-pandemic
- 40% said they would look for a new job if their employer didn’t
Fears Over Mental Health
Research in the UK has shown that employees take an average of four mental health days’ leave annually. However, most worryingly, the majority of those who took that employee leave, 55%, lied about the reason, saying they had a physical illness rather than admit the truth.
Some stigma remains over the idea of ‘mental health issues’, with 14% of the survey participants revealing that when they were honest with their boss, they were told to ‘man up’. Some 69%, meanwhile, said barriers exist to getting support for mental health.
The reluctance is understandable, and the main reasons not to reveal the truth are a fear of being judged, of being demoted or even being sacked.
Employee Mental Health Initiatives
For HR Departments, there are several initiatives that can be adopted to help meet the new priority:
- Promote ‘Safe Spaces’
Designate specific office or workplace areas for employees to relax in and take their minds off work. It can be effective in alleviating stress. Just a small but rather calm location should do the trick, or a roof garden if you have space for one.
- Cognitive Hygiene
This is a clever name for basically managing negative thinking effectively. You can promote Cognitive Hygiene by encouraging employees to learn skills like mindfulness and meditation, and to keep a good work-life balance.
- Tailored Solutions
It’s not an exact science, so managers should be given some latitude to forge a mental health support that is right for their particular team members.
- Boost Internal Education
It’s important that managers receive the training necessary to maintain positive staff relationships. Training should not only focus on reactive measures but also include how to spot ‘triggers’ and to hold sensitive conversations.
- Encourage Open Dialogue
Create a workplace environment where mental health is not stigmatised and can be discussed openly. Some organisations have established a ‘Mental Health Champions Network’ to combat negative reactions and encourage open workplace dialogue.
- Introduce Employee Assistance Programmes
Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) can provide more advanced support for those who need it, through direct, confidential contact with experts.
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