Every year in the UK we have Mental Health Awareness Week. This year it ran from the 9th to the 15th May 2022 (and its running 15th – 21st May in 2023) with many organisations taking part and flooding their social media channels with support for the campaign.
At this stage, let me start by saying I’m not knocking the effectiveness of Mental Health Awareness Week, I think it’s a great idea and helps to normalise conversations around an area which for some is still a bit taboo.
My question would be, why is it only so loudly spoken about during this week? Wouldn’t it be great if organisations treated everyday of the year like it was Mental Health Awareness Week and really made it part of their culture?
It’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking your organisation needs to take part and show your support for something when it doesn’t match reality. Employees will see through this as just virtue signalling.
I know from experience of working in a business that was toxic but every year during Mental Health Awareness Week, some posters were put up, tweets sent out etc and then it would be forgotten about. Making it all feel pretty pointless to the employees and just a tick box exercise.
In extreme cases, trying to get involved with a noble cause that doesn’t actually match up to how your organisation is run can massively backfire. During International Women’s Day in 2022 many organisations who posted about it on social media were named and shamed by the Twitter bot @PayGapApp for actually not paying female workers the same as their male co-workers.
Actions not Words…
So how can your organisation avoid own-goals like these?
The answer is to create and maintain a culture of wellbeing and inclusivity that actively supports employees. By doing this your people will feel heard, supported. This will have a positive effect on their mental health and encourage conversations about their wellbeing.
This is vital in today’s world of work where you’ll have a mixture of office, home and remote workers each having different experiences and challenges in their working days.
But how can this be done?
Well, to be honest it’s not easy and it’s not something that is going to happen overnight but to get you started here are five behaviours you should implement. By embracing them it will show your people you support their mental health everyday of the year, not just when it’s trending…
1. Communication & Check-ins
The first one is the most important in my opinion, you need to talk talk talk to your people regularly. Workers hate when they’re not communicated with enough, as it leaves them feeling out of the loop and this can be a cause of great stress and anxiety.
So to avoid negatively impacting their mental health, you just need to communicate more and more with them. There’s nothing wrong with over-communication either in my opinion – better to have too much than too little.
Line managers should also make time for regular check-ins with their team. A simple ‘how are you?’ can mean a lot and be a gateway to conversations that make the employee feel heard and valued. This is vital for those that work from home, as the isolation of not being office-based and having less daily conversations can be a big contributing factor to having a negative headspace.
You should also encourage two-way communication with workers. For those who don’t feel comfortable talking openly, having other outlets such as employee surveys or confidential communication tools are important to have in place too, so they can tell you if they’re struggling and it shows you want to listen.
2. Normalise healthy behaviours
LinkedIn, in particular, is full of people who claim it’s good to get up at 4am and ‘eat success for breakfast’, never switch off and work 24/7. Back here on planet earth, this is unrealistic and a quick way to achieve burnout.
Organisations don’t want their employees to drop like flies, so it’s important that you lead by example and encourage your people to switch off. This includes making it clear to them you don’t expect them to be checking and replying to emails or instant messages outside of work hours or that you want them to take their lunch break away from their desk everyday.
Managers can lead by example here (more on this later) by not working through lunch breaks and not firing off emails at all times of the night. Doing this goes a long way to making workers feel comfortable that they too can switch off.
3. Embrace flexibility
Linked to the previous point is to have a culture based around flexibility. How can you expect your employees to embrace healthy behaviours if you make them feel bad for having a doctor’s appointment or wanting to finish early to attend their child’s sports day?
The past few years have shown that the technology exists to let workers work from anywhere and their efficiency levels didn’t drop because they were working from home. So as an organisation you need to keep encouraging this and let your employees feel empowered and trusted to work when (and where) they need to around their busy lives.
Showing this trust will have a positive impact on their mental health and they’ll repay your trust and flexibility with great work!
4. Lead by example
It all starts at the top. Employees will take their lead from the behaviours they see around them from bosses, so if you want a positive culture it starts here.
Encourage managers to share experiences with their team – times they have struggled and overcome challenges. This vulnerability is relatable and will be appreciated by their team.
Get managers to include wellbeing checks during the check-ins mentioned above. If you see that an employee seems down or overloaded with work, do something about it. They might not feel comfortable asking for help – so by talking with them and normalising a culture of communication and asking for help, you’ll be leading by example and hopefully stop any issues escalating.
5. Training and events
The final way you can help is to offer on-going support through wellbeing training and in-house events. Some workers might not realise they are struggling with mental health issues and may put it down to a ‘bad day’, ‘feeling tired’ or ‘being a bit stressed’ without knowing it. Education around mental health and caring for yourself can be really useful in situations like these.
But it doesn’t always have to be formal training courses. You could bring in an expert speaker to talk with employees during a weekly team meeting about the importance of mental health. Or you could organise more social events for the team, as the positive impact of a team building activity, team lunch or even an impromptu slice of cake and a coffee on a Friday morning can work wonders for people.
It’s all about repeated behaviours
Hopefully the suggestions above have given you a few ideas of how you can put the wellbeing and mental health of your people on the agenda every day.
In the end it all comes down to behaviour and repeating these behaviours. If your organisation has managers leading by example and encouraging workers to switch off, work flexibly and feel comfortable talking about any potential struggles, then you’re on the right track.